PORTLAND – Hundreds of people waited in the cold evening air in front of Cheverus High School Sunday to greet 10 tractor-trailer trucks full of Christmas wreaths.

The wreaths, from Worcester Wreath Co. in Harrington, were on their annual journey to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., to be laid on the graves of armed service members. The event at Cheverus was organized so people could honor what the wreaths represent, and for whom they’re intended.

Though many in the crowd — veterans, Scout troops, teens, families — were there to honor the mission of the wreaths in a general way, some in the crowd had very personal connections.

Event organizer Kevin Haley, a Portland police officer, has a brother buried at Arlington. William Haley, a Cheverus High graduate, served his country in the Air Force for more than 25 years before his death in 1996. Though his brother wasn’t killed in the line of duty, Haley said his burial in the military cemetery created an attachment.

“I think a lot of us here feel such a strong bond with that place,” said Haley, standing in the Cheverus gym. “This thing has just snowballed over the years, and it’s amazing.”

The wreath convoy from Harrington to Arlington began in 1992, when wreath company owners Karen and Morrill Worcester wanted to lay surplus wreaths at soldiers’ graves. Today a nonprofit group that sprung from the effort, Wreaths Across America, relies on a vast network of volunteers to get thousands of wreaths to Arlington and other cemeteries.

And along the way, the caravan stops at events like the one Sunday at Cheverus, organized by more volunteers.

Besides trucks full of wreaths, the convoy included members of the national motorcycle group, the Patriot Guard Riders, and members of the American National Gold Star Mothers, who have lost sons and daughters in the service of their country.

And besides Haley, there were others in the audience who felt a personal tie to Arlington.

Jennifer Tyll of North Yarmouth, a Navy veteran who served in Iraq, said she has “many friends” buried in the cemetery.

“This is a great event, great to see so many people who want to be part of this,” said Tyll.

Once the convoy stopped at Cheverus, there was a ceremony in the gym lasting more than an hour and including bagpipes and drummers.

The speakers included Gen. John W. Libby of the Maine National Guard; 87-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor and retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Robert Coles; Norma Luther, president of the American National Gold Star Mothers; and Karen and Morrill Worcester.

Many talked about the Wreaths Across America motto, “Remember, Honor, Teach.” Several said such ceremonies were important to help teach us all, especially younger generations, that freedom requires sacrifice.

“The most emotional experience I’ve ever had in this uniform is laying a wreath at Arlington,” said Libby. “It is so important to teach this generation of schoolchildren that freedom is not free. What the Worcesters do is helping to do that.”

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

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