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Wreaths Across America honors River Valley vets
RUMFORD -- On Saturday, a wreath ceremony honoring local veterans was held in the Veterans Memorial Park, followed by the placement of wreaths on veterans' graves in the St. John's Cemetery.
The event brought the Wreaths Across America tradition to the region, coinciding with almost 500 other ceremonies that took place across the nation and at 24 offshore cemeteries, including Normandy Beach.
In conjunction with the Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, the 37th Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol of Rumford, commonly known as the Sundown Squadron, held the ceremony at the Veterans Memorial Park.
They placed eight wreaths, seven were ceremonial wreaths, including one for each of the four branches of the military, one for the Coast Guard, one for the Merchant Marines and one for the POW/MIAs. There was also a special memorial wreath placed for U.S. Army Pfc. Buddy W. McLain, whose funeral service was held during the ceremony at Mountain Valley High School.
McLain, 24, of Peru, was one of six 101st Airborne soldiers killed when they were ambushed on Nov. 29 by an Afghan Border Police recruit in Afghanistan. He is survived by his wife, Chelsea, 20, of Peru, and their 15-month-old son, Owen.
Volunteers then went to the St. John’s Cemetery on Isthmus Road to place the wreaths on the veterans’ graves. There are approximately 1,200 veterans buried in this cemetery.
The Sundown Squadron has been a participant in the project for a long time, seeking sponsorships for wreaths to be sent to the Veteran’s Cemetery in Augusta. Even though squadron personnel had been to Augusta to participate in the wreath laying, there were no wreaths being sponsored for the local area.
The Squadron Commander, Capt. Joe Roberts, felt it should be “brought home.”
“We have literally thousands of veterans buried here in the River Valley that should be honored in this manner as well. I felt why should we try to sell sponsorships for other veterans in other places of our state and nation when we have plenty right here locally,” he said.
Wreaths Across America, a non-profit 501c3 corporation, is a project that was started by Morrill Worcester and his family’s company, the Worcester Wreath Company. In 1992, the company based in Harrington, found itself with a large excess of wreaths nearing the end of the holiday season.
Seeing an opportunity to make a boyhood dream that started when he was a paperboy for the Bangor Daily News become a reality, Worcester decided to do something special with those excess wreaths.
With the help of Maine Senator Olympia Snowe and the Maine State Society of DC, arrangements were made to transport those wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery and place them on the graves of the Veterans buried there.
Thus began the Arlington Wreath Project. Worcester recognized that his success as a businessman was in a large part because of the values of this Nation and the Veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and he wanted to make sure that they would always be remembered.
It remained relatively obscure until a picture of the snow covered graves with the brightly colored Holiday Wreaths decorating them began to circulate across the internet. This created National attention.
Soon thousands of emails and letters began arriving at Worcester Wreath headquarters asking how this might be emulated across the country.
In 2006, in response to the thousands of requests received, Worcester Wreath expanded its wreath donations nationwide. Thus Wreaths Across America was born. With the help of the nation-wide Civil Air Patrol, ceremonies were held simultaneously at 230 locations. From the snow banks of Alaska to the sands of Iraq, our nation’s heroes were honored.
During Saturday's Wreaths Across America ceremony held in the Veterans Memorial Park, Rumford Town Manager Carlo Puiia announced that in addition to the seven ceremonial wreaths, a special wreath would be place at the memorial for U.S. Army Pfc. Buddy W. McLain, whose funeral service was held during the ceremony at Mountain Valley High School. (Times photo by Bruce Farrin)