By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Dec. 15, 2009) -- Volunteers placed some 15,000 wreaths on headstones at Arlington National Cemetery, Dec. 12, as part of a tradition that has continued now for 18 years.
Thousands of volunteers, including servicemembers, and young people from scouting and cadet programs, braved the early morning cold for the opportunity to place an evergreen wreath on a grave marker at the nation's most well-known military cemetery.
The wreaths placed at Arlington were provided by the non-profit "Wreaths Across America" program, which this year gathered some 150,000 wreaths for placement at more than 400 state and national cemeteries across the United States.
The program was started by Morrill Worcester, of the Worcester Wreath Company. He began laying wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery in 1992. While many of the 150,000 wreaths were paid for by contributions from individuals and businesses, the Worcester Wreath Company itself continues to be a major contributor to the program. In 2008, for instance, the company donated more than 25,000 wreaths.
"Your act of kindness has spurred a movement across this entire country," Maj. Gen. Karl R. Horst, commander, Military District of Washington, told Worcester and his wife, Karen.
The general also thanked the thousands that had gathered at the cemetery to volunteer their time to place wreaths on the stones.
"For some of you this may be the first time you visited Arlington National Cemetery," he said. "We appreciate you being here today to help honor our veterans and those that have made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of this great country."
Karen Worcester also addressed those volunteers, saying the placement of the wreaths there was more than holiday decoration, but an opportunity to teach youth about sacrifice, American history and family.
"These are families here, they are not stones, they are not graves," she said. "These are our families, this is our history and we need to take that and teach that to our children -- that this is their history, to hang on to it hold it, and always remember. We as a nation cannot go forward with any good sense of planning if we don't know what we've left behind. That's why we are here."
After opening statements, volunteers pulled wreaths from three tractor trailers in the cemetery and laid them against the headstones.