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Thousands Place Wreaths at Arlington Cemetery

Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Shannon Burns, Defense Media Activity - Anacostia

ARLINGTON, Va. (NNS) -- Several thousand volunteers from across the nation came together at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., to place 24,000 holiday wreaths in the cemetery as part of the "Wreaths Across America" project Dec. 11.

The ceremony honored members of the armed forces who made the ultimate sacrifice.

The Holiday wreaths were placed in four sections of the ceremony, to include Section 60, which is the section where those who have fallen in the current war are laid to rest, and the location of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The project was started in 2007 as an extension of the Arlington Wreath Project, which was started more than a decade ago by Morrill Worcester with just 5,000 wreaths.

"When I came here 19 years ago there were probably a dozen people, and I look out now and I see I am here with several thousand of my closest friends," said Worcester, founder of the Arlington Wreath Program and Wreaths Across America. "Here we are visiting 300,000 fallen heroes and their families; it's just a great day."

Worcester's wife, Karen, agreed with her husband and expressed gratitude towards the volunteers for their support.

"We actually left a week ago from Maine, and this is our 26th stop," said Karen Worcester. "This is overwhelming, and we all know we're here for the same thing - because we love our country, and we love these men and women buried here."

Wayne Hanson, Maine State Society coordinator for the Arlington Wreath Project, said the most important part of the project for him was to go to Arlington National Cemetery see the headstones.

"We want to thank these men and women for their service and sacrifices because we live in the land of the free, and its because of the service and sacrifices these people made that allow us to be so," said Hanson.

John O'Leary, a member of the Patriot Guard Riders and leader of the escort of the wreaths to Arlington, said he has been doing the escort for five years, and it is the patriotism he sees from volunteers that keeps him coming back every year.

"Its incredible, I think they were expecting about 10,000 people here, which shows me that patriotism for this country is alive and well," said O'Leary. "People realize that we have to thank our veterans for what they've done, these men and women gave their lives for our freedom and it's not just them, their families have sacrificed too."

Senior Chief Gunners' Mate Elbert Woodall said he came out to pay tribute to fallen members of the armed forces.

"I came out this morning to give back to the fallen Soldiers that have gone before me and also to bring my family out here and let them contribute and to see what this event is about," said Woodall. "I've done it before when I was stationed with the ceremonial guard, and this is a great opportunity to come back out and do it again."

The wreath laying at Arlington was relatively obscure until a picture headstones with wreaths laid at them was circulated on the internet. After receiving national attention, thousands of requests began pouring in from people across the nation wanting to do the same at their national and state cemeteries, which resulted in the creation of the Wreaths Across America project.

Worcester began donating seven wreaths, one for each branch of the military, as well as Prisoners of War/Missing in Action, for the ceremonies. In 2006 Civil Air Patrol, along with other civil organizations, assisted with 150 locations holding their own simultaneous ceremonies.

By 2008 more than 300 locations held wreath laying ceremonies in every state, Puerto Rico and 24 overseas cemeteries. More than 100,000 wreaths were placed on veterans' graves and more than 60,000 volunteers participated.

Worcester's generosity is the result of a trip to Washington, D.C., which he won as a 12-year-old in a newspaper carriers' contest and included a trip to Arlington Cemetery, which he never forgot. As a tribute to those who sacrificed for their country, which he says made it possible for him to be successful in life and business, he decided to demonstrate his gratefulness by decorating the Arlington graves each holiday season.

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