December 15, 2007
The rows of gravestones stretched out before him like time itself. But when John Lechler saw the date on one particular tombstone, he knew where to lay his wreath. And for a moment, Army Air Corps 2nd Lt. Gordon H. Sterling Jr., who died on Dec. 7, 1941, lived again.
The balsam fir wreath was from Maine — made by hand, decorated by hand, wrapped, boxed and loaded on a truck by hand, then driven 750 miles to Arlington National Cemetery.
This is the miracle of Arlington. "When you first look at that sea of stones, you don't get the impression of individuality," says Tom Sherlock, the cemetery historian. "But if you stop for just a moment and look at the name on the stone, in that moment they're thought of again, and they live again."
Lechler was one of about 600 volunteers at the cemetery Thursday for what has become a new holiday tradition: placing Christmas wreaths — supplied by a Maine businessman who never got over his first sight of the cemetery — on more than 5,000 veterans' graves.
"It's great that we came together to show our gratitude, considering how tough it is for everybody with this war going on," says Lechler, 42, an Ashburn, Va., resident who runs a sports training business and who never served in the military.
Every December for the past 15 years, Morrill Worcester, owner of one of the world's largest holiday wreath companies, has taken time in the midst of his busiest season to haul a truckload of wreaths to Arlington from his small Downeast Maine town of Harrington.
For years, he and a small band of volunteers laid the wreaths in virtual obscurity. But in the last 12 months that has changed, thanks to a dusting of snow last year at the cemetery, an evocative photograph, a sentimental poem and a chain e-mail. And this year, Worcester went national. A new program, "Wreaths Across America," shipped a total of about 1,300 wreaths to more than 200 national cemeteries and vets' memorials in all 50 states.
Worcester, 56, says he wants to help Americans remember and honor deceased military veterans, particularly at Christmas, when they're missed most. On the Wreaths Across America website, he makes this comment: "When people hear about what we're doing, they want to know if I'm a veteran. I'm not. But I make it my business never to forget."
On Thursday he looked at the crowd of volunteers — five times as many as last year's — and said, "I didn't realize there were this many people that felt like I do."
May it always be so.
Posted by Cassandra at December 15, 2007 07:44 AM
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Hi,honey...good to see you blogging again, you've got excellent insight.
As a Patriot Guard Rider, I had an opportunity to join the motorcycle escort of those wreaths through PA on US 1; unfortunately, although I thought they were going through on Saturday the 15th, they actually did so on Friday the 14th...
Posted by: camojack at December 16, 2007 03:35 AM
Day is done,
gone the sun,
From the hills,
from the lake,
From the skies.
All is well,
God is nigh.
Go to sleep,
May the soldier
On the land
or the deep,
Safe in sleep.
Love, good night,
Must thou go,
When the day,
And the night
Need thee so?
All is well.
To their rest.
Fades the light; And afar
And the stars
Fare thee well;
Day has gone,
Night is on.
Thanks and praise,
For our days,
'Neath the sun,
Neath the stars,
'Neath the sky,
As we go,
This we know,
God is nigh.
Posted by: Jarheaddad at December 16, 2007 08:59 AM
Thanks for the reminder at Arlington; I'd forgotten about that gesture.
No push here, but hope you're back...well,...if you wanna. (your thoughts, words, and humor are superb)
Posted by: Frank Morris at December 16, 2007 05:19 PM
We had a small quiet service at Ft. Snelling (Minnesota) in the blowing cold; we got about a half-foot of snow a week ago and it hasn't thawed since. Got to place a bunch of wreaths on graves in the snow, help families find loved ones, ... glad I went.
Nice to see posts from you again.
Posted by: htom at December 17, 2007 01:08 AM