Each wreath brings a story of service and sacrifice

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The Wreaths Across America caravan returned this year to American Legion Post 278 in Stevensville, Md.

It was a triumphant return after COVID-19 restrictions necessitated a scaled down event in 2020. Just one truck made the pilgrimage last year to deliver wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery for the annual Wreaths Across America event.

This year, with the help of hundreds of volunteers, law enforcement officers and supporters along the way, the Wreaths Across America convoy returned in full. A dozen semi-trucks adorned with wreaths and artwork covered nearly 1,000 miles from Columbia Falls, Maine, to Arlington National Cemetery, where they arrived Dec. 18, Wreaths Across America Day.

Escorted by law enforcement vehicles, they made stops at schools, monuments, and veterans’ organizations along the way. Post 278 welcomed the convoy on its last stop before they visited the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial and monuments on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to place wreaths before heading to Arlington National Cemetery.

Nikki Randolph, vice commander for the Department of Maryland’s Eastern Shore region, said Post 278 welcomes the convoy with open arms. Each year, the post hosts a dinner for all the volunteers and sends them off with a gathering of several hundred school kids waving flags in the field across the street.

“This is the 12th year that Wreaths Across America has visited our post on their way to Arlington,” she said. “We are very excited to see our family come back in full force.”

Renee Worcester, director of outreach and partnerships for Wreaths Across America, is also part of the family who founded the organization.

“This mission began in Columbia Falls, Maine, and due to the overwhelming support of so many volunteers across the nation, we are laying wreaths at more than 3,100 participating cemeteries,” she said.

Volunteers are placing more than 2.4 million wreaths this year. A third of the volunteers, said Worcester, are children.

“This really hits to our mission to remember the fallen, honor those who serve, and teach our children the value of freedom,” she said. “We have Gold Star families, Blue Star families, veterans of all eras and volunteers who have taken the time out of their schedule to be on this journey bringing the Wreaths Across America mission to different communities along the Eastern Seaboard.”

Volunteers place more than 257,000 wreaths in Arlington National Cemetery, saying aloud the name engraved on each headstone as they do.

“The wreath symbolizes so much for so many different people,” Worcester added. “We have a meaning behind the wreath, but it’s also a catalyst to bring volunteers out and engage with each other and communities and tell stories about service and sacrifice.”

For Kevin Haley, a member of the Portland Maine Police Department, this journey is personal. His brother, William Haley, is laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. Haley now serves on the board of directors for the organization, but each year accompanies the convoy.

“It’s quite powerful to see all the patriotism here in the United States is alive and well,” said Haley.

When Haley looks at each wreath laid on a headstone, he sees more than just the fresh balsam. 

“It’s alive,” he said. “It brings these veterans back to life. And especially when you add that to saying their names out loud, they will never be forgotten.”