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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Stories from Wreaths Across America touch Windham - By Michelle Libby

Monday morning five vehicles from Wreaths Across America were parked in front of Chute’s Bakery on Route 302 and it drew a lot of attention. The five drivers were on their way back to Columbia Falls to drop off the cars after a trip to Washington D.C. to place wreaths on the graves of soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. 
 
Lil Charron, an employee of Wreaths Across America, was originally from Windham and her parents are buried in Chase Cemetery, was finishing up her eighth convoy. Every year she stops on the way back from Washington to place a wreath that rode on her car on their graves. This tradition is what brought the five of them to Windham. 

Jim Johnston is formally from Raymond and now lives in Saco. The Army Veteran was asked to drive Gold Star Parents (parents who lost a child) and Blue Star Parents (who have a child serving presently) down to Washington. He agreed. 

“There’s no “nos” in Wreaths Across America,” said Charron. 

When Johnston retired from the Army, he said, “I’ve got to do something with Wreaths Across America. I was selected as a driver. It was the trip of a lifetime.” He drove four gold star parents. “Just listening to their stories is fantastic,” he added. 

Ruth Stonesifer from Ocala, Florida, a Gold Star Mother, lost her son 39 days after 9/11. Her son’s marker is at Arlington and she is a board member for Wreaths Across America.
Doug Brown from Westbrook was excited about completing his first trip with Wreaths Across America. “It was my first year, but I hope it’s not my last. It was humbling to ride with a gold star mom and aunt,” said Brown. 

Most of the Veterans and the gold and blue star families rode down on a bus. However, Chevy donated four Suburbans, three pickup trucks and one Camaro. It was the first time they had a corporate sponsor said Charron, who was tasked with finding the drivers. “That’s when I called in the troops,” she said. 

The wreaths, all from Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine, were loaded into 63 semi-trucks and shipped in convoy to Washington D.C. Truck drivers came from all over the country to drive. The lead driver was from Maine. Scott and Lorna Harris from Patton are gold star parents. The truck Scott drove was wrapped for Wreaths Across America and in his mirrors he could see a picture of his son on the side of the truck. Drivers also deliver wreaths to 1,000 other sites across the country, according to Charron. Nine hundred thousand wreaths are made and shipped. 

On December 12, 240,000 wreaths were laid at Arlington National Cemetery at each headstone where it was appropriate.

“It’s an experience with everyone going every which way. They wait a good amount of time to get a wreath or two,” said Stonesifer. “It’s wonderful energy, chaos.” 

Within three hours the entire cemetery was covered with wreaths. Seventy thousand people had volunteered to place wreaths and honor those who fought for our freedom. 

“It’s easy to pick out people associated with Wreaths Across America. While they’re placing their wreaths they are teaching their small children, reading to them. People are encouraged to spend time with each one,” said Johnston. People go home and learn about the Veteran they honored. Volunteers are also encouraged to say their Veteran’s name. 

Johnston quoted Karen Worcester, “She would talk to us every morning. ‘Every individual dies twice. Once when his heart stops beating and again when a person says your name for the very last time’.”
The mission for this year’s program was “Remember, honor and teach.” The volunteers are reminded that “Every stone has a story.” 

Nancy Buell, from Salisbury, Massachusetts, told a story about a girl who had just finished a book report on a Veteran buried at Arlington. She didn’t know the World War II Veteran, but she learned about him. “She walked right up to the stone, just walked up to it,” Buell said. They ran off to get a wreath to put on his headstone.  

“These stories happen a lot. It’s amazing,” said Buell. 

The program was started by Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine. For more, visit www.wreathsacrossamerica.org or visit them on Facebook.


Photo: Lil Charron, Hunter Diffin, Jim Johnston, Ruth Stonesifer, Doug Brown and Nancy Buell stop at Chute’s on Monday for breakfast on their way home from Washington D.C.
Photo by Michelle Libby

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