Darien's Wreaths Across America is next month

Darien’s Wreaths Across America Ceremony honoring veterans will be held at noon on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Spring Grove Veterans Cemetery on Hecker Avenue, barring any change to the governor’s restrictions.

Until Nov. 30, 2020, wreaths at $15 each can still be ordered at www.wreathsacrossamerica.org by selecting Sponsor a Wreath and following directions.

When ordering online, residents should be sure the wreaths they order are destined for Spring Grove Veterans Cemetery, Darien. Donors should use the code CTSGVD to be sure the wreaths are designated for Darien’s cemetery or the donation goes into the general fund for the wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery.

Wreaths Across America has grown to become a worldwide organization, but its three core values remain: To remember the fallen; to honor those who serve and to teach our children the value of freedom. When placing a wreath, participants are urged to say the name of the veteran aloud.

Two of the last four years, funds were collected locally and a donation from an anonymous donor allowed each of the 2,184 veterans’ graves in Darien’s Spring Grove Veterans Cemetery to be covered.

Spring Grove Veterans Cemetery is the oldest of three official CT State Veterans Cemeteries with the other two located at Rocky Hill and Middletown. In 1864, local philanthropist Benjamin Fitch, built the first veterans’ home in the United States, here in Darien. Benjamin Fitch purchased land for the Spring Grove Veterans Cemetery when the Civil War soldiers who resided in the Home needed a fitting nearby burial place. The Fitch Home for Soldiers and their Orphans was located on Noroton Avenue where The Heights in Darien is built. The VFW Post #6933 building is the former chapel from the original Fitch Home and was moved across the street to its present location when the Fitch Home was demolished.

Darien has a long history with the Wreaths Across America Project dating back to 2006, but few people know the real story behind the nationwide wreath laying and just how it came to be.

As a young boy, wreath company founder Morrill Worcester was a local newspaper delivery boy in his hometown in Maine. As an incentive to earn subscribers, the newspaper company held a contest with the winners earning a trip to Washington, D.C. Little did Worcester know that trip which he won to Washington, and especially Arlington National Cemetery, would later serve as a catalyst to what is now known as a tradition to so many families across the world who participate in National Wreaths Across America Day.

First known as the Arlington Project, and ultimately Wreaths Across America, the tradition began in 1992 when the Worcester Wreath Company found themselves nearing the end of the holiday season with a surplus of wreaths. Remembering his boyhood experience at Arlington, Worcester realized he had the opportunity to honor the country’s veterans.

With the help of Maine Senator Olympia Snowe and the Maine State Society located in Washington, D.C. arrangements were made for the first wreaths to be placed in section 27 one of the oldest sections of Arlington National Cemetery.

Over the next 15 years, Worcester, and his wife, Karen with a small group of volunteers, continued to bring 5,000 wreaths to a different section of Arlington each year. This tradition went on quietly for years when in 2005, a photographer, Patrick Hughs took a photo of the stones at Arlington adorned with wreaths and covered in snow. When that photo circulated on the internet, The Arlington Project received national attention and thousands of requests poured in from people around the country wanting to emulate the Arlington Project at their local and state cemeteries. In 2007, Wreaths Across America became a 501(c)3.

In 2006, members of the Patriot Guard Motorcycle Riders in each state from Maine to Washington, D.C. were asked by Morrill and Karen Worcester to escort the week-long Veterans Honor Parade of tractor trailer filled wreaths from Maine to Arlington. This is often referred to as the world’s longest parade.

In 2009, civic organizations held simultaneous wreath-laying ceremonies at over 150 locations around the country. One of those locations was Darien’s Spring Grove Veterans Cemetery. The Worcesters and their wreath entourage and caravan of four tractor trailers stopped in this area overnight attending a dinner hosted at the Darien VFW Post #6933 and paid for by the Darien’s Ivanhoe Masonic Lodge #107 AF&AM. The Worcesters presented a ceremonial wreath to then First Selectman David Campbell at the Darien Town Hall and the following morning held a brief ceremony on the steps of Darien High School with all students, teachers and administrators attending. This tradition continued for several years until the entourage became too large for the Darien VFW to handle.

Last year, Morrill and Karen Worcester along with 15 wreath filled tractor trailers, donated by trucking companies from all over the United States and their professional drivers, a busload of Gold Star families, approximately 25 support vehicles, members of the Maine State Police, along with local law enforcement from Connecticut and other states, passed by Darien on Route 95 on their journey to Arlington. All give freely of their time to honor our veterans. The George Washington Bridge is closed so that the wreath caravan can stay together when crossing.

Wreath ceremonies are now held for veterans who died at sea and biodegradable wreaths are placed in the Gulf of Mexico and near Fort Meyers, Florida. A wreath is placed at the grave of John F. Kennedy, Jr; at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington; at the Statue of Liberty; at the base of each state’s name on the WWII memorial in Washington and at hundreds of veterans’ sites worldwide. In December 2019, Wreaths Across America was granted approval to place over 8,000 wreaths on the headstones of our American heroes at The Netherlands American Cemetery in Europe. This year, it is heart-warming to see so many Darien community organizations come together to honor veterans as part of the Wreaths Across America Project 2020 in Darien’s Spring Grove Veterans Cemetery.

In 2014, for the first time, enough money was donated to cover every eligible grave at Arlington with a remembrance wreath. William Henry Christman in Section 27, was the first soldier buried at ANC, and the first to get a wreath in 1992. In 2014, Morrill Worcester placed the last wreath on Christman’s grave and saw this as coming full circle.

As Benjamin Franklin remarked, “Tell me and I forget, Teach me and I remember, Involve me and I learn.”

History is sourced in part from the book, 25 Years of Wreaths Across America from Arlington to America, by Renee Worcester.

Karen and David Polett recently retired from Darien’s Monuments & Ceremonies Commission and were the previous organizers of the town’s Wreaths Across America ceremony and the town’s Memorial Day parade.