Last Saturday at noon, cemeteries across the country were filled with veterans, and families and friends of fallen service members as they paused from the hustle and bustle of Christmas to remember those who are no longer here to celebrate the season.
Wreaths Across America is a national celebration in which Christmas wreaths are either placed on the headstone of each service member or placed beneath the American flag in a cemetery.
Among those participating was the Pocahontas County Veterans Honor Corps at the Arbovale Community Cemetery. The Honor Corps led the service and placed seven wreaths around the flagpole to honor the branches of the military – Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines – and the Prisoners of War/Mission in Action [POW/MIA].
Honor Corps member Larry Carrico led the ceremony and recognized that the country was united in that moment of remembrance.
“I want to thank you for joining us today as we participate in the laying of the wreaths,” he said. “Nearly two million wreaths in more than 1,500 cemeteries nationwide, which includes more than 260,000 in Arlington National Cemetery, will be placed today. This program has grown in significance as the number of wreaths laid nationwide has nearly tripled in the last four years.”
As Carrico called them to action, Honor Corps members placed the wreaths – Donnie Waybright, U.S. Army; Ron Cole, U.S. Marines; Sam Arbogast, Navy; Tom VanReenan, Merchant Marines; Steve Fierbaugh, Coast Guard; Howard Shinaberry, U.S. Air Force; and Willard Pingley, POW/MIA.
The seven veterans then joined the rest of the Honor Corp – Sollie Workman, John Sparks and Homer Hunter – for the 21 gun salute.
Wreaths Across America began in 1992 when Morrill Worcester, of Harrington, Maine, owner of Worcester Wreath Company, found himself with a surplus of wreaths near the end of the holiday season. Assisted by Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, Worcester arranged to have the extra wreaths placed on headstones in the older sections of Arlington National Cemetery.
The tradition continued to grow and received national attention in 2005 when a photo of the wreath-adorned headstones was shared online. Thousands of individuals from around the country sent in requests to participate in the tradition and from that, Wreaths Across America was founded.
Each wreath is a labor of love and holds symbols of the qualities embodied by veterans and service members. As the Wreaths Across America website explains, the wreaths are constructed with 10 balsam bouquets, each one representing qualities of service members.
Those qualities are: Their faith in God; Their love for each other; Their strength, work ethic and character; Their honesty and integrity; Their humility, selflessness and modesty; Their ambitions and aspirations; Their optimism for America; Their concern for the future; Their pride in their duties; and Their hopes and dreams that didn’t always come true, but left them with no regrets.
The wreaths are adorned with a solitary red bow, which symbolizes the great sacrifice of the service members honored in the ceremony. The forest scent of the wreaths represents purity and simplicity and the circular shape symbolizes eternity.
The Wreaths Across America website – wreathsacrossamerica.org – has a section where wreaths may be sponsored or purchased, and for those who wish to make their own wreath, a guide is available at bit.ly/DIYwreath