PORTLAND – A truck convoy carrying hundreds of Maine-grown wreaths bound for Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia arrived Sunday night in Portland.

The Wreaths Across America convoy, which was escorted by Portland Police Department cruisers, pulled into the parking lot at Cheverus High School around 5:30 p.m.

Hundreds of well-wishers greeted the convoy members — who included Gov. Paul LePage and his wife, Ann — inside the school’s Keegan gymnasium where several guests spoke.

“Each and every one of our veterans represents a piece of living history,” Ann LePage told the audience. “This (convoy) is a demonstration of sheer patriotism.”

LePage plans to continue to accompany the convoy to Arlington. Gov. LePage will fly down and join her there Saturday. The wreaths will be laid on the graves of fallen soldiers, including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Portland police Lt. Janine Roberts has been chosen to lay a wreath on the grave of former President John F. Kennedy.

The mission of Wreaths Across America is to honor the soldiers who have sacrificed their lives for their country.

Morrill Worcester, president of the Worcester Wreath Co. of Harrington, and his wife, Karen, established the Wreaths Across America program 21 years ago.

It has grown over the years to become a nonprofit organization that delivers more than 30,000 wreaths to Arlington as well as to more than 400 veteran’s cemeteries and grave sites across the country.

Several veterans spoke during Sunday night’s ceremony, which featured a blessing of the wreaths and an appearance by the Bagpipe and Drummers Corps of Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Among the speakers was a former member of the Tuskegee Airman — the black fighter pilots and their maintenance crews who overcame segregation to serve their country during World War II.

James A. Sheppard, 88, of South Portland served as a crew chief mechanic during the war.

“We were no better than white pilots and no worse. In my opinion, we did very well but by the time the war ended, we had lost 66 pilots,” Sheppard said.

World War II veteran Robert Coles, 87, of Machias — a chief petty officer in the Navy — called on young people to consider serving in the military.

“I can see the rebirth of the next greatest generation just by looking at all the young people here tonight,” Coles said.

Several Cheverus students attended the event, which was organized by Portland police Officer Kevin Haley, who is also the Cheverus swim coach.

Haley’s brother William is buried at Arlington.

The U.S. Senate passed a resolution, which was sponsored by Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, designating Saturday, Dec. 15, as Wreaths Across America Day.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]herald.com