ARLINGTON, Va. — Despite freezing temperature and sleet, more than 44,000 volunteers came out to Arlington National Cemetery on Dec. 17 to place holiday wreaths on the graves of service members.

Across the nation, 1.2 million wreaths were placed at 1,228 cemeteries as part of a tradition that began 25 years ago when a wreath-maker from Maine by the name of Morrill Worcester found that he had 5,000 extra wreaths. Rather than wasting them, he donated the wreaths in honor of the sacrifice made by service members.

On Nov. 30, nearly 4,500 Central Texas residents came out to honor fallen veterans at Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Killeen for the 11th annual Veterans Land Board Wreath Laying Ceremony.

Officials and volunteers prepared over 6,700 wreaths to make sure every headstone in the cemetery was honored with a holiday wreath. The project is coordinated locally by the Friends of the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery and has grown each year since its inception 10 years ago.

The wreaths will stay up until the second Saturday of January, when volunteers will be needed to retrieve them.

This year, volunteers laid 245,000 wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery — one for each stone in the cemetery. It had taken more than 400 trucks driven to transport all the wreaths across the nation. A convoy of tractor-trailers and other vehicles a mile long traveled from Maine and arrived in the morning at the cemetery.

Due to the weather, opening remarks at Arlington National Cemetery were canceled. However, Karen Worcester, executive director of Wreaths Across America, had a message for volunteers.

“To see all these people come together, from all walks of life, with different opinions and politics and religions, in the cold and freezing rain, to join us here and across the country to say thank you to our veterans, proves we aren’t all that different,” Worcester said.

Volunteers were asked to exercise care when placing each wreath and to speak aloud the name of the service member being honored.

“We are not here to decorate graves,” Worcester said. “We’re here to remember and honor not their deaths, but their lives.”

The Herald’s Quinton Lilley contributed to this report.

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