Last week, 65 trucking companies hauled 126 loads of fresh remembrance wreaths (about 610,000 in all) to be laid on graves at more than 800 veterans' cemeteries across the nation.
Each cemetery conducted its own special events and wreath-laying ceremonies on Saturday, Dec. 15, as part of Wreaths Across America Day, held annually each December.
Trucking companies have donated manpower and equipment to Wreaths Across America, an organization that coordinates veteran services and recognition through a variety of programs, and provides schools with teaching aides for projects throughout the year.
Of the many wreaths that traveled the country, 34 truckloads (representing about 110,000 wreaths - 20,000 more than last year), headed to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., the final resting place for hundreds of thousands of veterans.
The convoy of tractor-trailers hauling these wreaths - called the "Escort to Arlington" - began Dec. 9 in Harrington, Maine, and made its way slowly down the East Coast, escorted by the Patriot Guard Riders. It stopped at schools, monuments, veterans' homes, and communities all along the way to remind people how important it is to remember, honor, and teach.
When it arrived in Arlington, a rally was held Friday night for the drivers and volunteer personnel coordinating the event. It featured Lindsay Lawler, official spokesperson of Truckload Carriers Association's Highway Angel program. Lawler also sang "Amazing Grace" at Saturday morning's Opening Ceremonies prior to the wreath-laying.
According to Chris Burruss, president of TCA, trucking industry involvement in the Wreaths Across America Day initiative has grown steadily over the years, from just a few carriers participating on their own to this year's sizable fleet, requiring an all-new system for coordinating logistics managed by the association. As needs increased, TCA went to its membership for help, and the members responded with unprecedented enthusiasm.
"This project is a natural fit for TCA members and the trucking industry in general, since so many veterans choose to make their careers in trucking after serving in the military," said Burruss, who is a Marine Corps veteran. "All of us feel it is our honor and privilege to be able to show our respect by hauling the wreaths for those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country."
While many trucking companies donated equipment and drivers for the project, Internet Truckstop provided special dispatching software to TCA. Prime Inc. also played a role by offering the services of one of its load planning experts.
"TCA had a big learning curve when it came to logistics management. It's something Prime does on an everyday basis," said Robert Low, TCA's chairman and the president and founder of Prime, Inc. "So utilizing our expertise seemed only logical. Working together, we ensured the most efficient use of our volunteers' time and equipment so that 'Wreaths Across America Day' could take place successfully."
The tradition of laying wreaths at Arlington began in 1992 when the owner of Worcester Wreath Co. found a surplus of leftover wreaths available near the end of the holiday season. With the help of Sen. Olympia Snowe, arrangements were made for the wreaths to be placed in one of the older sections of the cemetery. In 2005, a photo of snow-covered gravestones adorned with wreaths gained national attention, and the subsequent outpouring of requests led to the creation of the nonprofit organization now called Wreaths Across America.