A Wreaths Across America 16-wheeler pulled into the centers of Portland and Higganum Tuesday.
Laden with 5,000 wreaths, the truck is part of a caravan of 17 trailer trucks bound for Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
One of the drivers in the caravan is a gold star dad who will place one of the wreaths at his own son's grave in Arlington.
Prior to stopping in Higganum, the truck had made a similar stop at a school in Portland, before heading to Old Saybrook. As the motto of the program is "Remember, Honor, Teach!," it was most appropriate for the truck to engage schoolchildren on their trip.
About 100 third and fourth grade students from Haddam Elementary School joined about 60 residents and veterans for a wreath-laying ceremony at the , located diagonally across the street from HES.
VFW Post 10690 Past Commander, and current assistant State Captain for the Patriot Guard Riders, Jeff Hartke, who organized the event with Theresa Kuchyt, presided over the ceremony.
WAA coordinator Pattie Petak presented a wreath from the truck for the ceremony to Haddam Vietnam War veteran Ronnie Annino. As Annino approached the monument, Hartke gave an overview of the history of the ritual and its significance; unfortunately, much of what he had to say was very difficult to hear due to passing traffic.
After Air Force veteran Josh Meyers played "Taps," Ron Annino placed the wreath near the monument. To the delight of the crowd, third grader Jacob Baker then read a nice personal tribute, which was placed with the wreath.
An honor guard consisting of local veterans Erwin Burr, Jack Shanks, Jim Woodworth, Harold Edman and Bob Kadrle stood at attention in a semi-circle behind the monument throughout the ceremony.
Morrill Worcester, owner of the Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, ME began sending surplus wreaths to Arlington at his own expense in 1992. Having visited Arlington as a boy, Worcester never forgot the positive impression that the visit had upon him and wanted to find a way to express his gratitude to veterans who had sacrificed so much. Thus, the annual ritual began.
Worcester's efforts went largely unacknowledged until 2005 when photos of what he had been doing annually for 13 years went viral on the Internet.
Since then, the scope and level of participation in the ceremony in cemeteries across the nation has exploded. There are now over 900 corporate sponsors at various levels, and thousands of private citizens are involved in supporting the effort.
If the ceremonies held in both Higganum and in Portland Tuesday are any indication of a trend, then the distribution of wreaths at veterans' memorials and graves is fast becoming a new Christmas tradition.