Wreaths Across America emerged from the thoughtful gesture of businessman Morrill Worcester back in 1992 when an error in ordering resulted in him donating five thousand fresh Maine-made balsam fir wreaths to honor fallen heroes buried at Arlington National Cemetery. And so started a grassroots organizing effort to remember, honor, and teach. A truck was going to be necessary to haul those wreaths.
Many a filmmaker and journalist documenting the Wreaths Across America story have inquired about the very first driver to transport America's respect to Arlington National Cemetery. It was James Prout owner of Bluebird Ranch Trucking out of Jonesboro, Maine.
Wreaths Across America honors his memory annually by presenting the James Prout/WAA Spirit of Giving Award selecting a deserving professional truck driver, company or organization that has supported charitable causes in a way that will affect generations to come.
Karen and Morrill Worcester, executive director and founder of WAA, respectively named Wendy Hamilton with the award at the 2017 Annual Truckload Carriers Association Convention in Nashville this week.
Wendy and her company Pilot Flying J were recently profiled in Wreaths Across America's "Trucking Tributes" series. The trucking industry is a vital group when it comes to helping WAA achieve its goal of honoring fallen soldiers each year.
“I am honored to receive the Spirit of Giving Award and will continue to support Wreaths Across America through Pilot Flying J’s relationship with truck drivers, and by spreading the word throughout the industry,” says Wendy.
“The trucking community has been extremely dedicated to Wreaths Across America over the years, but support doesn’t come exclusively from drivers,” Karen Worcester explained. “Some of the most important contributions come from those behind the scenes, like Wendy. Her commitment to helping Wreaths Across America fulfill our mission to Remember, Honor, Teach has proved invaluable, and we are grateful for the opportunity to honor her.”
Wendy enjoys sharing her Wreaths Across America volunteer experience with her husband and young son and encourages other families to participate too.
Jeff says a lot of drivers who work for Buchheit think it would be exciting to participate in the Wreaths Across America effort. They're right! However, hauling a truckload of America's respect is a privileged duty reserved for certain employees.
It seems fitting that on Earth Day this year Wreaths Across America will pay tribute to our nation's EOD Technicians in a Stem to Stone Tree-Tagging event on April 22 during which the names of over three hundred fallen service members will be said aloud as their replica dog tags are placed on the tip land in Maine.
Mike and Barbara are proud and patriotic Americans who understand the great personal sacrifices of our military families. They have also witnessed the powerful impact one fresh balsam fir wreath with a red bow has on the living. Mike gets choked up when he recalls one particular example.
"We're always conscientious about the carbon footprint we leave so we have to be sure the process is safe, efficient, and compliant with federal regulations," Debbie explains. "We want to make sure it's fuel efficient and a good run, that we've got the truck full, that a rested driver is ready to go, and all that plays into the coordination effort."
Nicole says she's thankful for those fellow Location Coordinators who have helped her and she's honored to provide the same support to those who might be thinking about starting a Wreaths Across America ceremony in their community cemetery.
It was inspiring last year when Jimmy and his wife Cathy realized their volunteer effort with Wreaths Across America was helping the organization grow and indeed making an impression on younger generations.
“The trucking community has been extremely dedicated to Wreaths Across America over the years, but support doesn’t come exclusively from drivers,” Karen Worcester explained. “Some of the most important contributions come from those behind the scenes, like Wendy.
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.
Peter stands 16.3 hands tall and was selected as a Caisson Platoon horse because of his color, size, focus, and behavior. Those who met Peter at his Open House on St. Patrick's Day were amazed at his size and docile temperament with one woman referring to him as a "gentle giant."
"It doesn't all happen in Arlington. It's all across the country, and perhaps you could start your involvement in your hometown and involve your family so people can see just how important trucking is to the mission.
"It makes these drivers feel good about themselves, it makes them feel good about their companies, it makes them feel good about their country and being Americans. They're so proud and when you've got all those things working in the same direction that's a win-win for everybody."
"I've seen the pictures of course," Don explains. "It's just not the same to see every-day people not affiliated with Wreaths Across America in any other way would take the effort to buy a fresh flag and stand outside of their home or office in the freezing drizzle and show their pride as an American as we drove through was heart-warming."
Indeed it was the joyous voices of children singing on a snowy morning in December last year at Kennebunk High School during the Annual Wreath Escort to Arlington National Cemetery that gave rise to the 2017 Wreaths Across America theme, "I'm an American."
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 our mission possible like Steven Meyer and Arpin Van Lines.
"Wreaths Across America has been a part of my life that has assisted in my healing from the loss of my oldest son," Diana explains. "It allows me to "give back" in his memory and service." Read more about Diana's volunteer service in Kansas and how you can get involved too in our mission to remember, honor, and teach.
"All Michael ever wanted to do is join the military and serve the country," explains Gold Star Dad and professional driver Mike Stansbery. Michael Jr. was killed in Iraq in 2010. In this video, you can see how the Stansbery's have been able to honor Michael from Stem to Stone.
"When the ship was opened up by a German U-Boat torpedo it began to take on water and sink. Witnesses report that through the pandemonium four Army Chaplains brought hope in despair and light in darkness." Read about WAA's tree dedication to the Four Chaplains here.
Despite freezing rain, an estimated 44,000 volunteers placed 245,000 remembrance wreaths, and many hands on January 28th will make quick work of picking up those wreaths. Details Here.
Wreaths Across America launched its inaugural Living History Project in December of 2016 with the support of stalwart volunteers who believe similarly as Col. Frank Blazich Jr. that "if you don't know where you've been then it's difficult to know where you're going." See video here.
The mission to honor those who serve and their families is important to Wayne on a deeply personal level. As a Vietnam Veteran, Wayne recalls there was no "welcome home" and the disrespectful treatment returning soldiers received was disheartening. Read more about WAA's Chairman of the Board and his commitment to WAA here.
Traveling from eastern Maine to Virginia, the convoy of escort vehicles and tractor-trailer rigs filled with balsam fir remembrance wreaths often stretched for miles as it rolled down the highway stopping at schools, American Legion posts, and other community centers. Citizens lined the streets and overpasses waving flags, holding signs, and shouting "thank you" or rhythmically chanting "USA, USA, USA!" See excerpts from the West Point Sunrise Ceremony here.
Wreaths Across America thanks you for an extraordinary year and challenges you to extend our mission to remember, honor, and teach into 2017. See this "special request" video.