Students at Jameson Elementary School gather in front of a tractor-trailer from the Wreaths Across America convoy on Monday morning. LIZ GOTTHELF/Journal Tribune

OLD ORCHARD BEACH — The Wreaths Across America convoy received a hero’s welcome on Monday morning.

Wreaths Across America is a nonprofit organization founded in 2007 that carries out a mission to remember, honor and teach by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies in Arlington National Cemetery and other cemeteries across the country and beyond. This tradition of laying wreaths in Arlington is now in its 27th year, having begun in 1992 by Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington.

Every December, a convoy of tractor-trailer trucks, police cars and other vehicles makes a pilgrimage from Columbia Falls, Maine, to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

This year, the convoy departed on Saturday and wreaths are scheduled to be laid at Arlington Cemetery on Dec. 15. Along the way the convoy stops at schools and community organizations to educate others about its mission. One of the stops this year was Jameson Elementary School in Old Orchard Beach.

As the convoy pulled up in front of the school, students, local officials and community members gathered to welcome the members of the convoy. The Loranger Middle School band played the National Anthem and other songs, and local Boy Scouts held a flag raising ceremony.

An assembly was held in the school and students participated in a presentation and sang songs honoring veterans.

The Wreaths Across America convoy visited the school once before in 2007.

“We loved when Wreaths Across America visited us years ago, and we’re proud to have them back,” said Jameson Elementary School Principal Mike Flaherty.

Old Orchard Beach High School student Chase Walker, who was in Kindergarten the last time the convoy stopped in town, spoke to students. Walker said he had a family member buried at Arlington Cemetery last year.

“Wreaths Across America means a lot to my family,” he said.

Local Gold Star Mother Nancy Kelley, who traveled on the Wreaths of America convoy for three years, spoke about the friendships she had made while on the convoy. She also spoke of the community spirit in Old Orchard Beach and said she was proud to live in the town.

“We’re small but we’re mighty,” she said.

Students in Saco from C.K. Burns School wave flags as the Wreaths Across America passes down Main Street on Monday. LIZ GOTTHELF/Journal Tribune

The Wreaths Across America convoy was scheduled to make a stop at Kittery Trading Post later Monday morning.

As the convoy traveled south, students and community members stood on Main Street, waving flags and cheering on the convoy, which included local Old Orchard Beach Police escorts Deputy Chief Corey Huntress and Patrol Officer Nathan Paradis.

This year, through the Wreaths Across America effort, about 1.8 million wreaths will be put on veterans graves, with about 250,000 of those being placed on graves at Arlington National Cemetery.

“It’s been 27 years and it just gets more and more well-known,” said Worcester, the founder of Wreath Across America. He said it’s very moving to see the growing crowds of people who show up every year to greet the convoy along its route.

 Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 780-9015 or [email protected].

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