Truckers lend respect, support, mobility for Wreaths Across America

By Sandi Soendker, Land Line editor-in-chief | 12/9/2013

Wreaths Across America is an annual campaign to honor U.S. military personnel who lost their lives in the service of the nation’s armed forces. Like everything else in the U.S. that moves, the mission relies on trucks and truck drivers. Despite the threatening weather, a convoy of trucks left Harrington, Maine, this morning, headed for Arlington National Cemetery.

The trucks are volunteered and are loaded with more than 100,000 balsam wreaths. The wreaths are sponsored by supporters and will be placed on gravesites at Arlington.

Photo by OOIDA Member Rob Fernald

The trucks load up the balsam wreaths in Harrington, Maine.

It’s a six-day journey. The trucks are accompanied by dozens of cars and motorcycles that include Gold Star families and Patriot Guard Riders.

Ann LePage, first lady of Maine, joined the escort for the third time, this year riding on the back of a three-wheel motorcycle and wisely dressed as if she could be embarking on an Arctic expedition. Gov. Paul LePage’s wife, on a flag-adorned trike, joined the convoy this morning in Belfast. 

WAA is a nonprofit organization with headquarters in Harrington, Maine. The wreath project was formed as an extension of the Arlington Wreath Project. The project’s stated purpose is to “remember the fallen, to honor those who serve, and to teach our children the value of freedom.”

OOIDA Member Rob Fernald is a Walmart driver and one of those participating. On Monday, he reported he had driven his assigned miles and was back home in Westbrook, Maine. Walmart is a major supporter of Wreaths Across America.

“We relay 11 of the loads off, and we have two drivers that go the entire route to Arlington,” says Rob.  “The rest go to about 80 different distribution centers across the country, and 95 different drivers will pull the loads this year. It’s pretty amazing.”

Trucker Charity driver Tony Hamilton, OOIDA member from Hartselle, Ala., also participated in the first part of the convoy. On Sunday, he broke off and headed to Virginia to deliver to nine cemeteries in the Richmond area.

Photo by OOIDA Member Rob Fernald

Trucker Charity driver Tony Hamilton, OOIDA member from Hartselle, Ala., is delivering wreaths to cemeteries in the Richmond, Va., area.

The Arlington Wreath program was started in 1992 by Morrill Worcester, president of Worcester Wreath Co. In that year, he donated 5,000 excess Christmas wreaths for graves at Arlington National Cemetery. This became an annual event for Worcester and his family but the project remained low-key until 2005, when a photo of the greenery on the snow-covered graves went viral on the Internet. The project received national attention, and thousands of requests came from all over the country from people wanting to institute the Arlington project in their communities.

In the 22 years the Wreaths Across America program has been in existence, volunteers have placed more than a million live wreaths on the final resting places of U.S. troops. Last year, more than 110,000 wreaths alone were laid on graves in Arlington National Cemetery near D.C.

Morrill Worcester says they are shy of their goal, which is 135,000 wreaths. But the project, the crowds and the support are growing each year. He says 35,000 people are expected to be waiting at the gates of the cemetery.

At exactly the same time – noon, Saturday, Dec. 14 – hundreds of thousands of the red-ribboned balsam wreaths will be dedicated in hundreds of locations across the nation. The mission is now carried out in other locations in all 50 states and overseas.

Beyond Arlington
One of those locations is the Floral Grove Cemetery in West Unity, Ohio. Mike, aka “Flagwaver,” is a life member of OOIDA. He drives for Craig Transportation out of Perrysburg, Ohio. In 2012, the company was among the volunteers who donated a truck to pick up the wreaths in Maine and take them to Arlington. Flagwaver was proud to participate, driving the truck. It wasn’t the first time he’d been to Arlington. The first time was in 2007 and the impression will never leave him.

He says he couldn’t help but think that the wreaths that covered all those stark tombstones at Arlington should be a nationwide effort. This year, he chose a cemetery near his hometown to make that happen.

According to Mike, there are 347 veterans who are resting at Floral Grove for eternity, and many of them he remembers. When Land Line talked to Flagwaver on the Friday before Veterans’ Day, he had 187 wreaths reserved for Floral Grove and he was freshly jazzed about a donation of 34 wreaths from the local antique power club. When Land Line talked to him just last week, he had more than exceeded his goal of 347 sponsored wreaths for Floral Grove.

“The wreaths are supposed to arrive Tuesday,” says Mike. “They’ll be delivered by Dutch Maid Logistics out of Willard, Ohio. We are the driver’s last stop, so I’m going to take him out for dinner afterward. The wreaths will be delivered to the docks at Bryan Truck Lines, which are in Montpelier, Ohio, and they will take them to the Floral Grove Cemetery for Dec. 14’s ceremony.”

But Floral Grove isn’t the only place that has benefited from Mike’s mission. On Saturday, Dec. 7, Mike delivered a wreath at the Williams County Veterans Memorial in Bryan, Ohio. He was accompanied by World War II veteran F.J. Betts from Bryan. Betts placed the wreath.

Photo by OOIDA Life Member Mike Frybarger

On Dec. 7, World War II veteran F.J. Betts dedicated a wreath at the Williams County Veterans Memorial in Bryan, Ohio.

“We placed that wreath under the American flag at the exact time that history says the attack on Pearl Harbor began,” says Mike. “Which is 12:55 Eastern time, which is the same as 7:55 a.m. Hawaiian time. That starts the Wreaths Across America in our county.”

Next Saturday, Dec. 14, Mike and his lineup of volunteers and representatives of each branch of the military will place wreaths on all 347 military graves at Floral Grove.

Copyright © OOIDA