Wreaths Across America, a national nonprofit committed to remembering United States veterans during the holiday season, reaches all corners of the country. This includes Stillwater. The organization began in December of 1992 with a wreath maker named Morrill Worcester.
That winter, Worcester had about 5,000 left over wreaths and he decided to take them to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. and lay them on the graves of fallen soldiers. Today, a quarter of a million wreaths will be taken there to honor every veteran.
The Worcester family, with help from residents in Maine, continue to make wreaths to honor veterans in over 2,500 cemeteries worldwide.
On December 3, 2020, the senate passed a bill that officially recognized Wreaths Across America Day on December 19th.
In Stillwater, this is the fourth year that Wreaths Across America will be hosted at Fairlawn Cemetery. Lou Watkins heads up this project in the Stillwater community. She is very passionate about the mission behind Wreaths Across America.
“The mission of WAA is to remember, honor, and teach, and I love and respect that very much,” Lou said.
The mission means remember fallen U.S. veterans, honor those who serve, and teach about the value of freedom.
There are nearly 1,450 veterans who have been buried at Fairlawn Cemetery since 1886.
“We have committed to purchase a wreath for the grave of every veteran at Fairlawn,” Lou said.
The wreaths that are used are made in Maine from live evergreens and cost $15 each. According to Lou, normally, money would be raised all year to purchase the wreaths, but this year only one fundraiser was held, and the rest of the wreaths were ordered on trust that it would work out.
“Our faithful sponsors and wreath-layers responded, and we think we will have almost enough money to cover the cost,” Lou said.
Due to COVID-19 and today’s circumstances however, this year’s memorial will look a little different from usual. The Remembrance Service has been cancelled. Normally this service coincides with the service taking place at Arlington National Cemetery. There is music, the presentation of the wreaths, singing, lunch, and fellowship.
This year, a few masked and socially distanced volunteers will go to each veteran’s grave, present a wreath, and audibly thank them for their service.
“We respect this horrid COVID virus and will honor our veterans at Fairlawn while not endangering our volunteers. BUT there are no words that adequately express how eager we are to return to our format of earlier years!” Lou said.
Nationwide, the celebration also had to make changes for the health and safety of the country. Customarily there is a weeklong, miles-long parade of tractor trailers, vehicles carrying veterans, law enforcement, and motorcycle riders, leading the wreaths to Arlington for placement.
This year, the journey will include only one tractor trailer load of wreaths, 11 vehicles carrying veterans, and nine police cruisers. This year’s escort will also be streamed virtually so that families across the nation can join in.
No matter the circumstances that COVID-19 brings, it is important for Lou and advocates across the nation to honor the sacrifices of all veterans so that they are not forgotten.