Trucks on way to Arlington Cemetery with wreaths of gratitude
Moments later, they climbed up into their delivery trucks filled with wreaths parked in a circle around the common and continued on their solemn journey to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia and other veterans' cemeteries around the country.
The trucks were part of a convoy with Wreaths Across America, a nonprofit organization that recruits thousands of volunteers to deliver wreaths to the headstones of the nation's war dead in time for the Christmas season.
"We collectively thank our military and their families for our freedom," said Don Godwin, a driver from the Walmart Distribution Center in Raymond who joined the convoy and spoke at Monday's ceremony.
Wreaths Across America is a tradition started by Maine businessman Morrill Worcester in 1992.
Godwin said the event is now known as "the world's largest veterans' parade" with stops at monuments, veterans' homes and other places along the way to remind people of the importance of remembering and honoring veterans and teaching others about their sacrifices.
Monday's visit to Raymond was the convoy's only stop in New Hampshire.
This year, volunteers from Wreaths Across America will lay their one millionth remembrance wreath as part of a journey that began Saturday night in Harrington, Maine, with the convoy of trucks. The majority will travel to Arlington National Cemetery, but others will deliver wreaths to cemeteries in other states.
"This is just a terrific remembrance for our veterans. We have a day called Veterans Day and if I were down in Washington and became President of the United States . I would certainly love to have 365 days be Veterans Day because the veterans are the ones that allow us, and they have for years, to stand here in the town common and be able to enjoy what we enjoy," said former state Sen. Jack Barnes of Raymond, an Army veteran.
As of Monday, more than 70,000 wreaths were scheduled to be delivered to Arlington, but orders for more wreaths will be taken through Dec. 13. Wreaths Across America's goal is to lay 100,000 wreaths in Arlington this year during Saturday's National Remembrance Ceremony. The organization expects to deliver as many as 400,000 wreaths around the country.
The cost of the program is paid for through individual wreath sponsors, corporate donors and volunteer truckers.
Town Manager Craig Wheeler said the Wreaths Across America event is a way to teach young people about the value of freedom.
"We are gathered here on the Raymond town common to be witness to that lesson and to honor with our presence the convoy, the drivers, the volunteers, which together represent a sum that is greater than all of its parts," he said.
For more information on Wreaths Across America, visit the group's website, www.wreathsacrossamerica.org.