Fallen Veterans Remembered With 1.5 Million Wreaths

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What started with a donation of 5,000 grave wreaths has turned into a 26-year-long tradition to honor fallen veterans. The annual Wreaths Across America event took place last weekend with volunteers placing 1.57 million wreaths on the graves of veterans at more than 1,500 locations around the country. Included in those many locations was Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Veterans’ cemeteries in all 50 states as well as 24 national veteran cemeteries overseas participated in this year’s Wreaths Across America Day with help from volunteers and service organizations.

“The Civil Air Patrol organizes the wreath-laying ceremonies with assistance from local citizens and Veterans service organizations. All 135 VA national cemeteries receive at least seven wreaths, one for each service branch, one for the Merchant Marine and one for Prisoners of War and those Missing In Action (POW/MIA),” according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The annual wreaths are a way of honoring the deceased service members and making sure that each one of our fallen heroes is remembered.

U.S. Army/Rachel Larue — Wreaths adorn headstones following the annual Wreaths Across America event in Arlington National Cemetery.

The tradition began in 1992 when Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Co., donated 5,000 evergreen wreaths to be placed on veterans’ headstones at Arlington National Cemetery. Since then, the wreath laying has only grown and spread, with 1.2 million wreaths being laid at veterans’ headstones in 2016. Morrill Worcester continues to donate every year by sending seven wreaths to every state.

“There are 25 funerals at the Arlington National Cemetery every day, so the need grows every year,” said Bree Kingsbury with Wreaths Across America. “That one wreath is really a symbol of honor and respect for each fallen service member.”

A caravan of trucks carry the wreaths to Arlington each year from Columbia Falls, Maine. The volunteers and trucks make stops at several states along the way.

U.S. Air Force/Song Johnson — Volunteers place wreaths on gravestones at Fort Richardson National Cemetery, Alaska.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, another large-scale wreath-laying took place. Around 900 volunteers came together at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans Cemetery on Saturday to place wreaths on all 5,400 veterans’ headstones there.

“Laying a wreath here is special,” said Lt. Gov. Brian Calley. “There is nowhere else like this in the country.”

The Civil Air Patrol, service organizations, and individual volunteers all partner with the non-profit organization, Wreaths Across America, to honor and remember those who served our country and have passed on or sacrificed their lives.

One of those volunteers in Grand Rapids was John Burri, father of Army Specialist Eric Burri, who was killed in action while serving in Iraq in 2005. For John Burri, the annual wreath laying is something very special and personal to him. “This ceremony is a way for me to give back and honor those, like my son, who have served their country,” he said.

U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Daniel Phelps — Hundreds gathered to lay wreaths on the tombstones of those who have served our country during the Wreaths Across America ceremony at Fort Jackson National Cemetery in Columbia, South Carolina.

“A person dies twice: once when they take their final breath, and later, the last time their name is spoken,” quotes Wreaths Across America’s website. To ensure that no veteran is ever forgotten, the volunteers say each veteran’s name when they lay a wreath at their grave.

Karen Worchester, executive director of Wreaths Across America, said, “We encourage every volunteer who places a wreath on a veteran’s grave to say that veteran’s name aloud and take a moment to thank them for their service to our country. It’s a small act that goes a long way toward keeping the memory of our veterans alive.”

Watch the video below to learn more about Wreaths Across America.

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Jacob H. is an award-winning journalist and photojournalist who currently resides is West Michigan with his wife. In his spare time, Jacob enjoys writing, photography, mountain climbing, and camping.
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