Clara Laubham of Ahwatukee wants people to know that it’s not too early to remember the deceased men and women who served our country and who are interred at veterans cemeteries during the Christmas holidays.
The 84-year-old widow, whose husband is among the thousands of deceased veterans who were laid to rest there, is part of the Arizona/East Valley chapter of Wreaths Across America.
The nonprofit organization sells the graveside wreaths to raise money to provide a variety of things for patients at the VA hospital as well as homeless veterans.
Laubham’s late husband James served in the Army for 30 years as a dentist and retired as a colonel. He passed away in 2013.
The tradition was started by Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington, Maine.
As a 12-year-old paper boy for the Bangor Daily News, he had won a trip to Washington D.C., and was moved by his visit to Arlington National Cemetery.
“This experience followed him throughout his life and successful career, reminding him that his good fortune was due, in large part, to the values of this nation and the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country,” according the nonprofit’s website, wreathsacrossamerica.org.
In 1992, Worcester Wreath had a surplus of wreaths and the company made arrangements to have them laid on the graves in one of the older sections of the cemetery that had been receiving fewer visitors with each passing year.
Wreaths Across America was created in 2005 after a photo of what had been the Worcester family’s continuing tradition at Arlington prompted a deluge of inquiries from across the country.
It was then the family formed the nonprofit with the goal of doing nationwide what they had been doing at Arlington.
With a simple mission statement — “Remember, Honor, Teach” — the nonprofit now annually lays more than 1.5 million wreaths at veterans cemeteries across the country.
The centerpiece of the group’s efforts is a veterans parade — said to be the world’s largest — that goes from Harrington, Maine, to the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, stopping along the way at schools, memorials and veterans homes to carry out their mission statement.
That parade this year on Dec. 8 will be coordinated with the wreath-laying ceremonies Dec. 14 at 1,100 cemeteries across the country as well as at sea and abroad.
“It’s such a beautiful sight,” Laubham said. “The trucks come in and are filled with wreaths and we have a ceremony and volunteers lay the wreaths on the veterans’ graves.”
She said she remembers one family at the National Veterans Cemetery in north Phoenix visited the wreath-laying ceremony.
“The parents wanted their children to see and learn what these men and women did for them,” Laubham said.
In Arizona, ceremonies will be held Dec. 14 at four veterans cemeteries — in Phoenix, Marana, Bisbee and Bellemont.
No wreaths are sent to individuals.
Rather, the group seeks sponsorships of $15 per wreath so that the graves at veterans cemeteries can be honored.
To support a wreath, checks made out to Wreaths Across America in care of Clara Laubham, 4443 E. Cheyenne Drive, Phoenix, AZ 85044.