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.
The Founder of Allen Lund Company is a U.S. Army veteran who encourages his employees to give back to the community. That according to fellow veteran Bill Bess who serves as Allen Lund's Director of Corporate Claims Management and Carrier Development.
Bill enlisted in the Air Force just two days after his high school graduation and ultimately served as an aircraft instrument repairman specializing in the F4's. He recalls multiple transfers for the first few years of service and then it was off to Vietnam.
"I learned and grew up a whole lot over there," Bill shared. He made it home safely from the war, was discharged from Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, and went on to college at the University of Wisconsin. Bill entered the trucking brokerage business upon his graduation.
Just as Don learned from Steve and Shepard and Wendy discovered through TCA, and so on, Bill first heard of Wreaths Across America six or seven years ago through a professional driver he knew who was also a military veteran.
"This guy was a single owner-operator and didn't have the means to bear the expense himself so he called me and asked if Allen Lund Company would sponsor him for a load to benefit Wreaths Across America. Up until that point, I had never heard of the organization and its mission. By the time we finished up on the phone, I had sponsored a load for him and one for a friend of his!"
Bill admits he too was "hooked" on the effort to remember, honor, and teach as soon as he saw a fresh, hand-made remembrance wreath laying against the headstone of a fallen hero over the holidays. He also acknowledges the Wreaths Across America mission is a healing experience for him and other Vietnam War veterans who not only had to process the horrors of war when they returned home but the animosity of many American citizens as well.
"It was pretty disheartening," Bill recalls. "For the most part, I did not share any of my experiences, not wanting people to know who I was or where I'd come from. We knew about all the protests and what the mood was back home from what we were reading over there. I wasn't expecting to be put down for my service in Vietnam, more so ignored, but there were times it became very hostile, and it hurt. That gave rise to some of the vet clubs, and so forth so you could talk about it and sometimes you had to talk about it. From the general public, there was no praise or acclamation."
Service to our nation runs deep in Bill's family background, and he has a unique connection with the national cemeteries where many of the wreaths are placed.
"My uncle Leo Walker is a decorated hero buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and after the war, he worked as a civil engineer who helped design many of the national cemeteries all over the world. My dad, Willard J. Bess, was a Navy seaman during World War II at Pearl Harbor, although he was not there during the Japanese attack. He was very patriotic, and the two of them developed my desire to serve."
Bill has participated in the Annual Wreath Escort to Arlington in the past and says he's so pleased to know how many schools are participating in preparing welcome stops and ceremonies because the teach portion of the Wreaths Across America mission exposes younger generations to history and instills in them a real sense of patriotism and pride.
Thank you, Bill Bess and Allen Lund for your patriotism and tireless support of Wreaths Across America. You can hear more from Bill in our "Trucking Tributes" on Wreaths Across America Radio weekdays at 11:00 AM and again at 4:00 PM Eastern.
"When it comes to Wreaths Across America, we don't do what we do for the applause of men; we do it because of how important it is to the Gold Star families we've connected with over the years."
"We knew at the time it was inevitable he'd be deployed," Scott explains. "He was just a few days shy of being promoted to Sergeant when his Humvee hit an IED (improvised explosive device) in Iraq."
"I remember being in the cemetery years ago and seeing one section, it was the World War I section, near Fort Myer that was all covered in wreaths, and I was wondering who the heck put them there," Jari explains. "I know what struck me about it. It was an old section that no family members would be coming to visit."
"They have to learn and understand the history to know of all the people who have given their lives to make this country what it is today. We're honored and proud to be part of Wreaths Across America and we look forward to being part of the future."
Like any military maneuver, music performance requires individual excellence in a synchronized effort that requires discipline to achieve the desired goal.
They know they have come to serve those who served us by placing a remembrance wreath on their headstone while saying their name. Like Al, every volunteer we speak with says they come away from the day knowing they have contributed to something so much bigger than themselves.
"The statue now serves as inspiration for young people to say yes, the military is something that we should support because they come to rescue life. They don't always come to conquer the land and certainly not American soldiers. We don't go anywhere to conquer lands we go to help liberate people."
"As the saying goes we all gave some, but some gave all, and that resonates with me all the time," explains Vince. "This is our way of giving back and paying tribute to the fallen because those people are the heroes."
"We seem to be at a time in history when Americans are having a hard time agreeing on anything. We’re divided in so many ways. But at the heart of it, most of us can agree on one thing: We are Americans."
"It was really hard because I couldn't hug her. As soon as she put her hand on the wreath, I started to cry, and I could tell she was starting to tear up."
In her keynote address, Karen Worcester thanked the UMA for the honor and shared a personal story of why Wreaths Across America does what it does. In a heartfelt and often tearful delivery, Karen told the story of Edith Knowles, a Gold Star Sister who lost her brother, Bud, during World War II.
I knew I had the contacts in the trucking industry," Barry explains of his initial involvement with the organization. "I just had to get people to believe in Wreaths Across America they way I did."
"She truly gets the Wreaths Across America mission to remember, honor and teach and how important it is to our families but most importantly the families of those who have served."
"When you see thousands of volunteers flood through the gates to lay wreaths, it does help restore your faith in America and that our country has not lost its core value of appreciating the sacrifice of our soldiers and veterans and saluting them while teaching the next generation how important it is to remember."
Taya says the best way to show appreciation and respect for military families is through simple gestures like the one Wreaths Across America's founder Morrill Worcester made back in 1992 when he laid the first hand-made balsam fir remembrance wreath on the headstone of a fallen hero in Arlington National Cemetery.
Her parents, Vernon and Regina Garner represented the true American dream. They were a young entrepreneurial couple creating a business to share with future generations of their family. Garner Trucking started in 1960 with one truck and has grown to over one hundred trucks and four hundred trailers today.
"With the most gentle little kisses using the very tip of his tongue like a little butterfly he licked the tears off my cheek as if he was saying, 'Mom, I've got you, don't worry I'm right here with you."
“We didn’t understand the scope of the effort though until we attended the event. The energy and enthusiasm for WAA was mind-blowing and we left with great contacts and started to formulate a proposal right away for the executive team to consider getting involved with the mission.”