Scenes like the one above were repeated again and again at Arlington National Cemetery and at cemeteries all over the country as families and friends came by the thousands Saturday, Dec. 12th, to remember their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, with balsam fir Christmas wreaths they tenderly placed against their loved ones’ headstones.
The young mother pictured above read a colorfully crayoned love note to daddy from their little boy. His father, U.S. Army Capt. Brian Matthew Bunting, lies at rest at Arlington National Cemetery. The note in childish scrawl read in part, “Thank you Daddy for serving our country…”
Partially obscured is an infant clasped to the young widow’s chest, born after Capt. Bunting deployed for Afghanistan.
Capt. Bunting, 29, of Potomac, Md., died of wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle Feb. 24, 2009 in Kandahar, leaving behind his pregnant wife Nicki, and their then year old son Connor.
A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point with a degree in civil engineering in 2002, Capt. Bunting was assigned to the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, New York National Guard, Syracuse, N.Y. Also killed were Sgt. Schuyler B. Patch, Sgt. Scott B. Stream and Sgt. Daniel J. Thompson.
Wreaths left at the fresh graves of our fallen warriors, so recently laid to rest that grass sod hasn’t yet dressed the burial site. Faded funeral flowers marked the site of our most recently buried American hero.
Rows of marble sentinel posts guard a field of dreams where our American heroes lie in eternal peace. The Air Force Academy sculpture seen in the background draws the eye heavenward…
On a perfectly cloudless day filled with bright sunshine that warmed a cold December morning, an estimated 7,000 Americans made their way to Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington, D.C. to participate in Wreaths Across America, the annual wreath laying that is now in its 18th year. Throngs of men, women, and children poured through the imposing wrought iron gates at Arlington, making their way past a stream of cars that stretched as far as the eye could see, inching along the roadway that leads into one of America’s most hallowed grounds.
It was 7:30 a.m. when my friend Marylou and I stepped aboard the Metro train at King Street in Alexandria to ride the Blue Line to Arlington. At every stop, the train took on more passengers until finally the doors opened at Arlington. We stepped out with several hundred others who merged with us onto narrow escalators that carried us up to the street level and back into the chilly early morning sunshine.
We made a quick stop at the Visitor’s Center before rejoining the crowds walking briskly on Eisenhower Drive towards the McClellan Arch.
“These are families here, they’re not stones, they’re not graves. This is our history, and we need to take that and teach that to our children. Our mission is to teach our children the value of freedom.” – Karen Worcester, Worcester Wreath Co.
The McClellan Arch, towering 30 feet above the roadway at the original entrance to the cemetery, was constructed during the 1870s as a tribute to the Civil War General, George B. McClellan, whose war time headquarters were located at Arlington House. Atop the arch facing east the word “McClellan” is inscribed in gold. Below the inscription reads:
HERE REST 15,585 OF THE 315,555 CITIZENS WHO DIED IN DEFENCE OF OUR COUNTRY FROM 1861 TO 1985 ON FAME’S ETERNAL CAMPING GROUND THEIR SILENT TENTS ARE SPREAD, AND GLORY GUARDS WITH SOLEMN ROUND THE BIVOUAC OF THE DEAD
The west face of the arch is inscribed with the words:
REST ON EMBALMED AND SAINTED DEAD, DEAR AS THE BLOOD YE GAVE, NO IMPIOUS FOOTSTEPS HERE SHALL TREAD ON THE HERBAGE OF YOUR GRAVE.
Morrill Worcester’s desire to honor our military began 18 years ago when he donated and drove 5,000 extra wreaths from his wreath-making business in Maine to place them at the headstones at Arlington. His efforts have since grown into the Wreaths Across America non-profit organization that provides more than 150,000 wreaths to cemeteries in communities all across the country, and wherever our servicemembers are buried all over the world.
Rep. Posey and California Rep. Duncan Hunter, Jr. (who was unable to be at the presentation) worked together to recognize and honor Morrill Worcester on behalf of the U.S. House of Representatives for his dedication to our nation’s servicemen and women. Rep. Hunter, like his father before him — Cong. Duncan Hunter — a strong advocate of the military and our veterans, submitted the following remarks into the Congressional Record:
HON. DUNCAN HUNTER
in the house of representatives
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Mr. HUNTER. Madam Speaker, today I rise in recognition of Mr. Morrill
Worcester of Harrington, Maine. Morrill is President of the Worcester
Wreath Company, and he and his company have provided Christmas wreaths
for Arlington National Cemetery since 1992.
Morrill Worcester’s story begins in 1962 when at the age of 12 he won
a trip to Washington, DC, from his local paper. After visiting
Arlington National Cemetery, he was awe-struck by the enormity of the
cemetery and its perfectly aligned rows of headstones representing the
thousands who have died in service to this country. The powerful
imagery of Arlington left a lasting impression on Morrill, one that
would stay with him long after he began his business selling Christmas
In 1992, the Worcester Wreath Company had an overstock of Christmas
wreaths. Unwilling to simply throw the extra wreaths away, and with the
image of Arlington still a treasured memory, Morrill was inspired. With
the help of volunteers, he spent 6 hours in the rain placing a wreath
at each headstone. For 18 years, Morrill has taken time out of his
busiest season to deliver handmade wreaths to Arlington National
Cemetery and lead volunteers in laying them on the headstones.
When word of his efforts spread around the Internet, hundreds more
Americans from across the country began to ask how they could get
involved and show their respect for our fallen. Morrill soon expanded
the project into Wreaths Across America, allowing anyone to donate a
wreath to honor the fallen. As a result, Wreaths Across America have
laid over 100,000 wreaths at numerous national cemeteries. Congress has
recognized his work by declaring December 13, 2008 as “Wreaths Across
Madam Speaker, this gentleman’s dedication and actions directly
reflect his selfless resolve to honor and remember our Nation’s fallen.
Individuals like Morrill and the volunteers of Wreaths Across America
embody the great respect that we as a nation have for those who have
died defending our freedom. On the second Saturday of December this
year, and hopefully for many more Decembers to come, Morrill will be at
Arlington National Cemetery in solemn remembrance to lay more wreaths.
Mr. Morrill Worcester, thank you for remembering those who have given
so much for our freedom, and thank you for sharing your passion to
honor these brave men and women with the American people.
Reporters and photographers behind velvet ropes and stanchions recorded the event. Media coverage across the country was extensive, as reports of wreath laying ceremonies in cities and towns across the nation poured in to my Google Alert. Well deserved news of the Worcester Wreath Company and Wreaths Across America appeared on national and community TV news programs and newspapers throughout the weekend.
At the opening ceremony, a pair of helicopters flew overhead, offering an aerial salute to the event.
“George Washington” looked on approvingly at the opening ceremony. The 1st Commander of the Continental Army rode with the 50-vehicle caravan that accompanied three wreath-laden 18-wheel trucks from Harrington, Maine to Arlington cemetery.
The Wreaths Across America event at Arlington requires teamwork and coordination. Seen here are Wayne Hanson, WAO Washington DC coordinator, Rep. Bill Posey, Andrea Shea King, Arlington Nat’l Cemetery superintendent Jack Metzler, Katie Posey. Not seen, but deserving credit too are Maj. Wayne Merritt of WOA; George Cecala, Legislative Aide to Rep. Posey; Vicki Middleton, Chief of Staff to Rep. Duncan Hunter; Dave Logan, ASK Show producer; and Marylou Crosby Wade. To see the scope of hands and hearts involved in making this happen, click here.
Marylou’s brother Herby — U.S. Army Capt. Herbert C. Crosby, went MIA in Vietnam in 1970. His remains were repatriated in 2007. As he lies in peace, Marylou says a prayer and tucks a laminated photo of her brother inside the wreath’s circle.
Wreaths Across America coordinates the volunteers and thousands of wreaths every year, and seeks to educate our children about the sacrifices made by our veterans. The motto: Remember; Honor; and Teach about the service and sacrifices of our veterans.
U.S. Army SSgt. Timothy James Roark, 29, of Houston, Texas died in Balad, Iraq, of a non-combat related injury. He was assigned to the 4th Battalion, 123rd Aviation Regiment, Fort Wainwright, Alaska. He died on October 2, 2005.
USMC Sgt. Trevor J. Johnson, 23, of Forsyth, Mont. died Jan. 27 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He left behind his wife Nicole, 3-year-old stepson Landan, and their 8-month old daughter Aspyn.
Trevor grew up on the family ranch in southeastern Montana and signed up with the Marine Corps during his senior year in high school, 2003 in order to “give something back” to his nation and to “make a difference” in other people’s lives. He was assigned to the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.
“You and I wouldn’t have what we have today without these buried here. Every one of these people is why we are here. The mission of our company is to Remember, to Honor and to Teach. We must remember the fallen, honor those who serve, and teach our children the value of freedom.”— Morrill Worcester
The American Holly Tree marks the remembrance of the men of the 487th Bomb Group.
The American Holly Tree frames the distant hills dotted with white marble headstones, marking the final resting place of thousands of service men and women, many who gave their last measure in defense of freedom for mankind around the world.
One of three 18-wheel trucks, emptied of the wreaths that now adorn the graves of 15,000 American military, slowly makes its way out of Arlington National Cemetery for the long trip back to Maine. Thirteen trucking companies and 32 trucks were donated for this year’s annual event.
God bless Merrill and Karen Worcester. God bless the volunteers who came to place the wreaths and pray over the dead. God bless Bill Posey and Duncan Hunter and their congressional staffs for giving well-deserved recognition to the efforts of the Worcester Wreath Company and Wreaths Across America. And most of all, God bless those who wore our nation’s uniform, defended us, and now lie in eternal rest.
God bless America.
More photos and a video at Stars and Stripes. Worth seeing!