On the busy weekend before Christmas, many dads might be putting up the Douglas fir, or cheering a son’s high school hockey team, maybe even contemplating a purchase of the latest techno-gadget at the Apple Store. Not Chris Robinson of Kennebunk.
At 7:30 AM on Saturday, December 16, Chris was on the Washington, D.C. Metro, heading out to Arlington National Cemetery. The Maine resident and father of three had flown to Washington to join 75,000 volunteers, including Gold Star mothers, Blue Star families, veterans and every-day citizens, participating in Wreaths Across America by humbling placing pine wreaths on nearly 250,000 of Arlington’s 400,000 tombstones.
The temperature hovered in the mid-40s and light rain fell as Chris stood in a quiet respectful crowd watching the convoy of 10 trucks approach Arlington’s Memorial Entrance. Each 70-foot-long semi carried approximately 30,000 wreaths and each had left Harrington, Maine the prior Saturday. They were proudly sponsored by several Maine companies, including Oakhurst Dairy, Hannaford Brothers, Pottles Transportation and Walmart.
“Every volunteer stands in line behind a truck to get a wreath,” Chris said, “and then walks out to one of the 70 sections in Arlington.” Section 60 honors military personnel killed in the global war on terror since 2001. Section 21 is where military nurses are buried. One of the least visited sections includes Civil War casualties.
When a volunteer arrives at a gravesite, he or she states aloud the name carved on the gravestone, then carefully places the ribbon-adorned wreath on the site. Chris laid three wreaths that day, including Vietnam and World War II veterans. By 2:30, all the wreaths had been laid.
“I was amazed at the number of Medal of Honor recipients,” Chris said. “Walking from tombstone to tombstone, I was also surprised at how big Arlington is. I was so touched by the level of sacrifice — generals, majors, soldiers, privates — all ranks.
The seeds of Wreaths Across America originated in December, 1991, when Morrill Worcester, owner of the Maine-based Worcester Wreath Company, discovered that he had 5000 extra wreaths. Worcester contacted Senator Olympia Snowe who helped expedite the placement of these surplus wreaths in an older section of Arlington.
That tradition continued quietly until 2005 when a photo of the gravestones adorned with wreaths went viral and captured national attention. The rest is history. There are 25 funerals daily at Arlington, and the need for wreaths grows yearly.
This past December, volunteers with Wreaths Across America placed nearly 1.2 million wreaths on gravestones in over 1,238 locations, including the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
At 9:30 that evening, Chris Robinson boarded his Southwest flight back to Portland. Arriving home after midnight, he told his lovely wife Andy, “It was an incredibly powerful day and I want to do this again — but with the whole family. Our kids need to experience this.”
Chris also said, “I came away from that day thinking the President and Congress should go to Arlington and just walk the grounds. Look at all the names. There is such a higher calling, something so much larger than one’s self or political party.”
From his lips…..