The wreaths that hang on the Orion Center Cemetery gates are hung there in honor of the veterans who were laid to rest in the cemetery.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
The wreaths that hang on the Orion Center Cemetery gates are hung there in honor of the veterans who were laid to rest in the cemetery. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
The silence in the snow-covered yard breathes somberly, reminding even the trees that the veterans who lie below must be honored by the beribboned pine wreaths hanging from the gates.

"It honors all veterans," said Chatfield veteran Tom French, speaking of two wreaths hung on the new gates at the Orion Center Cemetery, at the top of the hill just west of Cummingsville. "These wreaths were donated by Wreaths Across America (WAA) and the veterans who are buried at the cemetery deserve to be honored."

According to information provided by Wreaths Across America, the program is "a national nonprofit organization founded in 2007 to continue and expand the annual wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery begun by Maine businessman Morrill Worcester, in 1992."

Worcester donated the first 5,000 wreaths from his company, Worcester Wreath Company, after which photos of the wreaths in the snow became known across the nation.

Last December, the 21st year wreaths were laid on graves, the one millionth wreath was placed. In 2012, a total of 406,000 wreaths were placed and of those, 105,000 were given at Arlington National Cemetery. There were 815 participating locations around the country, in all 50 states and at national veterans' cemeteries on foreign soil.

WAA "remembers, honors and teaches" through an annual pilgrimage from Harrington, Maine, to Arlington National Cemetery, holding special memorials for Pearl Harbor, Bunker Hill and Charleston Naval Shipyard veterans. It also provides wreaths for every victim of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York City, the Pentagon and the victims of Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Penn. It participates in veterans events' throughout the year, and teaches "younger generations about the value of their freedoms and the importance of honoring those who sacrificed so much to protect those freedoms."

Cemetery keeper Chuck French cited, "Orion Center Cemetery was founded in 1882 as the final resting place for those having lived in the township of Orion. Some of the members of the current cemetery board are direct descendants of those who were on the original board 143 years ago...the rural cemetery is peaceful and well maintained, and all burials are well documented."

Tom French observed that he wished to have wreaths laid on the graves of each veteran in the cemetery this Christmas, but that he learned of the program through the Minnesota Department of Veterans' Affairs too late to be able to do that, so he asked for two for the gates instead. He hopes to honor the Orion Cemetery veterans individually next December, laying WAA wreaths in the snow to remind passersby and visitors to pay their respects for those who have served their country well.