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Volunteers help with Edge Hill Cemetery wreath clean-up

By Staff | Jan 31, 2020

Neil Fernandes, J.T. Samuelson, Georgia Samuelson, Emma Wheaton and Paula Fernandes, members of American Heritage Girls Troop 82 and Trail Life Troop 82, assist with removing wreaths at Edge Hill Cemetery. Toni Milbourne

CHARLES TOWN – Volunteer groups arrived ready to work on Saturday at Edge Hill Cemetery, with the goal of clearing the more than 700 wreaths that were placed in December as part of the Wreaths Across America program.

The clean-up, organized by the Jackson-Perks American Legion Post 71, called for the volunteers to join an effort seen around the nation in removing wreaths to keep the cemeteries clean. Labeled a “retirement ceremony,” the volunteers walked through the cemetery removing only the wreaths that had been laid as part of the annual Wreaths Across America event.

The clean-up followed the 2019 theme of the event, “Everyone Plays a Part,” as members of veterans’ groups were joined by church members, students and members of American Heritage and Trail Life groups to complete the removal process.

The origin of the Wreaths Across America campaign date back to 1992, when Worcester Wreath Company owner Morrill Worcester found himself with a surplus of wreaths. He recalled a trip to Arlington Cemetery during his youth, a trip that made a lasting impression. Morrill chose to send the excess wreaths to be placed at Arlington in an older section of the cemetery that received few visitors.

Other individuals and organizations learned of the move and joined to add more wreaths, while the Maine State Society of Washington, D.C. helped organize the wreath-laying itself.

The wreaths were laid annually in a quiet manner until, in 2005, a photograph of wreaths leaning against snow-covered headstones circulated on the internet, giving national attention to the efforts. Thousands of requests to help poured and emulation of the project moved to national and state cemeteries. Since that time, thousands of cemeteries have been adorned with the wreaths each December. In 2008, the U.S. Congress unanimously voted Dec. 13 of that year as “Wreaths Across America Day,” as more and more cemeteries across the nation took part in the wreath-laying project.

Edge Hill Cemetery in Charles Town became a participating cemetery in the Wreaths across America program four years ago, according to location coordinator Anne Quinn.

Quinn shared that 758 wreaths were laid at Edge Hill as well as seven ceremonial wreaths that were presented representing each branch of the military as well as to memorialize those veterans and soldiers still missing in action.

In looking ahead to 2020, the national Wreaths Across America organization has designated “Be an American Worth Fighting For,” as the theme for Dec. 19, 2020, the next National Wreaths Across America Day.

The theme was inspired by the speech given by Staff Sgt. Daniel Strong during the 2018 escort to Arlington welcome stop at Montachusett Regional Vocations Technical School in Fitchburg, Mass., where Strong’s message spoke to the daily importance of the mission the Remember, Honor and Teach.

“Be an American worth the sacrifice. In your daily operations, and in how you deal with one another and how you live your lives,” Strong said. “Those young men and women who are in Arlington National Cemetery and other cemeteries, they earned the right for you to be an American worth fighting for.”

According to the Wreaths Across America organization, approximately 2.2 million wreaths were placed on headstones at 2,158 participating locations around the country. Those wreaths were then removed, or retired, by countless volunteers, similar to those who took part in the clean-up process at Edge Hill.