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Thursday, December 19, 2002

Garlands for the Fallen

Garlands In ANC

Morrill Worcester's business drive won him a trip to Washington, D.C., 40 years ago when he was just 12 years old.

He topped a newspaper-sponsored contest for news carriers who signed up the most new subscribers, and headed to the capital, where he first saw Arlington National Cemetery. The expansive, rolling national graveyard made an impression on the youth from Cherryfield, Maine..

"It just kind of stuck with me, the vastness of it," said Worcester. "These little white stones, you can see them for literally hundreds of acres. It's hard to believe you've got that many people that gave the ultimate sacrifice so we can all do what we do, and be what we are."

For the past 10 years, Worcester's business life has continued to bring him to Arlington, Virginia, for the annual donation of wreaths from his company in Harrington, Worcester Wreath Co., which he says is the world's largest mail-order balsam-fir products firm.

Worcester delivered the 4,250 wreaths Wednesday, driving a tractor-trailer from Maine with his son, Corey Worcester, Husson College Vice President John Winkin and two American Legion representatives, Bob Morrill and William G. Bickford.

Worcester said he got help from well over 100 volunteers, including active military personnel and members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Maine State Society, the National Reconnaissance Office and the American Legion.

It's a far cry from the first year, when he and six others spent the better part of a day putting out 3,500 wreaths.

"It's just become a tradition. It's been a great experience for me, really," said Worcester. "It really is kind of mind-boggling to think that they'll roll the red carpet out for you."

John Metzler Jr., the superintendent of the cemetery, which contains more than 200,000 graves, said the graves that receive the wreaths are in sections that receive few visitors and are rotated each year.

Every balsam-fir wreath wore a red bow. Special wreaths were laid at the USS Maine memorial, the Tomb of the Unknowns and the grave of Senator Edmund S. Muskie, who was a Navy lieutenant.

The 4,250 wreaths were laid in section eight. The hill is crowned with a stone globe, for Rear Admiral Robert Peary, and a black headstone, for Matthew Henson, whose inscriptions describe their discovery of the North Pole on April 6, 1909.

"It's wonderful," Metzler said. "People are looking forward to it."

Winkin made a brief detour to a different section, where he laid a wreath and knelt for a quiet prayer at the grave of Admiral William Halsey.

Winkin, 83, has been a fixture at Maine colleges for decades. While he's at Husson now, he's still known as "coach" for successful baseball teams at Colby College and the University of Maine.

But before embarking on his career, he served in the Navy for 56 months, most of it during World War II. Winkin was an ensign aboard the destroyer McCall in Halsey's carrier group outside Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked 61 years ago. The chance to spend a quiet moment with Halsey Wednesday made an impression.

"That was a real thrill," Winkin said as he walked from the grave.

"It shows the people recognize what servicemen did for their country," he said. "Especially at this time, when we're threatened with the possibility of war, people appreciate the sacrifice of kids to defend this country."

It was Bickford's first wreath trip to Arlington, and he said he came down for one reason - "to see how many people are still respecting the veterans."

"People are starting to care again for the veterans. I think the current times, 9/11 and different things that have happened have made an awareness of the military people and what they're doing for the country," said Bickford, a Korean War veteran.

He noted that Worcester wasn't a veteran himself, saying he admired the Harrington businessman for what he does "out of love for his country and for the veterans."

Maine Gov.-elect John Baldacci, who participated in the event during his eight years in Congress, joked that the overcast, 34 degree weather was balmy compared to Maine. He helped unload the truck again this year.

"It's important to the families of those who fought and lost their lives, especially with the terrorism and people preparing for war again in our country," he said.

Posted: 22 December 2002