Wreaths Across America receives no government funding to support operations. Motivated and dedicated patriots across the country and at locations overseas power the Maine-based nonprofit organization. The mission to remember, honor, and teach is carried out daily by millions of citizens who care deeply for those who have served our nation in the armed forces, and their families. Some of these remarkable individuals are veterans themselves or come from military families while others are driven by a deep sense of patriotism and community service.
Placing fresh, hand-made balsam remembrance wreaths on the headstones of veterans across the country in December requires tremendous logistics and unyielding support from the trucking industry.
Wreaths Across America shows its gratitude and appreciation for all those involved in transporting America's respect with "Trucking Tributes." These stories will introduce you to the men and women of the industry who make the mission possible.
"it's an experience that's hard to explain, but once you've seen what Wreaths Across America does and you get involved you'll want to stay involved every year. It's so moving."
That's according to Danny Smith who is an over-the-road driver for Big G Express out of Shelbyville, Tennesse. He's been with the company since it started in 1995 and two years ago celebrated his 3-Million Accident-Free Safe Miles with BIG G. In 2015, Danny was named the TCA Driver of the Year, and he also served as a member of the ATA's America's Road Team from 2015-2016.
His first introduction to Wreaths Across America was in 2015 when he traveled to Columbia Falls, Maine to pick up a truckload of remembrance wreaths and transported them to Arlington National Cemetery. In 2016, he transported wreaths from a cross dock in Mississippi an delivered to cemeteries in Middle Tennessee.
"We were on our own coming back, but several of us met up at a truck stop up in Maryland. A lot of people knew what was going on and we had decals and images on our trucks and trailers. It was so moving coming down I95 because people were waving flags, honking their horns, giving us thumbs up, and saluting us."
That experience the Friday before National Wreaths Across America Day was touching enough but when wreath day arrived the next day Danny experienced the "power of the wreath."
"I was one of about 63 trucks filled with wreaths that were staged in Arlington that year," Danny recalls. "It was one of the most moving and humbling experiences I've ever had as a truck driver. To see the thousands of people showing up to lay wreaths and within an hour and a half, the whole cemetery was covered with wreaths. It was simply amazing."
Danny says he never served in the U.S. Armed Forces, but he makes a connection, as so many drivers do, between military service and a trucking career.
"It's a rough life. You have to be disciplined, and you're away from your family for days at a time," Danny explains. "Trucking is a good fit for people coming out of the military. We do everything we can to honor our veterans at Big G Express."
While Danny was not part of the Annual Wreath Escort from Maine to Arlington last year, he was still able to experience the patriotism and pride associated with being a member of the Wreaths Across America honor fleet.
Stephen Richardson is a dedicated driver for BIG G Express and hauls barrels for the Jack Daniels Distillery. When Stephen was looking for employment, a friend of his at Big G told him about the company, and he's been a part of the family for 17 years. From 1986-1991 Stephen served in the U.S. Army with most of his time served spent in Germany.
"My military career gave me a great start in the trucking industry," Stephen proudly states. "My MOS was ammunition supply, and we would deliver ammo out in the field all times of the day and night."
A military veteran and member of the Tennessee Trucking Association through Big G Express Stephen was the first driver for Big G to transport America's respect in 2014.
"As a military veteran, it was powerful to learn about the history and evolution of Wreaths Across America and it was overwhelming to know I was serving other veterans by being involved."
Stephen shares his most memorable moment from being at Arlington for the first time, which he says, taught him new lessons about dignity and respect.
"There was a limousine that pulled up in front of the gate on Memorial Drive and I could see the brass. An older gentleman in uniform was struggling to get out of the car and stand. Two younger men went over to assist him. His dignity wouldn't allow that and he told them that he was going to walk through that gate because the next time he would be carried. He was an old General there to honor those who came before him. That will stay with me for the rest of my life."
Stephen and Danny both speak with pride about the involvement of Big G Express in Wreaths Across America's mission to remember, honor, and teach
Thank you, Danny, Stephen and the entire Big G Express family for your patriotism and tireless support of the Wreaths Across America mission to remember, honor and teach.
You can hear more from Danny and Stephen and our other patriots in our "Trucking Tributes" on Wreaths Across America Radio at 11:00 AM and again at 4:00 PM Eastern Monday-Friday.
"We were replacements," explained Charles. "My best friend Luke Moore and I went over together. He was a First scout, and I was a Second scout. We were taking a town when we were shot at by a sniper..."
Wreaths Across America is forever grateful for the thousands of volunteers who place veterans' remembrance wreaths on the headstones of our fallen as they say their names aloud every December. Remember, we are guests on the hallowed grounds of participating cemeteries and we ask that you honor their rules and regulations. If you're volunteering at Arlington this year, here's what you need to know.
Wreaths Across America announces open loads available as the Honor Fleet expands to transport America's Respect.
"I remember back then when we were told several times Vincent wouldn't make it through the night and I went to the chapel and said, 'God is there anything I can do to change your mind? He's our only son."
"One thing I will never forget is getting into Arlington and it was a cold, rainy day with freezing rain, and I remember looking around at all the empty headstones thinking to myself oh my God how are we going to do this."
"As part of our Wreaths Across America project, we work with the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the Explorers, Young Marines, and sometimes 4H members," Mike explains. "We try to engage our groups the way that I think the founder of Wreaths Across America intended."
The Civil Air Patrol Cadets meant the world to Rick. For three years he accompanied cadets to Arlington National Cemetery and assisted with laying wreaths at the cemetery. This trip changed the lives of many cadets.
"It was so moving coming down I95 because people were waving flags, honking their horns, giving us thumbs up, and saluting us."
"We have a dedicated group of compassionate people who come together to help military veterans," Rebecca explains. "If someone reaches out to us and says 'hey we need help getting a veteran's roof shingled' then we try to get it done."
“Every year we have so many professional drivers, bikers, police officers and other first responders, ask us how they can get involved, even if they can’t transport wreaths,” said Karen Worcester, executive director, Wreaths Across America.
"There are a lot of similarities between the military and the trucking industry," Rob explains. "I think that's why you see a lot of veterans successful as truck drivers."
Johnny Vet: Freedom Isn’t Free is a dynamic and inspirational musical journey of the men and women who have fought the nation’s wars and how those same men and women, as veterans, have helped to shape the nation and its destiny.
"History can be studied in many ways, and it's important to do so for a contextual understanding of the journey taken by an individual, organization, or nation."
"It's heart-wrenching to see that and participate in that, Rick shares. "To see all the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, and uncles waiting there to have a wreath to place on their family member's headstone, there are just no words for it, none."
"We're just Moms who serve through the organization to make sure that our children's names and lives are not forgotten."
From our standpoint, it's a relatively small thing to do, and we're proud to be a part of the mission."
"With NFI managing the logistics, the sky is the limit. They will help make the entire operation more efficient,” said Debbie Sparks, Director Corporate Development and Community Relations, Wreaths Across America.
Luann started her volunteer efforts with Wreaths Across America in 2015 after hearing about it from a friend who was participating with her DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) group. She's working to sponsor wreaths to cover all of the known heroes laid to rest at Oaklawn.
"I always choose our drivers who are military veterans for these loads and they are proud and honored to have the opportunity to recognize our fallen heroes and their families."
In referencing the Wreaths Across America Stem to Stone Remembrance Tree program Roger spoke to the value and necessity of "planting seeds of patriotism" in younger generations.
Monica explains Maverick has a tremendous amount of pride hauling America's respect and not only do they assign the wreath loads to their drivers who are veterans but those drivers are some of the industry's best.
The September edition of the Military Musicians Showcase goes out to jazz lovers!
As Aaron Van Beek, Location Coordinator for Sioux Center, Iowa placed Chris Kyle's tag in Maine the announcement was made that the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation and Wreaths Across America have agreed to collaborate with the support of their respective programs.
Helen told us about her brother, Ralph H. Johnson, who received the Medal of Honor posthumously following his heroic actions in Vietnam in 1968.
Yes. At Wreaths Across America, we've heard about the "Walmart Heart," and we're honored to be welcoming a group next month that has decided to combine their charity effort with their patriotism and respect.
Brandon says last year spending time at Arlington National Cemetery on National Wreaths Across America Day with fellow employees of Cowan Systems, Inc. was an educational and humbling experience.
"It's been a dream of mine to go back to Arlington with my Mom to be a part of National Wreaths Across America Day to place remembrance wreaths on my grandparents' graves."
According to Gretchen CFI went above and beyond two years ago when they helped make her dream come true.
"When we did that project we had one hundred and thirty-five of our employees at that time who had served in the military and that's a big percentage of employees for one company. We think that it's important to recognize their service."
Christa Parker's love for her son, country, and volunteerism with Wreaths Across America knows no boundaries, quite literally. Her volunteer efforts frequently have her crossing states lines and her stamina and organizational efforts are an inspiration to all.
When asked if he could describe the power of the veterans' remembrance wreath he admitted it was a challenge to put into words, yet hesitated only for a moment.