AUGUSTA — A convoy of trucks carrying Maine-made wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery to be placed on service members’ graves will make a stop in Augusta for a rally to show appreciation for veterans Sunday afternoon at the Augusta Civic Center.

The free event will welcome the Wreaths Across America convoy of about a dozen tractor-trailers to the Augusta Civic Center for the first time since the event started in 1992. The trailers will be toting 253,000 handmade balsam wreaths to be placed on soldiers’ graves at the national veterans’ cemetery in Virginia.

The gathering in Augusta will feature speakers, including the founder and leaders of the event, Maine first lady Ann LePage, veterans from across the state, the national president of the American Gold Star Mothers, a concert by the U.S. Army field band Six String Soldiers, and the convoy of trucks and their supporters pausing on their cross-country trip, which organizers said is known as the country’s longest veterans’ parade.

“We’re really excited about Augusta; it’s going to be a huge event. We know it’s a busy time of year, but we want people to come out and celebrate our veterans with their families,” said Amber Caron, director of communications for Wreaths Across America. “We’re expecting to pack the house. Veterans’ groups and veterans’ homes from all across the state will be joining us.”

The convoy of trucks and other decorated vehicles annually makes its way from Downeast Maine to Arlington, generally taking about a week and making stops along the way at schools, American Legion halls and other public places for veteran-focused events.

Mike Edgecomb, of Spruce Head, is state captain of the Maine Patriot Guard Riders, a group of motorcyclists who turn out for veterans’ funerals. He has participated in three wreath convoys from Maine to Arlington and said it’s a moving experience, with people coming out — in a show of support — to line the roadway in many parts of the country when the convoy rolls by.

“I call it the world’s longest parade, from Columbia Falls to Arlington,” Edgecomb said. “All the way there, there are people lining the roads.

“It’s amazing the number of people it touches all along the route,” he added. “It’s important to show that not only do we decorate veterans’ graves, we also recognize our veterans, to give them thanks.”

The Patriot Guard Riders, law enforcement officers and others will escort the convoy.

The Augusta event is scheduled to start Sunday with a touch-a-truck event from 1 to 2 p.m. featuring wreath trucks — though not the ones from the convoy to Arlington — and other vehicles.

The police-escorted caravan of a dozen tractor-trailers carrying the wreaths is expected to arrive at 2 p.m., followed by the rally about 2:30 p.m. inside the Augusta Civic Center. The rally is expected to include remarks from Morrill Worcester, owner of Maine-based Worcester Wreath Co., who founded the event in 1992 by delivering a truckload of 5,000 wreaths he donated to Arlington. Other speakers are expected to include Karen Worcester, Wreaths Across American executive director; Becky Christmas, American Gold Star Mothers national president; Augusta Mayor David Rollins; and local comedian and Vietnam War veteran Gary Crocker, who will emcee the proceedings.

The event will feature a concert by Six String Soldiers, a band Edgecomb said is excellent, before sending the convoy off along its journey south.

“We thought we’d do a veterans’ rally at the Civic Center because it’s a big enough venue to bring in a lot of people,” Edgecomb said. “It’s going to be a great program. I hope everyone comes out to give a world-class send-off to Arlington.”

The event begun by Morrill Worcester’s donation spawned the nonprofit organization Wreaths Across America, which runs it now. The wreaths come from Worcester Wreath Co., which was selected through a bidding process, according to Caron. The organization provides wreaths to be placed on graves of soldiers across the country on the national Wreaths Across America Day, Dec. 15, totaling some 1.8 million wreaths, not just the 253,000 for Arlington.

The wreaths put on soldiers’ graves are sponsored by people across the country who pay for the wreaths. Caron said Thursday her organization is about 25,000 sponsorships short of the wreaths for Arlington. Wreaths are available to sponsor online, for $15 each.

This year the group also shipped more than 9,000 wreaths to Normandy, to be placed on the graves of U.S. soldiers there.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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