National Wreaths Across America Day: A Tradition to Remember, Honor, and Teach
While the holiday season brings joy to many, it can also serve as a painful time for veterans’ families who’ve lost a hero that made the ultimate sacrifice. At Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP), we honor the sacrifices military members and their families make every day. WWP programs help warriors grieve their fallen comrades and help families keep the legacy of their loved ones alive. The nonprofit, Wreaths Across America shares this sentiment by leading the incredible effort behind National Wreaths Across America Day.
Held on the second or third Saturday of December, National Wreaths Across America Day is devoted to helping lay holiday wreaths on the graves of our nation’s fallen veterans. On this day, with the help of dedicated volunteers across the country, wreath-laying ceremonies are held at Arlington National Cemetery and additional locations across the country and overseas.
In 2021, more than 2.4 million veterans’ wreaths were placed by volunteers on headstones at 3,100-plus locations.
Since 2020, WWP has held 16 events in recognition of this tradition, bringing together 140 registered warriors and family support members across the country. Registered WWP warriors once again participated this year to express their appreciation for these heroes.
“It’s hard to say why this event is so impactful and important for our warriors and their families to get involved in,” WWP outreach specialist Nazli Sherman said about reflecting on past events. “It’s really a great connector among people. The very idea of it strips away everything that might make someone different: there are no genders, no colors, no races, no politics … it’s just people honoring the fallen and their service.”
Bree Shields, another WWP outreach specialist, believes this event allows us to slow down during the holiday season and remember what is truly important. “Our warriors have never lost their heart of service. It is important to our community that we keep the memory of brothers and sisters who have passed alive,” she said.
How Wreaths Across America Started
Morrill Worcester, founder of Wreaths Across America and owner of Worcester Wreath Company, won a trip to Washington, DC, at a young age. The trip left an incredible impression on him and his appreciation of veterans.
Many years later, in 1992, after Morrill found his company with a surplus of holiday wreaths at the end of the season, the impact of his trip to the nation’s capital returned. He decided to place the extra wreaths on the graves in one of the older sections of Arlington National Cemetery.
With the help of individuals and organizations, it became an annual tradition. It went on quietly for several years, until 2005, when a photo of the work circulated on the internet.
The Iconic Photo that Started a Movement
National attention of this annual tribute came quickly after a snowy day in Arlington, Virginia – displaying the striking contrast of the wreaths against the white snow and stone of each grave.
The overwhelming amount of interest that came in prompted the formation of Wreaths Across America as a nonprofit.
The following year, in 2008, the organization had over 300 cemeteries participate in every state, Puerto Rico and 24 overseas locations. At these locations, the organization helped place more than 100,000 wreaths with the help of 60,000-plus volunteers. After these accomplishments, the U.S. Congress unanimously voted to create National Wreaths Across America Day.
The Power of a Tradition
The power of this tradition can be seen by the warriors who volunteer their time to support it. Their actions may seem simple, but when surrounded by an empowering community, this tradition provides an incredible sense of connection for those involved.
“I have been volunteering since 2005 when my coworker invited me for an office event, and I’ve been attending ever since,” said Amelia Rykard, registered WWP warrior. “It’s truly amazing to see the groups of people who gather for this event. Veterans, civilians, and children brave the cold, rain, and snow to pay their respect and admiration. I will continue to support this event until I can no longer.”
The involvement of family is another important component to this tradition. “My sister and my son both joined me,” said Daisy Vasquez, who has volunteered multiple years in a row. “It was a very emotional experience to be a part of and being able to show my family that even long after serving, we don’t forget our fellow veterans.”
Lastly, WWP’s community partners recognize the powerful impact of participating in this event. One of these partners is The Mission Continues – a nonprofit that empowers veterans to continue their service in under-resourced communities. More than a dozen service platoons volunteer to place wreaths at the gravesites of veterans and fallen service members. It is a tradition upheld within The Mission Continues since the organization was founded in 2007.
Transcending Borders and Branches
WWP staff recognize the significance of bringing warriors together to take part in National Wreaths Across America Day.
“I am always taken aback by how huge the hearts are of our veterans and their families [during this event],” said Bree. “They’ve served and many of them have incredible stories of hardship and perseverance, but they still wake up knowing that they were put on this earth to continue to serve even if their time of service is over. It is incredible to witness.”
Through WWP’s Alumni Program, registered warriors have been able to transcend borders and branches to give support, receive support, and continue to serve – and it’s events like this that help veterans connect, warrior to warrior. It is a moment in time when the military community can come together to celebrate the lives of American heroes.
Wreaths Across America started by wanting to say thank you to our nation’s fallen heroes and teaching the value of our freedom. There is a story behind every name and, as Wreaths Across America encourages, saying these names aloud helps to remember the sacrifices made to our country. Honoring these lives during such a special occasion allows the veteran community to have the space to cope, support to heal, and the connection needed to know they are not alone – and will never be forgotten.
To search locations and cemeteries, visit the Wreaths Across America website and type your search terms, click the search button and choose from the suggested options. You can also search by the location name, the city name, the zip code, or even the state name.
Contact: Kendra Hand – Content Manager, email@example.com, 904.426.9783
About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.