When owner and president of Worcester Wreath company, Morrill Worcester, found himself with a surplus of over 5,000 wreaths at the end of the holiday season in 1992, he had an idea: place the wreaths in the older sections of Arlington cemetery where fewer visitors passed by each year. He had seen the cemetery as a 12-year-old boy and it had made quite an impression on him. This went on quietly for several years, until a photo of the wreaths went viral back in 2005. And thus: Wreaths Across America (WAA) was born.
Now officially a non-profit, the program’s slogan is to “Remember, Honor, Teach,” and in 2014 they laid over 700,000 memorial wreaths at over 1,000 locations across the U.S. WAA’s march from their homebase of Harrington, Maine to Arlington National Cemetery in early December has also become known as the world’s largest veteran’s parade.
The WAA also participates in other programs throughout the year, hosting countless memorial services at Pearl Harbor and the Pentagon, and statewide in all 50 states. They are also dedicated to teaching the next generation about the sacrifice of war, and along the way of the parade the group takes the opportunity to stop at school districts and offer learning tools and media projects.
Though the program has been around for quite some time, this is the first year for New Paltz. Ulster County has had a Veterans Cemetery since 2008 and it has been expanding in the past few years. Over 800 local veterans have been laid to rest in the New Paltz Rural Cemetery.
“There is so much history in the New Paltz Rural Cemetery dating back to the pre-civil war when Black [people] had their own section,” said WAA Coordinator Geraldine Moloney. “WAA doesn’t discriminate…I want to make sure everyone is included and to educate the youth about our history and our American flag and what it means, who died for it.”
The New Paltz chapter had a slow start in January, but has picked up momentum following a Hudson Valley One article written on Nov. 4. As of publication, Moloney has 693 wreaths sponsored, and is looking for a total of 835 by the deadline of Thanksgiving Day on Nov. 28.
Local veteran’s organizations are also doing their part to help the program’s inaugural year in New Paltz be a success. The local Veterans of Foreign Wars has contributed and supported, as well as St. Joseph Church and the Elting Library Staff.
“When I was young, we always made trips to the cemetery [on] Memorial Day,” said coordinator of Haviland-Heidgerd Historical Collection Carol Johnson. “I hope it will be very successful and bring people to the cemetery to celebrate the lives of the veterans. It is a very nice way to honor their service to our country.”
Johnson also provided more insight into the amount of veterans laid to rest in New Paltz Rural Cemetery. 319 brave men and women fought in WWII and are buried in New Paltz, as well as 84 who served in the Korean War and 72 from the Vietnam War. The majority of those who served were part of the army, though all branches of the military are represented.
The laying of the wreaths will officially be held on Saturday Dec. 14 at noon in the New Paltz Rural Cemetery, along with a ceremony to honor the veterans and a singer for our National Anthem.
Moloney mentioned that the wreaths had nothing to do with religion or the impending holiday season, but did say that each wreath was meaningful. Ten balsam bouquets are placed in a circle to create the wreath, which symbolizes the veteran’s special qualities. These include a belief in a greater good, love of one another, their honesty and integrity, optimism for America and the hopes and dreams that may have been forgotten, among others.
Wreaths are available until Nov. 28, and can be purchased via the Wreaths Across America website by using the fundraising code NY0270. This code gives an extra wreath for every two wreaths sponsored. Each wreath is $15 and is tax deductible, but there are discounts if you purchase multiple.
There is also an option to order a wreath for a deceased veteran in another state or area.
“This is also why this program is wonderful as so many people have family in other states or abroad and cannot lay wreaths, so WAA enables them to do so,” Moloney said.
For more information on Wreaths Across America, feel free to visit their website www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/.