|Looking at the Washington Monument from a hill at Arlington National Cemetery.|
Sunday, December 17, 2017
Laying of the Wreaths 2017
Driving the George Washington Parkway from Virginia into Washington, DC, you cannot miss the drama of Arlington National Cemetery on your right. You look out onto row after row of white crosses as they march in silent columns over the rolling hills of Virginia. Watered by tears, drenched in blood, the graves of 400,000 veterans and their families are silent reminders of the high cost of freedom. For the past ten years, thousands of people have come to Arlington in December to participate in a ceremony known as the Laying of the Wreaths.
It all began in 1992 when Merrill Worcester, owner of the Worcester Wreath Company in Maine, found himself with 5,000 pieces of excess stock. As a child, he’d been struck by the sad beauty of Arlington National Cemetery. This 1,100-acre plot of land has been a sacred spot since the 1850s when George Washington Parke Custis dedicated it to the memory of his step-grandfather, George Washington. During the Civil War, federal troops used the grounds as headquarters and burial grounds. By the third year of the war, D.C. graveyards had run out of space, and so two hundred more acres at Arlington were set aside for the dead. Shortly thereafter, the site was turned into a national cemetery.
Worcester decided to donate his wreaths, asking that they be placed on graves in one of the older (and less visited) sections of the graveyard. Since then, this simple act has become an annual tradition that occurs on the third Saturday each December at Arlington and 1,200 additional locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea, and abroad. The mission of National Wreaths Across America Day is to Remember, Honor and Teach.
Yesterday, my husband and I joined a group of friends to participate. The ground was freezing; the surface was slick with ice and traces of snow. Traffic backed up for miles over the bridge, so we opted to say goodbye to our Uber driver and walk the final mile or so. Fortunately, we were all appropriately bundled up. Once we passed under the Arlington’s gateway, we made our way to sections of the graveyard where trucks were parked, and volunteers unloaded unassuming brown cardboard boxes. We took our places in line, using the time to gaze around at the variety of monuments. One was copyrighted by Tiffany. Another was a single, huge granite ball. A cannon stands sentinel amidst a group of headstones. An angel blows a horn from one carved headstone.
Eventually we were each given one wreath. Tradition demands that you say the name of the fallen as you set down your wreath. Thus, we remembered the fallen by bringing them back to living memory once more.
Do you have a family member interred at Arlington? Have you been to Arlington?