From Farm to the Fallen– the Founding Family’s Journey
Wreaths Across America will place millions of wreaths on the graves of fallen soldiers today. They do this every year at Christmas time.
Veterans In Trucking sat down with Karen Worcester of Wreaths Across America to talk about the moving, surprising family story that started it all… and what keeps them going as they honor our fallen military heroes.
It’s About Sacrifice.
After the wreaths are placed, we always go to section 60; that’s where most of the men and women from current conflict and what is going on in the world– they are buried there.
What you see in Section 60 is a lot of kids, a lot of young women. And on the trees you see Christmas decorations. On the graves there you see Christmas gifts. And pictures. This is where their holiday is. This is where their family is.
I remember there was this young woman. This was her first holiday without her son. She had contacted me ahead of time to see if I would meet her there.
This woman had her son’s wreath, and we went down on our knees at the grave. She fixed the bow, she ran her fingers over her son’s name.
Afterward, when we stood up, she placed her hands on my shoulders and said, “Karen I don’t want you to remember that he died. I want you to remember that he lived. Because his life is what he sacrificed.”
And I will tell you, many days I think of that, and I think of the sacrifice.
But how did it all start?
The Founding Family’s journey is beautiful in itself, but it started with an accident that would change the Worcester’s lives and millions of others’ lives for great good, forever.
We had about 5,000 too many wreaths left over, and it was the middle of December. And Morril wanted to do something useful– give them to somebody.
We called Arlington Cemetery and unbelievably we got to take those five thousand wreaths. So, Morril took a couple of the kids, had a couple of volunteers– It took them all day to place five thousand wreaths.
I’ll tell you it changed their lives; the boys they were in their early teens. For days and days afterward they and my husband would say names. Some people were unknown. No name. Just said unknown soldier and some that were kids that were 18.
It was such a history lesson for them because it was so personal because they were actually saying names now. We decided as a family we were going to do it every year– we would take 5,000 wreaths as long as they would let us. And that’s what we did from 1992 until 2005. It just became a family tradition.
We had a local trucking company that would take the wreaths. And we did that for all those years until 2005. Then a Pentagon photographer took a picture of the wreaths in the snow and it went viral.
That photo started a nationwide movement to honor fallen soldiers.
After that, when we got to the cemetery in 2006 the place was a zoo. There were over 70 news outlets that had gone through the process to be able to go into Arlington. They were calling my husband, saying “when are you going to get here? There are 3,000 people.”
It was just complete chaos in the cemetery– We placed the wreaths in no time because there were so many people. At that point it just catapulted. We knew we had to do something.
People began writing to us. A lot of these notes we were getting in the mail, these handwritten notes, a lot of them were from elderly people whose husband was buried at one of these cemeteries and they wanted them to get a wreath.
They would tuck some money in an envelope and send it to us.
Truck Drivers are Helping to Make the Difference
We couldn’t do what we do without the boots on the ground. And that also goes for the trucking industry.
Right from that first load in 1992 he couldn’t have done it if he had to hire a truck. I would say between 90-95 percent of deliveries of 2.4 million wreaths are done by volunteer trucking companies.
We have these communities, and these companies, and these drivers that give what they have.
The Worcesters have coordinated tens of millions of wreaths to honor America’s fallen heroes. They’ve given back 18 million dollars to local pro-veteran organizations. But Karen says there is one part of their mission that stands out more than anything else.
The first time that I met with a group of seven Gold Star Mothers– I was nervous, what am I going to say to these women that lost their children? But they were so normal, just talking and laughing. They were just like me.
And that night on my way home I called every one of my children. It struck me that they couldn’t do that. But they keep the memory of their children alive by talking about them.
Later one of those mothers told me that we want to talk about our children to remind you of their sacrifice. And that’s why we’re driven here at Wreaths Across America. We don’t want anybody’s son or daughter to be forgotten. Their husband or wife. They served so that we can be free. And that’s important.
That simple act that we started. It has been fueled and fed by the emotional processes of so many of these that are actually part of the sacrifice. It matters to us that we keep that going. We have arguably more than two million volunteers. And a third of those are kids.
Karen says for Wreaths Across America it’s honoring the fallen heroes, keeping their memory alive that teaches us to live.
Because otherwise it’s a cold stone that people walk by.
It’s not just a stone. Every stone has a story and a family. It’s part of our heritage and more importantly it’s part of the blueprint that we have to incorporate into the future of this country.
Because this country is great, but it won’t stay great if we lose track of how fragile freedom is and what cost there is that goes along with it.