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November 9, 2018

Wreaths Across America will bring Maine balsam to Normandy, France

Photo / Renee Cordes
Photo / Renee Cordes
Columbia Falls-based nonprofit Wreaths Across America will soon place 9,400 locally made balsam wreaths at the graves of military veterans in the Normandy region of France.
Courtesy / Wreaths Across America
Columbia Falls-based nonprofit Wreaths Across America will soon place 9,400 locally made balsam wreaths at the graves of military veterans in the Normandy region of France. In this image from the Mainebiz archives, military tribute wreaths are placed at thousands of graves in Arlington National Cemetery by the nonprofit.

Continuing a Maine businessman's tradition that began 26 years ago, Columbia Falls-based nonprofit Wreaths Across America will soon place 9,400 locally made balsam wreaths at the graves of military veterans in the Normandy region of France.

On Dec. 1, the group will adorn the headstones of all U.S. veterans at Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, in Colleville-sur-Mer, according to a news release.

A ceremonial wreath will also be placed to honor Canadian veterans. In addition, WAA will lay wreaths at the five historic beaches invaded by Allied forces on D-Day, June 6, 1944, during World War II.

The cemetery, one of 14 American World War II military cemeteries on foreign soil, overlooks Omaha Beach. Most of those interred lost their lives in the D-Day landings and subsequent fighting, which ultimately led to the liberation of Europe.

The Normandy wreath-laying is WAA's first outside of the United States.

The group was founded in 2007 as a spin-off of Harrington-based Worcester Wreath Co., one of the country's largest wreath-makers. The group works to honor fallen military veterans with the placement of its Maine wreaths, a mission started in 1992 by company founder Morrill Worcester.

Stuck that year with an oversupply of 500 Christmas wreaths, Worcester worked with then-Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and a local trucking company to lay the wreaths at graves in Arlington National Cemetery, which he had visited as a child.

The simple tribute attracted little attention, but inspired Worcester to make other trips to Arlington, and eventually elsewhere. 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.

"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," Worcester said in the news release.

"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."

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