The Wreathes at Arlington National Cemetery

The Wreathes at Arlington National Cemetery

For the past 23 years, one of the most iconic annual holiday traditions in the D.C. area has been the placing of hundreds of thousands of evergreen Christmas wreathes with red bows at the white headstones marking the rows and rows of gravesites in Arlington National Cemetery.  This past Saturday, December 13th, volunteers descended on Arlington National to help an organization named “Wreathes Across America” continue the tradition, now officially known as National Wreathes Across America Day, by placing wreaths again this year. In recognition and in support of this event, I rode across the Arlington Memorial Bridge and down The Esplanade to Arlington National Cemetery (MAP) on this lunchtime bike ride.

Wreaths Across America is not affiliated with any religion or political view. Their mission is to remember all of the fallen, honor their families, and teach children about the freedoms for which so much was sacrificed. Because they are a guest at the more than 900 participating cemeteries they visit each year, they abide by each cemetery’s rules when it comes to the placement of wreaths on veterans’ headstones. At those cemeteries without a formal policy, they do not place a wreath on the headstones of those graves marked with the Star of David, out of respect for Jewish custom. Instead, they simply pause and pay their respects. The only exception is when families of the deceased request a wreath, and then their wishes are honored.

The wreathes placed at the graves in Arlington National, as well as 544 other cemeteries and locations in all fifty states and overseas, are made in Maine by The Worchester Wreath Company, whose president, Morrill Worcester, started the annual event in 1992.   The wreathes left Maine last Monday in a convoy of eleven trucks that was escorted by the Patriot Guard Riders, an organization whose members, at the invitation of a decedent’s family, attend the funerals of members of the military, as well as firefighters and police. They form an honor guard at military burials, which helps protect mourners from harassment, and fill out the ranks at burials of indigent and homeless veterans. The Patriot Guard Riders also greets troops returning from overseas at homecoming celebrations and performs volunteer work for veteran’s organizations.

Wreathes Across America expects to exceed last year’s shipments of 540,000 wreaths, all of which adorn veterans’ graves. Of that number, over 230,000 of them were place at Arlington National.  For the 150th anniversary of Arlington National Cemetery, Wreaths Across America met its goal of having a wreath for every headstone of each veteran buried there.   It should be noted that organization receives no government funding for this annual tradition. Until 2009, The Worcester Wreath Company did not accept donations and funded the project itself. The organization has since expanded to include fundraising groups throughout the country representing more than 900 cemeteries, military memorials and other locations, along with Arlington National Cemetery. To sponsor a wreath and help Wreathes Across America fulfill its mission, I encourage you to send a donation to: Wreaths Across America, P.O. Box 256, Harrington, Maine 04643.

The wreaths will be at Arlington National Cemetery for approximately four weeks.  So if you haven’t already, you should consider making a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, and adding it to your family’s annual holiday traditions.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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