Local ceremony to honor veterans

Published 8:20 pm Saturday, December 10, 2016

Area veterans and their families, as well as anyone with a patriotic spirit, are encouraged to attend a wreath-passing ceremony Thursday in Brookhaven as part of the national Wreaths Across America project.

The ceremony will be held at Easthaven Baptist Church at 10 a.m.

Mississippi’s Speaker of the House Philip Gunn will be participating in the ceremony which also includes Rep. Becky Currie, Rep. Vince Mangold and Sen. Sally Doty, all of Brookhaven.

Becky Currie

Becky Currie

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Walmart Brookhaven is hosting the ceremony as part of Wreaths Across America, an organization that places wreaths on the graves of veterans across the country.

“It’s been called the world’s largest veterans parade,” Walmart General Transportation Manager Derek Crosby said. “Walmart will have 16 trucks leaving the Worcester Wreath Co. in Harrington, Maine.”

Walmart is holding wreath-passing ceremonies all over the country, but Brookhaven’s ceremony is more elaborate than some, Crosby said. Veterans and their families are encouraged to attend. Following the ceremony, lunch will be served, and Crosby said they’re prepared for over 200 participants.

Crosby said Terrance Turner, an Army veteran and manager with Walmart, has also been instrumental in organizing the event.

Sally Doty

Sally Doty

Brookhaven has been participating in the ceremony for the past nine years, and Currie said it’s a ceremony that touches hearts.

“We love being able to honor our veterans and participate in this,” Currie said. “It’s a moving ceremony.”

The public is welcome to join the ceremony, and Crosby said it’s a good opportunity for children to learn more about the sacrifices of their country’s veterans.

“If there’s a teacher who’s got kids in a civics class or American history, bring them in,” Crosby said. “It’s a learning opportunity.”

Crosby said teaching the youth about veterans’ sacrifices is one of Wreaths Across America’s goals, but there’s more to it than that. “Remember those that have given their lives, honor those that are living — those that have given of themselves to keep us safe,” Crosby said. “Then teach the young, the people that don’t know. That’s what is behind the wreath laying.”

Wreaths Across America began when Morrill Worcester, founder of the Worcester Wreath Co., was a 12-year-old paperboy for the Bangor Daily News. He won a trip to Washington, D.C., and his visit to Arlington National Cemetery made an especially indelible impression on him. This experience followed him throughout his life and successful career in business, reminding him that his good fortune was due, in large part, to the values of this nation and the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Vince Mangold

Vince Mangold

According to the company’s website, the story goes that in 1992, Worcester Wreath Co. had a surplus of greenery near the end of the holiday season. Remembering his boyhood experience at Arlington, Worcester realized he had an opportunity to honor the country’s veterans. Arrangements were made for the wreaths to be placed at Arlington in one of the older sections of the cemetery and at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The annual tribute went on quietly for several years, until 2005, when a photo of the stones at Arlington, adorned with wreaths and covered in snow, circulated around the internet and the project received national attention. Thousands of requests poured in from people wanting to help with Arlington and to emulate the Arlington project at their national and state cemeteries. Unable to donate thousands of wreaths to each state, Worcester began sending seven wreaths to every state, one for each branch of the military, and for POW/MIAs.

In 2007, the Worcester family, along with veterans, and other groups and individuals who had helped with their annual Christmas wreath ceremony in Arlington, formed Wreaths Across America, a non-profit organization, to continue and expand this effort, and support other groups around the country who wanted to do the same. The mission of the group is simple: Remember. Honor. Teach. “Over the past 231 years, nearly 1,000,000 Americans, men and women, have given the ultimate sacrifice for all of us. Millions more gave years of their lives in the military services and were lucky enough to come home safely,” Worcester said in 2008. “I know our wreaths placed on the veterans’ graves each year is a very small gesture.  I only wish we could do more.”