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Sisters launch campaign to decorate graves of veterans with pine wreaths
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By Carol McIntire
Two Carrollton sisters are leading an effort to place live holiday wreaths on the graves of veterans in Grandview and Westview cemeteries this holiday season.
Emilee Boring Ayers and Kimberly Boring Berry are spearheading the campaign through an organization known as Wreaths Across America (WAA).
The group’s mission is simple: Remember the fallen. Remember those who serve. Teach the next generation the value of freedom. Founded in 2007 and headquartered in Columbia Falls, Maine, the organization is best known for its annual wreath-laying ceremonies each December. Now in nearly 4,000 communities nationwide, WAA volunteers are committed to sharing the mission through education and stories of service and success.
Ayers said the idea came during a vacation.
“We were traveling on the freeway and a truck passed us with the words Wreaths Across America lettered on the side. We started talking about it and 15 minutes later a post related to the organizations popped up on my Facebook page,” Ayers explained. “We talked about it some more, and when we got home, we decided to purchase a wreath for dad’s grave.”
That idea led the pair to research the organization and participating cemeteries.
“We couldn’t find either Grandview or Westview cemeteries in Carrollton on the list of participating cemeteries,” Ayers continued, “so we checked with Center Twp. trustees who gave us their blessing with the project and we decided to move forward.”
At this point, the sisters had an idea, the blessing of the township, but not the number of veteran graves in the two cemeteries or people to donate wreaths.
Using the website findagrave.com and with the assistance of veteran Bill Wohlwend, the ladies have been working to identify graves in both cemeteries.
“We walked the entire Westview Cemetery to locate graves,” Berry noted.
To date, the pair has located 262 graves of veterans and 20 they have yet to confirm.
They include one from an unknown war and others from the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican War, Civil War, 10 Spanish American War, World War I, World War II and Korea at Grandview. Westview graves located are from the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Persian Gulf and Afghanistan.
“Our goal is to get enough wreaths donated to have one on each grave,” Berry noted, adding the wreaths are constructed of Vermont pine.
The cost is $17 per wreath.
National Wreaths Across America Day will be held Dec. 16 this year. Traditionally, the event has taken place the third Saturday in December at Arlington National Cemetery and cemeteries across the country. In 2022, 2.7 million wreaths were placed across the country at 3,702 cemeteries. More than two million volunteers helped place wreaths, a third of whom were children.
At Arlington Cemetery, where Wreaths Across America began in the 1990s, 68 tractor trailers delivered 275,000 wreaths that were placed on veterans’ graves by nearly 28,000 volunteers. Over 644 truckloads of wreaths were delivered across the country by hundreds of volunteer professional truck drivers driving donated equipment and fuel from approximately 296 transport companies.
The 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization’s website tells the story of the impact a visit to Washington, D.C., Arlington National Cemetery, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier had on the life of Wreaths Across America’s founder, Morrill Worcester at a young age.
“It was to be an experience that would follow him throughout his life and successful career, reminding him that his good fortune was due, in large part, to the values of his nation and the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country,” the site reads.
“In 1992, Worcester Wreath (owned by Worcester and his wife) found themselves with a surplus of wreaths nearing the end of the holiday season. Remembering his boyhood experience at Arlington, Worcester realized he had an opportunity to honor our country’s veterans. With the aid of Maine Senator Olympia Snowe (ret), arrangements were made for the surplus wreaths to be placed at Arlington in one of the older cemetery sections that had been receiving fewer visitors each passing year.
As plans were underway to transport the wreaths to Washington, a number of other individuals and organizations stepped up to help. James Prout, owner of local trucking company Blue Bird Ranch, Inc., generously provided transportation all the way to Virginia. Volunteers from the local American Legion and VFW Posts gathered with members of the community to decorate each wreath with traditional red, hand-tied bows. Members of the Maine State Society of Washington D.C., helped to organize the wreath-laying, which included a special ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, according to the site.
The wreath-laying that began more than 30 years ago continues today. The annual pilgrimage from Harrington, Maine to Arlington National Cemetery has become known as “the world’s largest veterans’ parade.” Every year the convoy of trucks, local law enforcement, staff and supporters stop at schools, monuments, veterans’ homes and communities along the way to talk about the Wreaths Across America mission and remind people how important it is to remember, honor and teach.”
Today the organization provides lesson plans free of charge for teachers to help young people Remember our fallen, Honor those who serve, and Teach the next generation the value of freedom.
Ayers and Boring are seeking donors and volunteers to help with the event. Those interested can check out the Facebook page Westview and Grandview Cemeteries Wreaths Across America. Anyone interested in donating a wreath to be placed on a specific grave should send a check for $17 along with the name, rank and branch of service of the veteran. For more information, call Emilee at 330-627-2751.
The deadline to order wreaths is Nov. 28.
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