Truck drivers relish Wreaths Across America experience

By Mark Schremmer, Land Line staff writer | 12/14/2015

Robert Fernald, an OOIDA life member, has been a truck driver for 23 years. He’s a four-time state champion in the Maine Truck Driving Championships and earned the Citizen Driver Award from Travel Centers of America earlier this year.

However, Fernald said his work with the Wreaths Across America program the past seven years stands out.

(Courtesy of Robert Fernald)

OOIDA Life Member Robert Fernald took part in the Wreaths Across America convoy from Maine to Arlington National Cemetery.

“Absolutely it does,” Fernald said. “It is probably one of the highest points of my career. I’ve been able to do a lot, and I’ve had a very fulfilling career. But nothing really compares to the honor and respect that goes into this.”

This past week, Fernald drove one of the 12 trucks that were part of the Wreaths Across America convoy from Maine to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Wreaths Across America was originated by Morrill Worcester, who owns the Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington, Maine. The annual event, which began in 1992 with a trailer load of wreaths placed on the graves of fallen soldiers at Arlington, has evolved into a national organization with about 1,100 participating locations.

At Arlington alone on Saturday, Dec. 12, about 40,000 volunteers helped place more than 230,000 wreaths on the graves of fallen soldiers.

Fernald, of Westbrook, Maine, said the seven-day and 800-mile trek, which included stops at several schools and community buildings along the way, is one he’ll never forget. Fernald’s brother-in-law Harry Neals, who recently retired from the Navy, rode along.

“It was quite amazing,” Fernald said. “Each stop had a different story. Every place we stopped there were people lined up and holding flags. As we drove, people would honk and wave.”

The trip also was memorable for OOIDA Member Joey Slaughter, who hauled 3,800 wreaths from Maine to Arlington for the second consecutive year.

Slaughter, who is from Ringgold, Va., traveled about 2,500 miles in six days from Virginia to Maine and back to Virginia.

“I wanted to do it again, because it was such a great experience last year,” Slaughter said. “I was overwhelmed at how big of a charity and how big of an event it was.”

(Courtesy of Joey Slaughter)

OOIDA member Joey Slaughter, who participated in Wreaths Across America this past week, provided the four wreaths that were placed on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier .

The event holds extra meaning for Slaughter as he is a veteran of the U.S. Army and served in Iraq from 2007-08.

“I feel like it’s my duty to help out,” Slaughter said. “Veterans often lead the way in honoring other veterans. I’m proud to do that.”

Almost 4,000 wreaths from Slaughter’s truck were placed on the graves of fallen soldiers, but four of them were particularly special.

With Slaughter’s truck located near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a guard asked for four wreaths to be placed at the monument.

“I’m proud of that,” Slaughter said. “Of the probably 240,000 wreaths that were hauled to Arlington, four of the ones I brought were placed on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I guess I just happened to be in the right spot.”

Fernald and Slaughter were two of the many truck drivers who hauled wreaths to more than a 1,000 locations nationwide. More than 900,000 wreaths were placed at U.S. Cemeteries over the weekend.

Companies like Shell Rotella also teamed up with drivers to make WAA happen this year. Shell helped in providing 50,000 wreaths on every gravestone at Houston National Cemetery. OOIDA Senior Member Gerald Kissinger of Stoughton, Maine, hauled wreaths for Shell Rotella from Maine to Houston.

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