Dozens of Volunteers Lay 6,000 Wreaths in Augusta Veterans' Cemetery
25 years ago, a local business owner ended the holiday season with a surplus of Christmas wreaths and saw an opportunity to honor America's veterans.
"It was a great year. It was the biggest year that Wreaths Across America ever had," said Wreaths Across America founder Morrill Worcester.
He was joined by more than 50 volunteers on Thursday to place more than 6,000 wreaths atop the graves of fallen soldiers in the Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Augusta.
2,000 wreaths were laid here last weekend on National Wreaths Across America Day, but due to the overwhelming generosity of Americans this year, the non-profit was left with thousands of extra wreaths.
"We certainly didn't want to waste them so we got ahold of the cemetery coordinator and they thought it was great. So here we are with what we had left over from the whole season," said Worcester.
"We'll have 8,000 graves covered so this will cover half of our graves. We have 16,000 veterans interred just at this cemetery, and their dependents," said Scott Brown, Superintendent of the Maine Veterans Cemetery System.
Jeanette Fernstrom has been taking the trip to Arlington with the Wreaths Across America convoy for four years.
Her son and daughter are both retired from the Army, and she says the journey has become a Christmas tradition for her and her family.
"The trip is amazing. There is patriotism out there with all the people standing on the roads waving flags in the snow, the rain, the cold. I mean it just makes your heart grow. The Grinch can't take it away!" exclaimed Fernstrom.
She joined Patriot Guard Riders, National Guard members, and other volunteers in the bitter cold to complete what they call a simple gesture that has incredible meaning to these veterans' families.
"I think people in Maine are proud that it came from here and Mr. Worcester and what a great thing he started that really had caught on," said Brigadier General Douglas Farnham, Maine National Guard.
Each wreath is sponsored by someone across the country. 1422 cemeteries nationwide now participate in the program.
"This is my Christmas wish- that everybody that's a veteran gets a wreath no matter where they are, far overseas or right here in our own backyard," said Fernstrom.
The Maine Bureau of Veterans' Services is advising family members visiting loved ones this weekend that if bad weather is imminent, the cemetery gates will remain closed until the storm has passed.