Wreath-maker honors veterans at cemeteries across U.S.

Non-profit Wreaths Across America began when Maine businessman Morrill Worcester laid surplus wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery in 1992.
CBS News

(CBS News) COLUMBIA FALLS, Maine -- Morrill Worcester has been running a wreath-making business in Columbia Falls, Maine, for 42 years. Back in 1992, Worcester had a surplus of wreaths and a great idea about what to do with them.

"As a boy, I won a trip to Washington, and one of the things that I saw was Arlington National Cemetery, and I just never forgot that," Worcester says. "And then when I had those wreaths left over, I said, 'Geez, it would be nice if I could maybe place them on the graves of the veterans.'"

So Worcester headed to Arlington National Cemetery to lay 5,000 wreaths.

"The first 14 years nobody really knew about it, and it was a family gift to the military," Worcester says. "And I said, 'We'll always do that,' and we always have."

In 2006, a Pentagon photographer published a photo. Donations poured in, and the non-profit Wreaths Across America was formed.

"It's not unusual to have the phone ring, and he'd pick up the phone and they'd say, 'Is this Morrill Worcester?' and he'd say, 'Yes,' and the person on the other end would begin to sob, and they just could hardly get out, 'Thank you for remembering,'" says Worcester's wife, Karen.

Army Spc. Dustin Harris, 21, was killed by a bomb in Iraq in 2006. James Troutt is his grandfather.

"Most of our men and women after 9/11, they had a commitment, and that's what Dustin had -- a commitment," says Troutt.

Now, Troutt has also committed to serve -- as a volunteer.

"It's a circle of life, really," he says. "It's round and it's got a nice red bow. It's just a symbol of life, and that's what it is."

More than 100,000 volunteers are placing wreaths at 800 veterans' memorials and cemeteries, ending on Saturday at Arlington.

Asked whether he's amazed by the impact of his original gesture, Worcester simply nods. He's a man of few words whose work speaks of remembrance, sacrifice and honor.