National memorial tradition rooted in Maine

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - A Maine company accidentally ordering too many wreaths planted the seed for what’s become a national tradition.

In 1992, Karen and Morrill Worcester decided to truck spares wreaths from the family’s wholesale company down to Washington D.C. Eight people placed the wreaths on graves at Arlington National Cemetery that year.

Since, the effort has branched into an organization: Wreaths Across America. It boasts nearly 1.5 million volunteers, and this year, donors collected as many wreaths to memorialize former service members. The wreaths still adorn Arlington National Cemetery, but now cover the pentagon, and other sites across the country.

“It’s just so gratifying to think that it’s something we started,” said Morrill Worcester.

Each donated wreath honors a service-member, a story, and a family missing a loved one. “So, as they are sitting down to a holiday table with maybe an empty seat, we embrace them,” said Karen Worcester, “and we let them know that we remember.”

Janice Chance – a Gold Star parent -- first attended a Wreaths Across America ceremony in 2010. “It’s like what I consider a holy hug from heaven,” she said.

Her son – USMC Capt. Jesse Melton III -- died supporting combat operations in Afghanistan nine years ago. Chance’s pride in how her son lived helps her cope with the pain of his loss; the annual wreath-laying offers comfort he won’t be forgotten.

“As a mother, that means to me that my son will forever be honored and remembered,” she said.

Twenty-six years after the first road trip to deliver wreaths, the Worcesters have no plans to let someone else do the driving anytime soon. They said the reception the effort receives at every pit stop along the way is too touching to miss. “We won’t stop unless our health fails or something, we’ll never stop,” said Morrill.

The Worcesters said the deep-rooted patriotism that powers Wreaths Across America can knit together a divided country, even if only around the holidays.

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