Friday, January 6, 2023

‘Wreaths Across America’ a transformative experience for WPD officers

By Lorraine Glowczak

After five years volunteering as police escorts for the Wreaths Across America (WAA) caravan, providing safety at intersections as it traveled through Maine, Windham Police Department (WPD) Detective Eugene Gallant and Sergeant Jason Burke received an opportunity this year to participate in the entire six-day convoy that travels to Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington D.C.

Windham Police DCetective Eugene Gallant and Sgt. Jason
Burke helped to lay 247,000 wreaths on the graves of fallen
soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery as part of the annual
Wreaths Across America event. They experienced many
meaningful moments on the trip and say it made a
significant impact on their lives. SUBMITTED PHOTO   
In its 30th year, this annual 730-mile one-way procession begins at the Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington, Maine where the wreaths are made and then delivered the first week of December. Upon arrival, Det. Gallant and Sgt. Burke helped to lay 247,000 wreaths, transported in 18 semi-trailers, onto the graves of fallen soldiers. They both agreed that laying wreaths and saluting fallen soldiers were very humbling experiences.

“Gene and I thought it was a great way to honor our soldiers and the people who sacrificed their lives for our country and the freedoms offered here,” Burke said. “Since we began escorting for WAA, it became a bucket list item for us to travel to Arlington to show our appreciation, so when the opportunity arose to be a part of this convoy, we jumped at it.”

Gallant and Burke also participated in wreath-laying ceremonies at the William H. Taft Memorial, JFK Memorial, RFK Memorial, USS Maine Memorial, the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They also paid their respects by rendering a salute at the gravesite of fellow WPD officer Justin Hudnor’s grandfather, a World War II veteran. Although there were many significant events that took place during the six-day period, the sergeant and detective shared two meaningful experiences.

“During the trip to D.C., we made many stops along the way at various New England towns,” Gallant said. “At one stop at a War Memorial in New Jersey, a woman approached us and asked us to transport a stone to Arlington. The stone had the name of her son engraved on it. He was stationed in Afghanistan and was on a convoy detail when he was hit and killed by an IED [improvised explosive device]. She asked us to take him. One of the truckers [delivering the wreaths] was a veteran who had a tour in Afghanistan and asked if he could take her son to D.C. with him. Of course, we gave the stone to the trucker to travel with a fellow comrade. This is an experience that Jason and I definitely did not expect. This made a great impact on us.”

Another significant experience happened while placing 184 wreaths at the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, a memorial for those who did not survive the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks. Burke said that a Pentagon Police lieutenant explained the monument and what the layout meant.

“The direction of the benches signifies the direction the plane flew into the building,” Burke said. “The names on the benches are laid out so that if you are looking toward the sky, it represents those on the plane. The names on the ground are of people in the building. It is a very powerful and meaningful memorial that Gene and I would encourage all to attend.”

The WAA tradition began in 1992 when the Worcester Wreath Company had a surplus of 5,000 wreaths, and the owner of the company, Morrill Worcester recalled a powerful experience of his own. He knew immediately what he had to do with the extra wreaths.

The story began when Worcester was 12 years old in 1963. He won a trip to Washington D.C. while working as a delivery boy for the Bangor Daily News.

“His first trip to our nation’s capital was one he would never forget, and Arlington National Cemetery made an especially indelible impression on him,” the Worcester Wreath Company website stated. “This experience followed him throughout his life and successful career, reminding him that his good fortune was due, in large part, to the values of this nation and the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.”

So, in 1992, Worcester remembered his boyhood experience at Arlington, and he realized he had an opportunity to honor our country’s veterans. “With the aid of Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, arrangements were made for the wreaths to be placed at Arlington in one of the older sections of the cemetery that had been receiving fewer visitors with each passing year.”

The tradition continued, and in 2007, Wreaths Across America became a non-profit organization.

Although U.S. veterans are honored and remembered on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, Sgt. Gallant and Det. Burke understand more profoundly the appreciation the veterans deserve daily.

“We like to encourage others to honor and remember those who have sacrificed so that we may have the freedom to live the life of our dreams,” Gallant said.

For more information about the Worcester Wreath Company, one can peruse the company’s website at To learn more about Wreath Across America go to<

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