As part of a nationwide tour, Boothbay Harbor and Wiscasset will host Wreaths Across America’s commemorative event marking the end of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. On June 30, Wreaths Across America hosts an event from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Whale Park in Boothbay Harbor. On July 3, a similar one occurs at Wiscasset Speedway from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The U.S. Department of Defense designated WAA as one of a few patriotic organizations providing commemorative pins to Vietnam veterans as part of the 50th anniversary.
In March, WAA began the tour in California and Texas. In June, the tour moved to Pennsylvania, and now, it’s in Maine. Other Maine tour destinations include Brunswick, Scarborough, Bucksport, Durham, West Gardiner, Biddeford and Caribou. At each stop, all veterans, active-duty military, their families, and the local community members are invited and encouraged to visit, tour and to speak with WAA representatives and volunteers.
Each event is free, and open to the public. Don Queeney is a former Damariscotta resident who once operated Mid-Maine Moving. He is now WAA’s director of transportation and education. He described the national tour as an ideal vehicle to promote WAA’s mission. “This is all about honoring, remembering and teaching about veterans’ sacrifice in defending American freedom,” he said. “At each venue, Vietnam veterans will be recognized and receive a commemorative pin marking the anniversary.”
Queeney reports the tour is also an opportunity to teach the public about WAA. This is the 29th year WAA has delivered wreaths to fallen veterans’ graves. In 2019, WAA laid 2.5 million wreaths at 2,500 locations. In 2020, the nonprofit laid 1.7 million, and this year, Queeney expects two million wreaths laid at 2,700 locations nationwide.
WAA began in 1992 when a Harrington wreath maker tipped too many trees in fulfilling an L.L.Bean order. With a surplus of wreaths, Morrill Worcester sought a use for his surplus. A childhood memory served as inspiration to decorate veterans’ graves with his wreaths. At 12, he was a Bangor Daily News paperboy.Worcester won a contest which gave him an opportunity to visit Arlington National Cemetery.
Worcester remembered this experience and decided to lay the surplus wreaths at the national cemetery. He contacted then-U.S. Congresswoman Olympia Snowe who worked with the Department of Defense in securing permission for Worcester to lay wreaths at veterans’ headstones. “Morrill was so pleased with the patriotic gesture, he did it for the next 14 years,” Queeney said. “A buddy of his owned a truck company, and transported 5,000 wreaths that first year. Worcester was so pleased, it continues to this day,” he said.
WAA has grown into a non-profit organization laying wreaths in all 50 states. In Boothbay Harbor, Queeney reports Wreaths Across America radio will broadcast its regular 6 to 10 a.m. weekday broadcast with former Maine disc jockey Michael W. Hale. The program is part of I Heart Radio’s internet network. Wreaths Across America media content specialist Susan Patten will also attend. Queeney reports Patten is a former Maine radio journalist and former Miss Windjammer.