WASHINGTON — Wrapped in rain gear, carrying umbrellas and draped in plastic ponchos, almost 57,000 volunteers gathered Saturday morning for the Wreaths Across America event at Arlington National Cemetery.
Some volunteers, carrying multiple wreaths, walked purposefully toward the graves of family members or fallen comrades. And others wandered contemplatively, searching for just the right place.
“I say there’s a story behind every stone,” Wayne Hanson, board chair for Wreaths Across America, said.
At the event’s opening ceremony, Hanson asked volunteers to read the head stones where they were placing wreaths and to say the name out loud.
“There’s a saying: ‘you die twice,” Hanson said. “Once when your heart stops beating and you take that last breath. But, you die a final time when your name is spoken for the very last time.”
Hanson believes many of those honored Saturday might not have had their names spoken aloud since the last Wreaths Across America last year.
At Arlington National Cemetery, 253,000 wreaths were laid. Across the region, 267,000 wreaths were laid, including those placed on graves at the Army’s U.S. Soldiers and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
National Wreaths Across America day takes place at cemeteries around the U.S. and the globe. In all, 1.8 million graves received wreaths nationally at 1,640 locations on Saturday.
After sloshing through puddles, choosing a headstone, carefully placing and arranging wreaths, some people would then salute; some made signs of the cross; and many paused contemplatively.
“As these families, these kids and parents place a wreath on a veterans grave and say their name out loud, they make a connection with their own history, and that’s how we teach,” said Karen Worcester, the executive director for Wreaths Across America. “We take it from being a sea of stones to being a group of individuals who are worthy to be honored and remembered because their sacrifice has given us the freedom that we enjoy.”
The group’s mission is to “Remember, Honor and Teach,” but, Worcester said most important of all is to teach.
“We have to teach our children about the courage and sacrifice of these people,” she said. “What makes them step up. What makes America worth fighting for.”
Watching the Wreaths Across America movement grow over 27 years, its founder now has a new mission in mind.
“The ultimate goal that we have is: we want to place a wreath on every single American veteran’s grave in the world,” Morrill Worcester said. “And there are many overseas. It’s a tall order. We know that.”
But, Karen Worcester, the executive director and Morril’s wife, believes it can happen.
“If he doesn’t get it done, it’s what he wants our kids to do,” Karen Worcester said.
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