By Ramona du Houx
On December 1st 9,387 Maine-made, balsam veterans' wreaths were placed on the headstones of all U.S. service members laid to rest at Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, located in Colleville-sur-Mer, France.
The cemetery is one of 14 permanent American World War II military cemeteries abroad. This is the first time WAA has sent U.S.-made balsam wreaths to be placed in France.
The December 1st wreath-laying event was a joint collaboration between the Normandy American Cemetery and American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) and included ceremonial wreath placements on each of the five D-Day invasion beaches, at Pointe Du Hoc, along with a Canadian Wreath presentation.
The veterans' wreaths were a donation from its WAA Founder, Morrill Worcester, whose dream has been to one day place a wreath in honor of every U.S. veteran laid to rest, worldwide.
Worchester meet Charles Norman Shay at the ceremony. Shay, of Maine, is a Penobscot Indian Elder who served on D-day as a medic. He came ashore in the first wave on Omaha Beach as a medic, saving countless lives. “I’ve always been honored to serve my country. I only did my duty,” said Shay, who gave a speech at the ceremony.
"The mission of the American Battle Monuments Commission is to honor the service, achievements and sacrifices of our U.S armed forces in two World Wars. It closely parallels the mission of the Wreaths Across America organization — to Remember, Honor and Teach," said Scott Desjardins, Superintendent, Normandy American Cemetery. "The Normandy American Cemetery is proud and pleased to be the first ABMC cemetery to have been chosen to attempt this important endeavor.”
"When I began placing wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery in 1992, I could never have imagined that this idea would impact people around the world the way it has," said Worcester. "To know that WAA will be able to place a wreath for each of those veterans and say their names out loud is truly incredible, and I am so honored to be able to help this effort however I can."
The transportation of nearly 9,500 fresh balsam veterans' wreaths from Maine to Normandy required a massive coordinated effort.
In 1992 in Harrington, Maine, wreath maker Morrill Worcester sought to turn a surplus of 5,000 holiday wreaths into an opportunity to pay tribute to our country's veterans. With the help of then Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, Worcester arranged for the wreaths to be placed at Arlington National Cemetery.
Maine's Penobscot Elder who served as a medic during D-Day was at the ceramony.
“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,” said Worcester.
The national attention spurred the start of the 501c3 Wreaths Across America in 2007. Since then, the program has grown in scope, touching the lives of thousands of veterans' families and volunteers in every state across the country. In 2017 alone, Wreaths Across America and its national network of volunteers laid over 1.5 million veterans' wreaths at 1,433 locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea, and abroad.
This year, National Wreaths Across America Day is Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018 – at least 1,500 participating locations across the country will host wreath-laying ceremonies, all run by dedicated volunteers.