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Americans honor veterans at Arlington, almost 900 other cemeteries

Truckload Carriers Association President Chris Burruss pays tribute to a fallen veteran during the Wreaths Across America Day Saturday at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. (Courtesy: HANCOCK COUNTY TECHNICAL CENTER MEDIA DEPARTMENT)

The Trucker News Services

12/16/2013

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas holidays — often the busiest time for a trucking company — Truckload Carriers Association members and other trucking companies made it possible for hundreds of thousands of fresh remembrance wreaths to be placed upon veterans’ graves at Arlington National Cemetery and at 907 other cemeteries nationwide on Dec. 14, known as National Wreaths Across America Day.

Nearly 30,000 volunteers placed remembrance wreaths on the headstones of more than 143,000 veterans at Arlington National Cemetery.

Across the country, 540,000 remembrance wreaths were placed on graves in honor of veterans.

The notion of honoring veterans and their families in this manner began in 1992 when Morrill Worcester, owner of the Worcester Wreath Co. of Harrington, Maine, discovered a surplus of unsold wreaths toward the end of the year. By donating them to be placed on veterans’ gravestones, he launched what has now become an annual tradition requiring the assistance of many trucking companies to make it happen.

The entire effort grew into Wreaths Across America, a nonprofit organization that was created to “remember, honor, and teach” about the service and sacrifices of veterans.

“Wreaths Across America Day is an enormous effort that depends heavily on trucks, trailers, professional drivers, a dispatching system and plenty of wreath sponsorships,” said Karen Worcester, Morrill’s wife and the executive director of WAA. “We know that the cost of operating trucking equipment is expensive — especially fuel. Yet, since TCA and its members got involved, we’ve been able to place wreaths at 900 veterans’ cemeteries across the nation — up nearly 100 locations from last year. That’s more than 500,000 soldiers that will be honored this year with a remembrance wreath. It’s an amazing commitment that truly shows what values the trucking industry stands for.”

A few weeks before National Wreaths Across America Day, TCA called upon its members to ensure that all needs would be met.

The response was extraordinary, TCA officials said.

Trucks, trailers and professional drivers were offered readily. One carrier that could not provide a truck offered to pay for one from another company, including its fuel. TransCore of Beaverton, Oregon, a TCA member, made a special effort to call trucking companies to recruit volunteers. Other industry organizations, such as the Alexandria, Va.-based Transportation Intermediaries Association, also a TCA member, sent out pleas for help to their own membership.

Dispatching assistance was also provided. ITS Dispatch of Newmarket, Ontario, donated software that has been used by TCA for the second year in a row. TCA member JagTrux, Inc. of Elizabethtown, Pa., helped rearrange some routes to ensure that loads were planned in the most cost-effective and logical way.

Rita Germak Swisher, safety manager at JagTrux, also made personal phone calls and wrote e-mails to trucking colleagues and groups asking for support.

“We’re a small, 35-truck company, and we participate in Wreaths Across America every year,” she said. “The cause is important to us because we’re a family-owned company and big supporters of the military. My cousins are military, and my grandfather was, too. Some of our drivers are veterans, or their families, are. You don’t have to be a large company to show your respect. We buy a wreath for anyone in our company who requests one for themselves or a family member. It’s our way of honoring those who have given so much to this country.”

Truckloads of wreaths were broken down into smaller shipments at Midwestern cross-docking operations set up by TCA-member Tennant Truck Lines of Colona, Ill., and Arrow Truck Sales of Kansas City, Mo.

At Arlington National Cemetery, the opening ceremony took place on a custom-built, mobile stage — a curtain-sided flatbed trailer — provided by Gary Salisbury, former TCA chairman and the president and CEO of Fikes Truck Line at Hope, Ark.

The program included two songs by Lindsay Lawler, the spokesperson for TCA’s Highway Angel program and a country singer known for patriotic, pro-trucking lyrics.

Among those attending the event in addition to the Worcesters and Lawler were Patrick K. Hallinan, superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery; Chris Burruss, president of the Truckload Carriers Association; Maine Gov. Paul LePage and First Lady Ann LePage; and songwriter Chris Roberts, as well as several Gold Star families and countless veterans.

As part of the ceremony, Patriot Guard Riders laid a wreath at the grave of President John F. Kennedy. Later, Governor and Mrs. LePage placed a wreath at the USS Maine Memorial followed by a wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

This year, for the first time, a stop was made at the Statue of Liberty for the placement of a special Freedom Wreath. The wreath was placed at the Statue in a ceremony to commemorate and honor the men and women of our armed forces who made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve all Americans' sacred right to freedom. 

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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