Monday, December 11, 2006

Rest easy, sleep well

Let me preface this post by saying you're one cold son of gun (or "cinnamon gum" as my dear Italian grandma would say.) if this story doesn't move you.

Two weeks before Christmas 1992, a man named Morrill Worcester from Maine found himself with an extra 4,000 evergreen wreaths that he couldn't possibly sell at his Christmas store before the holiday.

So Mr. Worcester called his senator in Washington D.C., loaded up his truck with wreaths, and laid them at the foot of tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery, which is an American military cemetery established during the Civil War. With more than 260,000 people interred there, Arlington National Cemetery has the second-largest number of people buried of any national cemetery in the United States.

He has continued this tradition every year since, except now instead of a few volunteers to help him lay the wreaths, at least 500 people will show up to honor
veterans from all the nation's wars, from the American Revolution through the military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. And, he now purposely buys extra wreaths for this ritual; this year over 60,000 will be laid.

When Mr. Worcester first started this tradition there was no publicity, no crowds, no hordes of volunteers. It was simply a private duty by a man awed by a visit to Washington D.C. as a twelve-year-old. His visit to the Arlington National Cemetery stuck with him his whole life; and he immediately thought of all the the cold, white tombstones when had a surplus of wreaths.
“We couldn’t do anything in this country if it wasn’t for the people who gave their lives to protect us. Those people never had what I had, and yet they’re the ones who made it possible for me and everyone else. If I could, I’d decorate every one of them,” he says.

In the years since first laying the wreaths, the pilgrimage has become increasingly well known thanks to the internet. Tales and photos of his trips reached such epic proportion that urban legend fact checkers,, investigated its truthfulness. Yes, it was all true.

This year, Mr. Worcester and his truck of wreaths will be escorted by a couple hundred Patriot Guard Riders - a national motorcycle group whose mission it is to display their respect for fallen troops.

Every year, the superintendent of the cemetery assigns a different part of the grounds for the wreaths to be laid. Last year, the circuit of over 260,000 tombstones was completed so this Christmas it will begin again. Mr. Worcester always makes certain to reserve a few wreaths for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (pictured below), the John and Robert Kennedy grave sites, the memorial to the USS Maine and the resting place of Sen. Edmund Muskie of Maine. He has returned every check that has been sent to him to help pay for the wreaths, saying, "It's just my way to say thank you. I've got a lot to be thankful for."

"Rest easy, sleep well my brothers.
Know the line has held, your job is done.
Rest easy, sleep well..."



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