Truck drivers have collaborated with volunteers, military personnel, and cemetery employees across more than 2,500 cemeteries to make Wreaths Across America Day a success.
The annual event’s organizers ensure the nation’s fallen soldiers are honored with holiday wreaths in their final resting places. This year, adorning the graves of 1.7 million American veterans proved to be trickier than usual in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Still, event attendance at these cemeteries was very limited and even nearly canceled in some areas due to efforts to control the spread of the virus; the event at the Arlington National Cemetery outside of Washington was even canceled in November but reinstated once Secretary of the Army, Ryan McCarthy, announced it could proceed in a safe way.
Thanks to America’s truckers, these events continued on to make sure veterans were properly honored in time for the holidays.
“It’s an honor to do this, a real honor,” said volunteer driver James David Walker, who transported wreaths from Maine’s pine tree farms to the Arlington cemetery through blizzard-like conditions on the southbound route through New York and New Jersey. “We’re just keeping the mission moving. A veteran sacrificed his life and liberty, and the best we can do is ‘remember, honor, and teach.’”
Walker, a driver out of Quincy, Illinois for Gully Transportation, had a strong motive for helping with the special event. Walker is not only a Navy veteran but honors his son, Marine Lance Corporal Jeffrey Walker, who died in Fallujah, Iraq in 2007. Jeffrey is now buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Griffin, Georgia.
2020 was Walker’s fourth year as a volunteer driver for Wreaths Across America, and explained that he and other volunteers he knew were all determined to make sure the event ran smoothly regardless of pandemic-related limitations.
“The state troopers have been escorting us down, we had a briefing every morning, and they said we were doing a great job,” Walker said. “There’s a lot of patriotism–knowing what these veterans died for. During this pandemic, we won’t give up, just like they didn’t give up. It’s part of the healing process, and it helps other Gold Star Family members, and it helps veterans.”
Officials for Wreaths Across America have shown their gratitude for the help of truck drivers and other volunteers making the event possible. They also believe that the event will be back in full force–pandemic permitting–in 2021.
“The 2020 theme for Wreaths Across America has been ‘Be an American worth fighting for,’ and this year, I have been blessed to see my fair share [of those Americans]” said Karen Worcester, Executive Director for Wreaths Across America. “The determination of the American people and their commitment to the mission to ‘remember, honor, teach’ made it possible for us to move forward this year–safely. We are humbled and forever grateful for the outpouring of support from all across the country.”
At the wreath-laying events at Arlington and other cemeteries throughout the United States, Gold Star Families was able to participate virtually. At the cemetery in 2019, an estimated 70,000 volunteers participated.
“We have friends that we’ve made, and we can’t see them this year,” said Greg Madore, a volunteer for Wreaths Across America.
Lewiston, Maine Walmart Trucker Dave Mott volunteered as a driver for the fourth time in 2020, and said two of his sons have served as Army Rangers. Although the pandemic’s challenges made organizing the event more difficult this year, Mott notes that event officials, truckers, and volunteers worked together to do everything they could to make honoring veterans in this way as easy as could be in such a difficult year.
“Wreaths Across America has done a good job, building a place for the truckers with the trucker’s lounge,” he explained. “The truck drivers are a very important part of this effort. This year, it was a little different. We had fewer people in the trucker’s lounge, and it was difficult to get the trucks in and out and loaded. It was a challenge, but they did it, and it was a great job.”
For this event, volunteers laid wreaths at the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial in an effort to honor the 184 people who died inside the Pentagon and on American Airlines Flight 77 on September 11th, 2001. This gesture was especially moving to Mott.
“Everyone is here for the same reason; most of this is donated time and labor, effort and fuel,” he said. “It was a challenge this year, but these guys did a great job.”