WINSLOW — More than 50 people gathered at the Central Maine Veterans Memorial Park Tuesday afternoon to cheer on the Wreaths Across America convoy as it made a pit stop on its way to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Two tractor trailers filled with more than 10,000 wreaths were escorted down Roderick Road by Maine State Police and the Winslow Fire Department as onlookers held flags, saluted and waved to the crew.

“We’re out here to honor our country and honor those who gave it all,” said Tom Deschaine, an Army veteran from Fairfield.

Wreaths Across America is a nonprofit organization based in Columbia Falls that places wreaths on the graves of veterans.

Wreaths Across America has expanded from laying wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia in 1992 to laying wreaths in 2,100 different locations across the country and abroad.

Founder Morrill Worcester said this year’s trip to Arlington is different due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Because of the virus, it’s been a little bit of a tough year, but all in all this has worked out very well,” Worcester said. “We’re doing it smaller this year, but you know, this thing has a mind of its own. Next year will come and we’ll be ready.”

Worcester said that laying the wreaths is the least they can do to honor the work that the military does.

“Everybody in the country is truly blessed,” Worcester said. “If it wasn’t for the military, where would this country be? We owe them an unbelievable debt.”

Wreaths Across America arrives Tuesday at Meadow Lane in Winslow for a visit to Central Maine Veterans Memorial Park. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

The more than 700-mile trek from Columbia Falls to Arlington typically takes one week with all of the stops the convoy makes, Worcester said. But this year’s trip will be made in only three days.

“We’re not having as many stops this year,” Worcester said. “But still, there’s been so many people on the sides of the road. I don’t know who is telling them where we are, but they know.”

Tuesday’s gathering at the Central Maine Veterans Memorial Park was organized in part by Karen Loftus, whose father was one of the original founders of the park.

“My father would be so proud to see this today,” Loftus said.

Loftus’ father, Daniel DeRoch, and fellow World War II veterans Tommy Maroon, Ben Perry and Francis Bourgoin came up with the idea for the park in 2000.

Later in 2015, Leon Audet, also a World War II veteran, joined the project.

In September, Loftus and other caretakers of the park were searching for ways to bring in more funds to keep it up.

Tom Deschaine, a member of the VFW in Fairfield, was more than willing to help.

“I read an article about this park in the paper, so I came to see it and then I presented this as a project to the club (VFW),” Deschaine said. “I approached Karen and I asked, ‘what can I do?’ We just started doing stuff. We got this cleaned up; we have some people lined up to do maintenance and lawn care next year, all that.”

For Deschaine, who is now a trustee of the park, maintaining the memorial is a meaningful way to honor his fellow veterans.

“Being in combat, losing friends, you can’t put that away,” Deschaine said. “But I can show my respect and this is a way for me to do that.”

“We’re in much better shape than we were in the fall,” Loftus said.

Anne Hogdon bundles up Tuesday as she awaits the arrival of Wreaths Across America at Central Maine Veterans Memorial Park in Winslow. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

After the convoy was greeted by supporters on the roadside, the Wreaths Across America crew and state police were treated to lunch that was donated by Camden National Bank and the Winslow Fire Department.

The crew was also given gift bags made by Cary Olson, who works for Unum, a benefits provider, in Portland.

“We’ve (Unum) been supporting Wreaths Across America for years, but this is just something I did this year to give the folks going on the trip some little treats,” Olson said. “There are some granola bars, water, a little ornament for them. It’s just to say thank you for what they’ve done for all these years.”

Olson normally makes the trip to Arlington with Wreaths Across America but with the pandemic, decided to stay home this year.

“I’ll miss going to Arlington, but I got to do this and thank Wreaths Across America this way,” Olson said.

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