Griffin Cemetery in Moss Point will participate for its first time in Wreaths Across America, a patriotic service that takes place on the same day of December each year across multiple burial grounds.
In an emotional, patriotic wreath-laying service, deceased veterans are remembered in all 50 states, at sea and abroad. The idea is to recognize all veterans from the Revolutionary War to present-day conflicts. This year Griffin Cemetery will be hosting its Wreaths Across America presentation on Dec. 18 at 12 noon in the historical burial grounds located at the west end of Dantzler St. in Moss Point. More than 200 veterans lay at rest in Griffin Cemetery.
Approximately 40 wreaths were purchased by donations from friends and families. The Historic Griffin Cemetery Committee is coordinating the occasion.
This year marks the first time a cemetery in Jackson County or the state’s southeastern-most corridor has hosted such an event. The closest cemetery participating in past years has been in Harrison County. About 2,500 locations across the nation participate including 1,600 military cemeteries. Participating Mississippi military cemeteries are Mississippi Veterans Memorial Cemetery, Newton, North Mississippi Veterans Memorial Cemetery, Kilmichael, the Mississippi War Memorial Monument, Pontotoc, and national cemeteries in Natchez, Biloxi, and Corinth.
Volunteers place the greenery, pause with hand over heart or a salute and then speak the person’s name. That’s because a person dies two deaths – the physical death and the death when people stop speaking our names. This ceremony keeps our veterans from dying the second death.
Not only do the ceremonies take place on a simultaneous day, but the wreaths are also identical, all made of fresh balsam fir bouquets adorned with red bows and made by the Worcester Wreath Company in Maine. Wreaths cost $15 each and can be ordered online at www.wreathsacrossamerica.org. There is no cost to attend or to participate in a wreath-laying ceremony. For the Moss Point event, wreaths will lay throughout the Christmas season, and volunteers will remove them Saturday, January 15.
Prior to the laying of these garlands, live wreaths are hauled to cemeteries across the nation by truck drivers who donate their time and fuel to the mission. Morrill Worcester started the effort in 1992 when his wreath company, the Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington, Maine had a surplus of wreaths near the end of the season. He remembered touring Arlington National Cemetery as a young boy and decided to donate a surplus of 5,000 wreaths to Arlington as a way to express his gratitude for our veterans’ fight for freedom. Worcester donated wreaths every year without applause or public attention. However, in 2006 a photo of tombstones decorated in his wreaths across Arlington’s snow-laden burial ground went viral on the Internet, and the response was so large and patriotic that it evolved into a non-profit organization.
More than 2 million veterans’ wreaths are draped across tombstones including almost 9,400 at Normandy-American Cemetery in France. The wreaths are more than decorations; the live greenery symbolizes everlasting life. Each wreath consists of 10 bouquets of balsam tips representing 10 special qualities of veterans: faith, love, strength, honesty, humility, ambition, optimism, concern, pride, and hopes and dreams. Their circular shape represents eternity, and the scent of the balsam firs represents purity and simplicity. The red bow represents great sacrifice.
Following a mission statement “to remember our fallen U.S. veterans, to honor those who serve, and to teach our children the value of freedom,” Wreaths Across America has a museum that honors veterans and offers programs such as The Veterans Remembrance Tree Program, which was established in 2014 to invite families to visit the land in Columbia Falls, Maine, where the balsam tips are harvested each year. Families can sponsor trees as living memorials to their lost loved ones. Also, the pilgrimage hauling wreaths from Maine to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia has become known as the world’s largest veterans’ parade, stopping at schools, monuments and communities along the route. Teaching tools and curriculum for elementary and middle school students are available on the website, wreathsacrossamerica.org.