ARLINGTON, Va. — Wreaths Across America’s annual trek from Harrington, Maine, to Arlington National Cemetery has earned a reputation as the world’s largest veterans’ parade. More than 70 trucks lined the highway in late December to carry the hundreds of thousands of wreaths that were to be placed on the graves at the country’s largest veterans’ resting place.
Elisabeth Barna, executive vice president of industry affairs and senior advisor with the American Trucking Associations, said the response from the trucking industry is a sight that always leaves her in awe.
“We are a very patriotic and community-based industry and we would do anything for anybody,” Barna said. “I think that this project is really special. You talk to anybody, whether they are competitors or retired drivers, everybody wants to participate in it.”
Wreaths Across America began as a small ceremony led by the Worcester Wreath Company in 1992 as a way to distribute a surplus of wreaths, but as plans were underway several other organizations and volunteers stepped up to help. The annual tribute went on quietly until 2005, when a photo of the wreaths at the cemetery garnered national attention. By 2007, Wreaths Across America was formed as a non-profit organization and has grown exponentially each year since.
Today, wreaths are carried into the cemetery by the truckload. In addition, the convoy makes stops in smaller communities along the way to spread the word of the importance of remembering those who are currently serving as well as those who have been laid to rest.
“It is incredible,” Barna said. “Any of the drivers who participate in the convoy, they become one big family.”
This year, the organization along with numerous volunteers and donors were able to place wreaths in 2,100 cemeteries across the nation and 70 trucks brought more than 254,000 wreaths to the national cemetery.
“Pickup trucks just wouldn’t make it,” Barna said. “You don’t see the trains and ships going into cemeteries, so they really do need the trucking industry for this.”
Barna said there are normally more than 40 trucks and at least 38,000 volunteers waiting at Arlington on the morning of the wreath placement, but that hasn’t always been the case.
“I remember the first four or five years, you could just drive your car into Arlington and park alongside your truck and help unload and it would take hours and hours to unload the trucks and place the wreaths on the graves,” she said. “Now you can hardly get on the Metro because so many people want to help and volunteer and depending on your location, you may only get one wreath to place because the lines are so long.”
The American Trucking Associations’ Workforce Heroes trucks leads the convoy each year and selected two Army veterans to drive the trucks to lead the 2019 convoy.
“Year-to-year, [the drivers] really look forward to seeing each other,” Barna said. “It is an instant, automatic family. Our drivers fight to get to drive one of the ATA trucks.”
Trucking groups from across the country join forces to make this annual event one to remember. Kansas-based Cline Wood and Missouri-based Buchheit Logistics joined the efforts for a fourth year this by delivering two truckloads of wreaths that were placed on veterans’ graves in cemeteries in Illinois and Missouri.
The Wreaths Across America Honor Trailer, which was sponsored by UPS this year, was escorted to Arlington to support National Wreaths Across America Day. Missouri-based TransLand delivered wreaths to Ohio as well as Arlington. Additionally, TransLand joined with the Springfield Area Motor Carriers Club and ensured that all U.S. veterans in Springfield were honored with wreaths. Last year, only 6,000
veterans’ graves received a wreath. This year, 14,500 graves received wreaths.
“A lot of these drivers do this on their own time,” Barna said. “There are owner-operators who help with this and fleet drivers as well. While they are out doing this, their families are at home getting ready for the holidays.”
Even as the event grows and garners more national participation, the mission of remembering veterans remains the same.
“It is about teaching the new generation about our heroes — our fallen heroes and the ones that are still over there fighting for us and making us have the life that we have,” Barna said. “It is about remembering them and not just about throwing a wreath on a grave.”
The wreaths that were placed at Arlington National Cemetery in December have now been collected and recycled. The wreaths typically stay in place until the second Saturday in January. Anyone in the trucking industry looking to get involved in the 2020 convoy or participate in any other way can visit trucking.wreathsacrossamerica.org.
Wendy Miller holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in strategic communications. Wendy has been a journalist and editor for nearly 15 years and has specialized in niche publications for the past eight years. Wendy draws her love for the trucking industry from growing up as a trucker’s daughter.