Laying of wreaths to honor veterans in Millsboro

This was the scene in December 2019 as volunteers and family members place wreaths on graves of veterans and their spouses at the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery near Millsboro. Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe

MILLSBORO — It’s an all-encompassing encore salute.

Following 2019’s lead, the grave of each veteran laid to rest at the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Millsboro will be adorned with a wreath on National Wreaths Across America Day, set for Dec. 19.

Last December, a total of 3,033 balsam fir wreaths were placed on graves of every veteran — or, in some cases, their spouse — and at sections of the columbarium walls in the wreath-laying ceremony at the cemetery off Patriots Way.

This year, it’s a repeat feat, even amid a pandemic.

“(During) COVID 2020, once again, the community has stepped up. Even without the match program this year, we are 100%. So every veteran again this year will receive a wreath to blanket their gravesite for the holiday season,” said Teresa Townsend, the local coordinator of Wreaths Across America at the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery.

Due to the additional COVID-19-related deaths among veterans this year, the total number of wreaths is about 3,400 for 2020, Ms. Townsend said.

Plans are to stage the ceremony entirely outdoors due to the pandemic. It is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. and will also include placement of ceremonial wreaths for each branch of the U.S. armed forces and the POW-MIA memorial.

The event at the Millsboro cemetery is a two-day affair, beginning Dec. 18 with the massive motorcycle escort of a Perdue truck carrying the hundreds of boxes of wreaths from Arthur W. Perdue Stadium in Salisbury, Maryland.

American Legion Riders Chapter 8 of Georgetown, along with Chapter 28 in Millsboro, Chapter 24 in Dagsboro and others, will provide the ceremonial escort, which should arrive at the cemetery around 9 a.m. Dec. 19.

In 2019, Chapter 8 Legion Riders led the escort to the cemetery. This year, tentative plans may have upward “of 20 to maybe 100 bikes escorting the truck to the cemetery from Salisbury,” said Chapter 8 Director Jim Parkinson.

If possible, those taking part in the escort are asked to help unload wreaths.

“We are asking anyone (who) participates in that if they are willing to stay and help us unload that truck. We found out what over 3,000 wreaths look like last year, and it was over 300 boxes. So we’re probably going to have about 340 boxes to unload this year,” Ms. Townsend said.

As for the Dec. 19 wreath-laying ceremony, the usual indoor event is going to implemented outdoors. “Everything is being done outside, and a lot of that will depend on Mother Nature that day,” said Ms. Townsend.

A small army of volunteers will conduct the placing of the wreaths on graves. Nearly 300 had signed up as of early December, she said.

Again, as in the past, grave-specific wreath requests will be honored by family and loved ones of veterans.

COVID-19 precautions and restrictions will be in place. All those attending are asked to wear masks.

“We are asking people, even though it is an outdoor ceremony, to wear a face mask because of our numbers,” Ms. Townsend said.

Inside, there will be a refreshment table. However, the number of people allowed in the building at one time will be limited.
Additional information may be available on the Wreaths Across America Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery Facebook page.

Across America

National Wreaths Across America Day is marked by veterans and public cemeteries across the country and at Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate passed Bill 786, officially recognizing Wreaths Across America Day on Dec. 19.

WAA is a national nonprofit whose mission to remember, honor and teach is, in part, carried out with the placement of sponsored veterans’ wreaths at 2,500 participating locations across the nation — most notably, at Arlington National Cemetery — each December.

Another highly anticipated piece of this annual event is the weeklong, miles-long parade of tractor-trailers, wrapped vehicles carrying veterans and Gold Star families, law enforcement and motorcycle riders leading the escort of wreaths to Arlington for placement.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s annual escort of wreaths will have a different look and feel due to the necessary changes being made throughout the country for health and safety. The physical journey — which will include one tractor-trailer load of wreaths hauled by Gully Transportation professional driver J.D. Walker, who is also a Gold Star father and Navy veteran, as well as 11 wrapped Chevrolet vehicles carrying Gold Star families and nine police cruisers — will take place Dec. 15-19.

In partnership with PenFed Credit Union’s digital media content team, PenFed Digital, this year’s escort will also be shared virtually for the nation to join along from the safety of their own homes. PenFed Digital and WAA are overcoming pandemic-related challenges to ensure fallen heroes are honored safely.

During the escort and leading up to its departure, viewers can follow along, learning about the mission and hearing stories from the people it impacts on Wreaths Across America’s Facebook site and PenFed’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn pages, as well as from professional truck drivers hauling this precious cargo to the dedicated volunteers receiving them on the other side of the country.

“For those who have had the opportunity to participate in the escort of wreaths over the years, it is truly an experience of a lifetime,” said Karen Worcester, WAA executive director. “The way we have been welcomed into communities over the years, with flags waving and streets lined with children and veterans, is something we always wished every American could witness. And now, thanks to PenFed’s support, we’ll be able to offer this incredible journey to all those who wish to participate. We are both grateful and excited to safely share the mission with all who want to participate.”

The WAA virtual event Dec. 18 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. can be viewed live on the WAA Facebook page, facebook.com/waahq.

How it began

In 1992, Morrill Worcester and his business, Worcester Wreath Co. of Harrington, Maine, had a surplus of wreaths toward the end of the holiday season. Years before as a young boy, Mr. Worcester visited Arlington National Cemetery. The experience reminded him throughout his life of the sacrifice some had made for others, including himself, to succeed and flourish.

Mr. Worcester made plans to lay the wreaths in honor of veterans at an older, less-visited section of Arlington National Cemetery. Volunteers stepped forward to help deliver and place the wreaths.

In 2007, the Wreaths Across America nonprofit group was founded. Since then, the event has expanded to all 50 states to lay wreaths at veterans’ cemeteries to remember our fallen heroes, honor those who serve and teach children about the sacrifices made by veterans and their families.