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Volunteers lay wreaths at Arlington in holiday tribute to fallen veterans

From Bethany Crudele, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Veterans, volunteers visit Arlington National Cemetery, place holiday wreaths on graves
  • Wreaths provided by the organization Wreaths Across America
  • Effort began with husband and wife placing wreaths on graves in 1992
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Arlington, Virginia (CNN) -- For Karen and Morrill Worcester, it's a campaign that blossomed out of a personal family tradition. But for the families of the fallen, it's a holiday tribute to remember the sacrifice of those who have given their lives in the armed services.

On Saturday, volunteers flooded the grounds at Arlington National Cemetery to take part in the annual wreath-laying ceremony sponsored by Wreaths Across America, a nonprofit organization born out of the Arlington Wreaths Project.

The husband and wife have been laying wreaths at the cemetery on their own since 1992, inspired by a visit Morrill paid to the landmark when he was a boy. Wreaths Across America began laying the decoration in 2006 and now places red-ribboned fir wreaths on veterans' gravestones across the country.

On this brisk December morning, volunteers huddled together at McClellan Arch.

"These are families here, they're not stones, they're not graves," said Karen Worcester, who acts as a spokesperson for Wreaths Across America. "This is our history, and we need to take that and teach that to our children. Our mission is to teach our children the value of freedom."

For veterans like Normand Lambert, who served in Vietnam, the event took on a special meaning as he passed through the crowds to place a wreath.

"One of the younger kids gave me a flag and thanked me for serving," he said.

A funeral director from Acton, Maine, Lambert said he's pleased to see young and old honoring those who have served.

"Unfortunately, we didn't get that welcome when we were coming back," he said. But he added that it's "wonderful" to see such a large flood of support now.

Bob Veno, another Vietnam veteran, made the trip out to Arlington from his home in Massachusetts for the second year in a row and said, "It feels good to see the younger generation being taught what the military has done for them."

Volunteers observed a moment of silence before unloading three trucks that had made their journey from Maine to the nation's capitol.

"Today we stand here among some 300,000 names chiseled in stone, cherished in memories but through the help of Mr. Worcester and people like yourself, never to be forgotten," said Wayne Hanson, the Arlington Wreath Coordinator of the Maine State Society.

Within an hour, thousands of white marble gravestones were decorated with a touch of the holiday season. Wreaths were also placed at the USS Maine Memorial, the Kennedy grave sites and the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Through contributions by the Wal-Mart Foundation and other veterans' organizations, Wreaths Across America will transport more than 16,000 wreaths to cemeteries across the country this holiday season.