Wreaths Across America (WAA) was founded in 2007 by Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine. Having visited Arlington National Cemetery as a child, Worcester was so impressed that the experience followed him throughout his life. When he found himself with a surplus of wreaths during the Christmas season in 1992, he realized he had an opportunity to honor his country’s veterans. He arranged for the wreaths to be placed in Arlington, a tradition which continued quietly every year until a photo of the decorated stones circulated around the internet in 2005. So many people wanted to help with Arlington and start the tradition in their own cities that the national Wreaths Across America organization was formed.
When WAA first started in 2007, 230 locations received wreaths. In 2017, more than 1.5 million wreaths were placed at 1,448 cemeteries across America and other places around the world. Last year in the Tri-Cities area, 5,200 wreaths were donated locally and an additional 2,700 were donated by the national WAA, for a total of 7,900 wreaths placed at Mountain Home National Cemetery.
According to David Carter, location coordinator for Wreaths Across America, their ultimate goal is to provide a wreath for all 17,000 veterans. “That may be a little ambitious, but there are veterans there who haven’t had a wreath in 30 years,” he said.
Until that time comes, he said the plan is to cover all the graves they have wreaths for and start next year where they left off.
“The hope is that one day, every veteran will have received a wreath,” David said. A Kingsport resident and Vietnam veteran, David pointed out that their purpose is not just to decorate graves, but to remember and honor the service and lives of the veterans. “It is because of the sons and daughters who serve that we are able to be here today. It falls to us to remember and honor them,” he said. “When someone dies, after a while there is no one who remembers them,” he added.
Scott Foster, Deputy Commander of the Kingsport Composite Squadron Civil Air Patrol, said he enjoys teaching cadets about what veterans have done for our country. “I like honoring our veterans and enjoy teaching our young people about the sacrifices they have made for us,” he said. Scott added that more corporate sponsors are needed, however, in order to meet their goals. Although many local businesses and civic groups donate each year, the majority of sponsors are individuals who purchase wreaths in memory of their loved ones.
Another local group, Rolling Thunder Chapter 4 TN, will be helping to sponsor wreaths for the event. Chapter president Bob Rambo said that his group was instrumental in first bringing Wreaths Across America to Johnson City. A Marine Corps combat veteran, Bob has friends buried at Mountain Home National Cemetery. “I do this for those brothers and sisters who did not come home,” he said.
Several other local groups are helping the cause, including the State of Franklin SAR Rogersville, Tennessee Sons of the American Revolution and the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) John Sevier-Sarah Hawkins Chapter. Tammy Fletcher, member of the DAR, was born into a military family. Her father, now deceased, was a career Marine and her husband retired after 30 years in the Army. “This event is very near and dear to my heart. There are so many veterans that have no one to think about them this time of year,” she said.
The wreath ceremony will be held at noon, Saturday, Dec.15 at Mountain Home National Cemetery on 53 Memorial Avenue in Johnson City. The public is invited to attend the event and encouraged to sponsor wreaths to help cover as many graves as possible. The beautiful hand-crafted wreaths are $15 each. Donations can be made online and volunteers can also register online at www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/tnmhnm. The deadline to order wreaths is Nov. 25. To request a wreath for a specific veteran at the cemetery, contact David Carter at (423) 349-4622, Bob Rambo at (423) 276-8368 or Scott Foster at (423) 741-9934.
As President Harry S. Truman once said, “Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifice.” Please help to honor all 17,000 veterans at Mountain Home National Cemetery during this Wreaths Across America Day to help ensure that they will never be forgotten.