Gone, But Not Forgotten — Wreaths Across America Honors Fallen Vets During the Holidays
If you go to a military cemetery, such as Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia in mid- to late December, what you will find is a sea of wreaths with red bows on the headstones of fallen U.S. veterans. It’s a beautiful sight. One you will never forget. The wreaths pay honor to those who have served; those who gave of themselves in the protection of others.
It’s no easy task to make all of this happen. Each year, wreaths are individually placed by volunteers from Wreaths Across America (WAA) – a nonprofit organization. Volunteers for the program include hundreds of truck drivers who transport the wreaths across the country.
WAA all started with one man, Morrill Worcester. In 1992, after having a surplus of wreaths towards the end of the holiday season at his business — Worcester Wreath Company in Columbia Falls, Maine — Morrill decided he would lay the 5,000 extra wreaths he had at Arlington National Cemetery, with the help of then Maine Senator Olympia Snowe. Morrill’s reverence to honor fallen U.S. veterans stems from a visit he took to the cemetery when he was a boy — it gave him a lasting gratitude for those who had sacrificed their lives.
Morrill continued to lay wreaths at Arlington for years – and it was his own little tradition. In 2005, pictures of the wreaths surfaced on the Internet, creating quite the buzz. It started a movement.
In 2007, WAA blossomed into a national tradition, and became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. In 2017, more than 1.5 million wreaths featuring hand tied bows, were laid at more than 1,400 locations. Wreath-laying ceremonies are held every second or third Saturday of December.
In order for all of the wreath-laying ceremonies to run smoothly, WAA relies on the trucking industry to help with the logistics of delivering the wreaths to participating cemeteries. WAA still produces its wreaths in Columbia Falls, so it takes a lot of dedicated truck drivers to make the trip up to Maine to pick up and distribute the wreaths throughout the country. Trucks that participate in these delivers are a part of the group called the Honor Fleet.
For many fleets that participate, it can be a scramble to find freight to haul on their way to Maine. Many of these fleets don’t have traffic lanes in that part of the country, but they find a way to make it work.
For Brown Trucking, a Drivewyze customer which is based in Georgia and operates in the southeast region of the U.S., it can be difficult to find freight to take up north. Regardless of the challenges, Brown Trucking was onboard to join the cause when approached by one of its drivers.
“A few years back, I was listening to an XM Radio talk show and they were talking about Wreaths Across America,” recalled Ken Fooshee, a driver for Brown Trucking. “It sounded like a great program. I wanted to be a part of it and help pay tribute to our fallen veterans. I approached management about volunteering for it and they said they’d let me do it. I’ve been a volunteer for four years now.”
This year, Ken will transport a load to New Hampshire before picking up the wreaths in Maine. After picking up the wreaths, Ken will head south, and deliver approximately 8,100 wreaths to seven different cemeteries in Florida. In its entirety, the trip will take 14 days from the day Ken departs from Florida, picks up the wreaths and completes the deliveries.
This year, Ken is invited to attend the wreath-laying ceremony at Bay Pines National Cemetery in St. Petersburg, (his final stop) and will help lay wreaths on the headstones.
“I look forward to being a part of wreath day,” said Ken. “It’s something I haven’t had the chance to do yet. My father served in Vietnam and I have a lot of family members and people I have worked with that have served. Wreaths Across America is an incredible program to be a part of and it’s very rewarding. This is my fourth year as a volunteer and I will continue to volunteer as long as I can.”
WAA expands its reach in France
On Dec. 3, WAA placed nearly 9,500 wreaths from Maine on the headstones of all of the U.S. service members laid to rest at Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, France. The wreaths honor those who lost their lives on the five D-Day invasion beaches at Pointe Du Hoc. This marked the first time WAA laid wreaths on foreign soil, with plans to continue to expand its reach.