By Cheryl Costello
It’s a holiday tradition that honors those who served our country: Wreaths Across America lays more than two million holiday wreaths on the headstones of U.S. military members, from Maine to Arlington and even at U.S. military cemeteries overseas.
This year, Wreaths Across America is spreading awareness of its mission with a mobile exhibit traveling across Chesapeake Country. We took a look inside and learned the stories of some veterans’ families—and it’s amazing how wreaths can wrap hearts together.
“When we lay the wreath, we say the vet’s name,” says Stefan Brann, a driver-ambassador for the exhibit. “When we say the vet’s name we thank them for their service. When we do that, their soul, their spirit lives on.”
The 48-foot trailer that hosts the mobile education exhibit, which has been traveling the country for three years, is making several stops in Maryland. Bay Weekly stopped in while it was parked at the Mission BBQ on Evergreen Road in Gambrills.
Visitors watch a video to learn about Wreaths Across America’s three-part mission: remember, honor, and teach. And the lesson can make a big impact.
“We’ve had people come off of here wanting to become a location coordinator,” Brann says.
Alex Norr’s great-grandfather is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. “I think it’s just comforting for me, knowing how much of a big part of my life he was and to know that he’s still mentioned at least at some point every year. Someone is going to visit him.”
Amy Engbrecht and her sons turned around on the highway when they spotted the Wreaths Across America trailer. Her children “asked to stop because they know how important it is to honor those who have served and those who have given us freedom.”
The Anne Arundel County family volunteered last year to place wreaths at Arlington, not knowing this year would be very personal. “This is the first year that we will be laying a wreath at my dad’s headstone in Arlington,” Engbrecht says with emotion in her voice.
He was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force who served in Vietnam. Amy Engbrecht’s 15-year-old son Calvin pays tribute to his grandfather, “I think there’s kind of like a balance in the universe. And so it kind of makes them happy. It appeases their soul and also it feels really right to do it.”
The wreath laying has grown exponentially from its humble beginnings 49 years ago. “In 1971, we produced 500 wreaths and sold them. Today we actually do somewhere around 5,000 an hour,” says co-founder Morrill Worcester. Worcester was 12 years old when he won a trip to D.C. and visited Arlington National Cemetery. The memories of that trip never left him, and when he later owned a wreath-making business, he knew what to do.
“He had 5,000 wreaths left over at the end of his busy wreath season. He didn’t want those to go to waste. These are real, living wreaths. He remembered his trip to Arlington and said ‘now is my time to give back,’” Brann explains.
And give back he did. Last year, Wreaths Across America produced 2.2 million wreaths for 2,158 locations in the U.S. And they decorated more than 14,000 wreaths overseas, in Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
Mission BBQ pitches in beyond hosting the trailer in its parking lot. The restaurant is helping raise money with an American Heroes Cup campaign. Now through the end of December, you can buy a cup for $3.99 and $2 will go to Wreaths Across America for next year’s wreaths.
Wreaths, a simple touch in holiday decorating, now a symbol of respect for our nation’s veterans.