Members of the Civil Air Patrol Honor Guard stand during a wreath laying ceremony at the Capitol in 2007.
Wreaths Across America, the group behind the annual holiday wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, will lay an evergreen wreath at the Capitol on Dec. 9, with a Civil Air Patrol honor guard standing over it all day.
The ceremony, which begins at 11:30 a.m. on the West Front of the Capitol, comes at the same time the group finds itself short on donations for its Dec. 14 mission to lay wreaths at Arlington.
Since 2008, Congress has issued a proclamation recognizing the second Saturday in December as “Wreaths Across America Day,” commemorating the placing of holiday wreaths on thousands of graves at Arlington National Cemetery and veterans cemeteries nationwide.
The quiet mission started in 1992, when Morrill and Karen Worcester, owners of the Maine family farm where the wreaths originate, found themselves with a surplus. With the help of then- Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, the family made arrangements to deliver the excess wreaths to the national cemetery.
In 2012, nearly 15,000 volunteers laid balsam fir wreaths topped with crimson bows on 110,600 of the distinctive white headstones dotting the Virginia cemetery.
But this year, the nonprofit that carries out the quiet tradition might fall short of its goal of 135,000 wreaths because donors are spreading out their gifts. Though overall donations have increased, many are sponsoring wreaths at local grave sites, rather than on the 624 acres in Arlington.
“Hopefully we’ll reach 100,000,” said Wayne Hanson, chairman of the organization’s board of directors and the on-site leader of the Dec. 14 Arlington National Cemetery effort. He’s hoping that some of the government contractors in the D.C. area who hire veterans will help Wreaths Across America reach its 2013 target.
Eventually, the group hopes to lay evergreen wreaths at all 300,000 of Arlington National Cemetery’s headstones.
“Behind every one of those stones is a story,” said Hanson, who is a Vietnam War veteran. He said the efforts at the national cemetery bring visitors to some of the oldest graves on the property, dating back to the Civil War, which sometimes “have not been visited for decades.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.