‘Wreaths Across America’ trend makes its way to Warren County

ARLINGTON, Va. (AFPN) -- Christmas wreaths adorn head stones at Arlington National Cemetery. The 14th annual wreath laying event is the result of Worcester Wreath Company's owner Morrill Worcester's, childhood dream of doing something to honor those laid to rest in the national cemetery. More than 5,000 donated wreaths were placed by volunteers this year. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jim Varhegyi)

“Years ago, I saw this photo online. I had no idea what it was, but it just struck a chord with me.”

Stacey Krespan said that photo, showing dozens of evergreen wreaths circling dozens of gray headstones on a snowy field, was set as her desktop picture some time later, when a woman she worked with noticed it.

“‘Oh, you do that, too,'” Stacey said her coworker asked her, pointing to the picture. “I didn’t know what ‘that’ was, but after she told me about her family participating in Wreaths Across America, I looked into it and joined an email list,” said Krespan.

That year, according to Krespan, the emails flooded in with “powerful stories about how the event affected the participants and a variety of family members of fallen servicemen and servicewomen. They really are the reason I got as involved as I have,” Krespan said.

Wreaths Across America was founded in 1992, when Morrill Worcester, who’d seen the graves of soldiers in Arlington Cemetery at the age of 12 after a trip to Washington, D.C., found his business — Worcester Wreath Company — with an overabundance of wreaths toward the end of that year’s holiday season. Understanding that his opportunity to start a business in his hometown of Harrington, Maine, was due in no small part to the sacrifices of soldiers, he decided to enlist the help of one of Maine’s senators in getting his extra wreaths sent to Arlington. To be used to decorate the graves of soldiers in one of the older parts of the cemetery, where less and less people were visiting.

Other business owners heard of Worcester’s efforts and joined the effort, donating transportation and their time to decorate the wreaths with red bows, and to lay the wreaths at the graves themselves.

Wreaths Across America became an annual event, going on under the radar until 2005, when the photo that Krespan saw (the photo that struck such a cord within her) went viral online.

That’s when national attention to the program started to pour in.

Suddenly, people all over the country wanted wreaths to decorate their local soldiers’ graves, to help at Arlington in coming years, or just to share their experiences of the wreath-laying ceremony.

Wreaths Across America has become a national event, has seen hundreds of thousands of wreaths placed at over 1,000 locations nationwide, including at the Pearl Harbor Memorial and Bunker Hill, according to the Wreaths Across America website.

Krespan’s affinity for the military and for all of the men and women who’ve served in any branch of the armed forces is predicated on her admiration of her father’s service. It was just the national progression of things to start getting involved in ceremonies where she now lives, North Carolina.

Originally from Sugar Grove, she often returns to the area to visit her father Dave Krespan, of Sugar Grove, who is a Vietnam veteran. She also sends a wreath to her father each year.

“When you select a Patriotic Pair from the WAA site, you send one wreath to the person of your choosing and one wreath is donated to the ceremony site of your choosing,” said Krespan.

She began sending one to her father each year and donating the second to Arlington.

In the last few years, said Krespan, the WAA goal of covering each of the 246,000 graves of soldiers in Arlington was met.

“This year, unfortunately,” said Krespan, “we did not meet the goal.”

Still, Krespan said that the first year she volunteered was at Salisbury National Cemetery in North Carolina. “It was a very special experience for me. I walked up not knowing what to expect and was amazed. The Patriot Riders motorcycle group was there, all holding a flag on a flag pole, standing in a circle around the ceremony site,” Krespan said. “It was pretty amazing.”

Krespan said that her goal is to see the WAA movement grow throughout the Warren area.

“There are some additional groups,” Krespan said, including AMVETS, veteran’s affairs groups, American Legions, and others that she hopes will want to get involved. “Maybe we could get some other cemeteries covered in future years,” she said.

For this year, though, she requested that the Wesleyan Cemetery off Route 957 in Sugar Grove be made a WAA ceremony site in Warren County. Warren County Memorial Park, specifically, she said “would be an amazing site if we covered all of the veteran’s graves.”

While home for one of her visits this year, Krespan approached Judy and Gary Fry, of AMVETS Post 50, about laying the wreaths if she could get the site declared and the wreaths delivered. The Frys, said Judy, were excited to help.

“Because of Stacey’s and her father’s passion,” said Judy, “they have managed to gather enough funds to cover all 93 of the veterans’ graves at the cemetery.”

The caretaker at the cemetery, said Fry, is also very excited to embark on the WAA venture with AMVETS.

The WAA ceremony will be held at the Wesleyan Cemetery, on Route 957 and Rounds Hill in Sugar Grove, at noon on Saturday, Dec. 16. The ceremony is being held at the same time as Arlington’s, and is meant to “honor the six branches of the military, as well as prisoners of war and those missing in action, with the placing of seven wreaths” — one for each demographic. Volunteers will then place the other wreaths at individual gravesites.

Krespan “will not be coming home for the ceremony at Wesleyan,” she said on Thursday. “I wish I could, but unfortunately not this year.”

While she won’t be able to make it to Sugar Grove for the inaugural WAA ceremony, she and Judy are already in talks about how to make next year even better and she is very exited to see the tradition grow for Warren County, to provide meaningful experiences to others like the one she had all those years ago. At this point, Krespan said, “only one additional volunteer has signed up on the Wesleyan event page of the WAA site. I know of people that are planning on attending,” said Krespan, “but I’m not sure how many that is.”

For more information on WAA or the Wesleyan ceremony, visit www.wreathsacrossamerica.org.