Showing posts with label Wreaths Across America. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wreaths Across America. Show all posts

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<

Friday, December 15, 2017

Wreaths Across America Caravan from the eyes of a Windham volunteer by Cindy DeCosta

Wreaths Across America makes a stop in Windham
“By the dawn’s early light,” it all began. What an appropriate time to start the first portion of the Wreaths Across America (WAA) trek.

Sunday, December 10, was our first day on the road with the convoy that began in Harrington, ME as we headed toward Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

Truckers carrying more than 1 million wreaths for 1,422 locations across the country were loaded and ready to roll.

Ceremony on the bridge between Calais and St. Stephen
Though Sunday was the official start date of the convoy, many of us gathered the day before, on Saturday, for a day full of events that included a dinner and sermon at Balsam Valley Chapel in Columbia Falls, ME.

Most of us involved in the WAA Caravan were meeting for the first time but camaraderie develops quickly when on a mission such as this. We began with a sunrise ceremony at Quoddy Light House in Lubec followed by breakfast at Washington County Community College in Calais.

The second ceremony took place on the bridge between Calais and St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada. It is an annual ceremony of honor, referred to as the Honoring Allies Remember Together (H.A.R.T). This is a joining of two countries to respect those who have lost loved ones while serving during wartime.

The American families are designated as Gold Star Families and the Canadian families are referred to as Silver Cross Families. These families were accompanied by the Maine Wing of the Civil Air Patrol and the Royal Canadian Air Cadets. at the halfway point of the bridge, the Gold Star Families presented wreaths to the Canadian families.

They then walked across the border into Canada to lay a wreath at the war memorial monument. For those who are not familiar with the term, the Gold Star designation is given to family members who
have lost a loved one in military service. The Canadian Silver Cross holds the same meaning.

We are traveling with hundreds of others to pay respect to our service men and women who lie at rest in Arlington National Cemetery by placing wreaths at every headstone. This is by no means a direct path there. During our seven days on the road, we will be visiting schools, veterans’ homes, town squares, and other locales to deliver the mission of Wreaths Across America- Remember, Honor and Teach.

This tradition of placing wreaths at Arlington began in 1992 when the Worcester Wreath Company had a surplus of 5,000 wreaths. When Morrill Worcester, owner of the Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington was 12 years old, he had traveled to Washington D.C. and the impression of Arlington Cemetery has always stayed with him. He decided that the extra wreaths should be placed there.

The Worcesters (left) with the Donlons
Worcester made plans with his family about taking those wreaths and placing them at Arlington. His idea grew and developed and, quickly, others got involved. The Worcesters continued to quietly place wreaths, with a small group, each year until 2005.

A picture of these wreaths adorning the cemetery hit the internet and this brought in thousands of requests from people wanting to help. And, thus, Wreaths Across America, as you know it today, began.
The Donlons speak at Windham High School
The WAA Caravan started the trek at the Narraguagus High School in Harrington on Sunday. After a hearty breakfast provided by the school staff, an escort briefing and a blessing of the fleet, we headed out.

Leaving town, we were escorted by local fire departments and police departments from across the state. We had 12 official convoy vehicles, 2 buses, 2 vans, a spattering of personal vehicles and many tractor-trailers carrying the wreaths. It has been estimated that the convoy was 5 miles in length.

What a sight to be a part of. It is difficult to explain the wave of emotions that you feel when seeing people lining both sides of the street waving flags and signs. Many of the towns and cities on our route were lining the streets with their fire trucks while offering sirens as a form of welcome and honor.

The vehicles that my husband Tim and I have been assigned to drive are wrapped with the Wreaths Across America graphics. While this is impressive, it’s the people who are our traveling companions that truly humble me.

On Saturday we had the distinct honor of spending the day with the Grand Marshalls of the convoy, Colonel Roger and Norma Donlon from Kansas. Norma Donlon is a Gold Star wife.  Her first husband, John Irving Jr. was killed during the Vietnam War at 22 years old. Colonel Donlon served in both the Air Force and the Army. During his time in the Army he was as a member of the Special Forces Team.
Donlon was the first American to be awarded the Medal of Honor from the Vietnam War. He is a humble man who during a 5-hour heavy mortar battle in Nam Dong in the Republic of Vietnam, fought to save his men after being shot seven times himself. His story is that of a true hero. Sunday my husband and I began our journey with the Blue Star Family of John and Linda Billings. Blue Star families have a member serving during war time. The Billings’ son, John, is currently in the Maine
Army National Guard.

Our final stop on Sunday was at Windham High School. Being a graduate of Windham High, I was
excited and proud that the convoy was able to stop here. However, nothing prepared me for the sights when we approached the school. The first wave of emotions came when we approached the beautifully decorated rotary where Windham Law Enforcement waited to escort us into the school.

Then as we neared the intersection of Route 202 and School Road, there hung the American flag over the road between two ladder fire trucks. It was illuminated brightly against the black sky and provided the backdrop for the community members who were waiting there to watch us pass. I thought that I could not be more proud of my home town; but then we arrived at the school and there was a crowd welcoming us with cheers and applause. Thank you to all who came out to attend this event.

On Monday, December 11, we continued our trip toward Arlington Cemetery and when I return, I
will share that portion of our trip with you.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of Wreaths Across America, take time out during this hectic season to Remember, Honor and Teach.


Friday, December 23, 2016

Ceremonial wreaths presented at the Windham Veterans Center - By Lorraine Glowczak

Ending a long journey that included thirty convoy stops between Calais, Maine and the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C., the volunteer drivers of the Wreaths Across America (WAA) made a quick stop in Windham on Tuesday. After a week of travel, honoring and remembering American heroes and making their way back to Harrington, Maine, members of the truck caravan decided to do a surprise visit and present seven ceremonial wreaths at Field-Allen Legion Post 148 at the Windham Veterans Center. 

But prior to the honorary and ceremonial wreath laying, a crew of eight out of the 15 volunteer drivers stopped to refuel at Chutes Family Restaurant in Windham. After traveling approximately 1,500 miles round trip in one week, the volunteer drivers met one last time for breakfast, recalling with fondness their long, emotional and yet joyous ride together.
“The outpouring of support we received along this trip was incredible,” expressed Jim Johnston, one of the volunteer drivers. “We were greeted at every stop along the way. At one point, over 800 students from a local school lined the streets with encouragement and cheers as we drove down their Main Street. At some locations, we were even given lunch before we headed down the road again.”

Briefly, Wreaths Across America became an official non-profit organization in 2007, after many years of wreath laying that garnered national attention prior to that year. Founded by Morrill Worcester, owner of the Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, ME, the mission and purpose of WAA is to remember and honor all soldiers as well as to teach “younger generations about the value of their freedoms, and the importance of honoring those who sacrificed for those freedoms.”

Honoring and remembering was one reason the caravan stopped in Windham. “I wanted to bring this back home with me,” stated Lil Charron, events coordinator with WAA and former Windham resident. “I wanted to recognize the veterans in my hometown.”

Charron and the rest of the volunteers not only got to provide the ceremonial wreath laying in Windham, but were privileged to meet and talk with Walter Braley, a Korean War veteran who joined the group for breakfast. It is Braley’s goal to fundraise and make enough money to provide wreaths in December 2017 for the 881 soldiers who are buried in all the Windham cemeteries. “It means everything to me,” explained Braley, holding back tears. “When I talk about it (wreath laying and honoring soldiers), it makes me cry.”

Once breakfast had concluded, the drivers resumed their mission for one last ceremony of honor for this Christmas season. With quiet respect, the volunteers drove their caravan of WAA trucks from the restaurant to the Windham Veterans Center (WVC) to lay the wreaths, with Braley riding along in the lead vehicle. 

Upon arrival at WVC, the caravan was greeted by over 20 veterans, representing all branches of the military. A wreath was given to a veteran of each branch (Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Army and Merchant Marine.) A wreath was also presented in honor and memory of Prisoners of War/Missing in Action. 

Prior to each wreath being placed on the perspective military service plaque, Mel Greenier, veteran and commander had a few words to say to the volunteers. “I want to thank you all for your Wreaths Across America program in honor of our nation’s American hero veterans resting in Arlington National Cemetery,” Greenier began. “This is such a wonderful idea created by the Worcester Wreath Company of Worcester, Maine many years ago. We sincerely thank you and your company for your many years of commitment, and we vets standing here today, very much appreciate your time and effort to the wonderful program. Thank you again and your Maine-based company makes us all very proud.”

For all those present, it was a very heart-rending ceremony of honoring and remembering. Not only here in Windham, but throughout the US with 1.2 million wreaths made and distributed this year.
But in order for this celebrated experience to occur on an annual basis, it takes the efforts of many individuals and organizations through-out the year. As the WAA website states, “our mission isn’t over once December ends.” Continuous fundraising efforts are in motion at all times. Countless people and organizations work and contribute to the WAA efforts.

Rolling Thunder, based out of Sanford, ME, is one such group. Rolling Thunder is a local and national non-profit organization and veterans, missing in action/prisoners of war advocacy group. They spend the year raising funds for a variety of veteran programs to include Wreaths Across America, placing wreaths at the Southern Maine Veteran Cemetery in Sanford. One fundraising effort, a golf tournament, occurred in July of this year at the Spring Meadows Golf Club in Gray. “We made a total amount of $6,800 from that one fundraiser,” Cindy DeCosta, events coordinator of Rolling Thunder, shared. “All the money was contributed to Wreaths Across America. In fact, our mission is so important to us, we are starting a new Rolling Thunder Chapter in the greater Windham area to help increase funding for Wreaths Across America and other veterans’ programs.”

Individuals can volunteer or donate directly to Wreaths Across America at . A special thanks to a portion of this year’s volunteer drivers for giving a week of their time to honor and remember: Lil Charron, Jim Johnston, Donna Bagwell, Ruth Stonesifer, Nancy Buell, Doug Brown, Dick Stacey and James Pierce.