March 18, 2010

Maine wreaths head to Arlington graves

ELBERT AULL

— By

Staff Writer

The 40-vehicle convoy was more than an hour behind schedule as it rolled down Route 1 south of Wiscasset late Sunday afternoon.

The veterans, truck drivers and other ''Wreaths Across America'' volunteers had already visited two dedication ceremonies and watched countless well-wishers, old and young, wave from the side of the road.

It was dark, and the convoy turned its headlights on.

Clarence Nelson of Columbia said he looked through the windshield of the sport utility vehicle he was riding in and caught a glimpse of an ''amazing'' image.

''One guy was out there, all by himself, waving an American flag,'' said Nelson, 67, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Navy.

Nelson was among the dozens who trekked south from Harrington to South Portland on Sunday, day one of a weeklong mission to take thousands of wreaths from a warehouse in Maine to Arlington National Cemetery. The patriotic trip is an annual rite now in its 16th year.

Morrill Worcester, president of Worcester Wreath Co., launched the campaign in 1992, when his company had a surplus of wreaths at its Topsfield warehouse late in the holiday season -- too late to sell them all before Christmas.

Worcester decided to take the excess wreaths to Arlington and lay them against the headstones of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.

The tradition has grown from a single man trucking his wreath company's extra wares to an entire convoy hauling thousands of garlands to Virginia.

Worcester changed his path to Arlington from the fast, easy interstate to the slow but highly visible Route 1 last year -- when the Civil Air Patrol took the event nationwide, a move that created a demand for more public appearances along the motorcade route.

This year, the company doubled the number of wreaths headed to Arlington, from 5,000 to 10,000. It allowed visitors to the charity's Web site, www. wreathsacrossamerica.org, to sponsor wreaths and expanded the scope of its tribute to U.S. veterans' cemeteries abroad.

Worcester said thousands of additional wreaths -- in excess of the 10,000 headed to Arlington -- are now on their way to veterans' sites in other states. The company cannot ship its garlands overseas due to trade restrictions, so it paid for wreaths to be placed at cemeteries overseas.

The wreaths will be dedicated during simultaneous ceremonies scheduled for Dec. 15 at noon EST, at veterans' sites across the nation and abroad, Worcester said.

On Sunday, the convoy to Arlington stopped for ceremonies in Sullivan, Rockland and Portland before pulling into a hotel in South Portland for the night around 10 p.m.

It fell more than an hour behind schedule along the route, mostly due to the number of times the lengthy motorcade slowed to a crawl to acknowledge the crowds along Route 1, said John O'Leary of Norway, an organizer with the military support group Patriot Guard Riders. ''That slowed us way down,'' O'Leary said.

O'Leary and Nelson, the Vietnam veteran, said they didn't mind the delays -- despite looking tired at the end of the day.

''Little kids and their parents, old couples, young people -- it was just beautiful to see,'' Nelson said.

The motorcade is scheduled to stop at the Maine Veterans Home in Scarborough and at schools in Old Orchard Beach and Wells today before a recognition ceremony at the Kittery Trading Post.

The ceremony is scheduled to begin around 11:30 a.m., organizers said.

Staff Writer Elbert Aull can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

eaull@pressherald.com

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