COLUMBIA FALLS, Maine — Columbia Falls is a small, quiet town is eastern Maine -- but at its heart is a program making a big impact across the country.
Wreaths Across America works to remember, honor, and teach about veterans and the sacrifices they have made. The organization coordinates wreath-laying ceremonies at more than 1,600 locations around the U.S., at sea, and abroad. Workers say last year, the demand hit at about 1.8 million -- and that number is continuing to grow.
A ceremony was held Saturday at the Wreaths Across America headquarters, so a group from Pennsylvania could tag trees with names of their loved ones. But these trees have a two-fold purpose.
"When we tag those trees, they tip those every two years and make the wreaths (from) them that they lay on the grave(s)," Christine Walt, founder of For the Love of a Veteran, explained to NEWS CENTER Maine. "So it comes full circle."
Before the tagging, names of those being honored were read out loud, followed by a moment of silence. It's a practice that Wreaths Across America Executive Director Karen Worcester says is important.
"You die twice," Worcester says. "The first time, your heart stops beating. You take your last breath. But the last time you die is when your name is spoken for the very last time."
For Vanessa Baker of Philadelphia, that moment was an important one of closure for her Saturday. She has lost her father, grandfather, and father-in-law -- and they all served our country.
"To me, it just meant like the last saying goodbye and knowing that that tree is going to be going on to another veteran."
For those who are still with us, Baker adds she wishes more people would recognize the sacrifices veterans have made for our freedom -- because, she says, people often seem to take it for granted.
"Every time I see somebody with a veteran hat on, I always make sure I stop and I say, 'Thank you for your service,'" Baker says. "They look at you, and they're like, 'Oh, thank you so much' -- and you can see it in their face -- that, 'Wow, they remembered.'"
It's gratitude that Worcester says she feels she has seen less of -- particularly as years have passed since 9-11 when the country felt more united.
"We gathered in this little community, and prayed together -- everybody. It didn't matter if you were Democrat or Republican," Worcester recalls of that day 18 years ago. "We were praying for the very heart and soul of the best country in the world."
Despite the division now, the love of a parent or family member is universal -- and that's what makes it so difficult when lives are lost too soon.
"I've got six kids. I call every one of those kids every night, whether they like it or not," Worcester told NEWS CENTER Maine. "(People who lost their kids) love their kids in the same way I do, and they can't do that anymore."
That's why her mission of keeping these brave men and women's memories alive means so much to her and the families she positively impacts.
To learn more about Wreaths Across America and its "Stem to Stone" project, click here.