MALDEN — More than 100 volunteers trekked to Forest Dale Cemetery and took part in a nationwide effort Saturday to honor America’s veterans in the holiday season.
Led by members of Boy Scout Troop 603 and Assistant Scoutmaster Jim Sherman, a contingent of volunteers braved the 20-degree weather to participate in Wreaths Across America.
The national campaign began in 1992 with one person and one small group which laid holiday season wreaths on graves at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. In 2005, when photos of the ceremony appeared online, many people jumped on board and a the nonprofit was formed.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans took part laying millions of wreaths on the graves of veterans in cemeteries nationwide.
By 2008, more than 300 locations were sites for wreath-laying, with more than 100,000 placed on veterans’ graves. By 2014 the number had grown to 700,000 wreaths. This year, more than 1 million wreaths are expected to be placed on veterans’ graves across America, according to Kevin Jarvis, director of Veterans Services.
At Forest Dale Cemetery, 130 wreaths were laid on Saturday, primarily on the Civil War graves in the center of the cemetery, which features a memorial surrounded by cannons. The Troop 603 Boy Scouts also placed a holiday season wreath at the grave of Malden’s Civil War Medal of Honor recipient George Harrison.
As the wreaths were laid, each volunteer said the name of the deceased veteran and thanked them for their service.
“We encourage every volunteer who places a wreath on a veteran’s grave to say that veteran’s name aloud and take a moment to thank them for their service to our country,” said Karen Worcester, executive director of Wreaths Across America in a statement. “It’s a small act that goes a long way toward keeping the memory of our veterans alive. We are not performing this service to decorate graves. We’re here to remember not their deaths, but their lives.”
Jarvis said it was a great event to honor veterans and bring residents together to volunteer in a worthy cause. He was impressed, he said, with the number of volunteers.
“There was a pretty good turnout for their first year,” he said.
Malden Mayor Gary Christenson, who was on hand for the event, praised the volunteers.
“The city of Malden commends Boy Scout Troop 603 and all of today’s volunteers for taking part in this worthy, national event,” he said.
Jarvis noted the direct link between many of those who served in the military and the Boy Scouts. “Many of these veterans, like myself, served in the Boy Scouts before they joined the military,” he said.
The history of the Wreaths Across America movement arose from when Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Co. of Harrington, Maine, was a 12-year-old paper boy for the Bangor Daily News when he won a trip to Washington D.C. His first trip to our nation’s capital left him with a deep impression of Arlington National Cemetery and this experience followed him throughout his life and career, he said.
In 1992, Worcester Wreath found themselves with a surplus of wreaths nearing the end of the holiday season, according to company’s website. Remembering his boyhood experience at Arlington National Cemetery, Worcester realized he had an opportunity to honor veterans. Arrangements were made for the wreaths to be placed at Arlington in one of the older sections of the cemetery, where Civil War veterans were interred, that had been receiving fewer visitors with each passing year.