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 special stories will introduce you to the men and women of the industry who make the mission possible.
"I see the effort with Wreaths Across America as just one way to give a little something back to our military and their families," expresses Shepard Dunn, President, and CEO of Bestway Express of Vincennes, Indiana who has been volunteering for Wreaths Across America for six years.
Shepard originally learned of Wreaths Across America through his friendships with industry icons Barry Pottle and the late Bob Baylor. He got better acquainted with the mission to remember, honor, and teach through the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and his leadership involvement with the Truckload Carrier Association (TCA). Not only has Shepard invested his time he's shared the experience and lessons of respect and community service with his family.
"I told my wife we've got to do this; it's good stuff," recalls Shepard after his first visit alone to witness Arlington National Cemetery on National Wreaths Across America Day. "Each year I've taken one of my three children, and it was a great experience for them. They got to see what giving is with this organization. We just got more and more involved as the years went on."
Last year, Shepard and his wife shuttled Gold Star families in the annual wreath Escort to Arlington.
"Wow, what a trip! What a fabulous trip! It was grueling and difficult with a lot of folks getting sick with colds or flu, but it was great people doing amazing things, and we were so happy to be a part of it," Shepard reminisces.
Shepard, Steven Meyer, and Don Queeney have all independently expressed during interviews deep pride in their company's service and commitment to remembering our nation's fallen heroes and honoring their families.
"We [Bestway Express] began hauling wreaths five or six years ago from Maine down to Virginia, not as part of the Escort but as one of the trucks staged inside the cemetery," explains Shepard. "The operations team always pick among our employees who are veterans to take the load into Arlington, and we typically have to take these gentlemen off the road for about two weeks. We're based out of Indiana and don't run East, much less to Maine, so we'll broker a load out to Boston and then deadhead them (no revenue) to Columbia Falls, Maine to pick up the wreaths. They're proud to be involved, all the company employees like it, and hopefully Bestway will stay involved for a long time to come."
Shepard goes on to explain why he believes so strongly in his volunteer commitment and his eagerness to engage more people to sponsor remembrance wreaths and get involved in their communities.
"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 don't know if that was the original vision of Morrill and Karen's [Worcester], but I promise you that's real and it touches a lot of lives. Good stuff."
Thank you, Shepard Dunn and Bestway Express for your patriotism and tireless support of Wreaths Across America.
You can hear more from Shepard and other patriots in our "Trucking Tributes" on Wreaths Across America Radio weekdays at 11:00 AM and again at 4:00 PM Eastern.
*Editor's note: At the time of Shepard's interview for this story he was the CEO of Bestway Express. Shepard's starting a new position with CFI in Joplin, Missouri.
Especially meaningful is the location of the Grove, which is adjacent to the soon-to-be-opened Medal of Honor Remembrance Park. From this vantage point, The Old Guard will continue to stand watch over America’s fallen heroes.
Kevin says driving Armellini's load of wreaths in the escort to VA National Cemetery in Lake Worth along with the Walmart trucks is a meaningful experience for him emotionally because of honoring veterans, but he says there's also a more physical kind of excitement as a professional driver.
Starting at the end of this month, as we countdown to Wreath Day, we would like to invite you to appear on our national webcast/webinar series to tell us about the local veterans buried in your community. We will also run your interview on WAA Radio and share on social media and in the newsletter.
"If we don't teach this younger generation that freedom is not free they're going to forget and not understand the sacrifice made by these men and women who keep us free and safe. I don't know where this country would be if not for the brave people who step up and volunteer to serve in our military. It's really scary to think of where we'd be without a powerful military."
Thinking about Christmas during July provides us with the perfect opportunity to encourage others to get involved with our mission by sharing the stories of their hometown heroes while explaining, however, to those not familiar we're not "decorating graves."
We are humbled by the hundreds of thousands of people who get involved every year on National Wreaths Across America Day at Arlington National Cemetery and at over twelve hundred participating cemeteries in paying tribute to our veterans. One of those passionate and dedicated individuals is Ellen O'Neil Fuller.
Not only does Wade Gunter place a remembrance wreath on the headstone of a fallen service member at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC), he says their name aloud when he props it against the stone. It's what Wade does next that takes the Wreaths Across America mission to remember, honor, and teach to a higher level.
"We're very fortunate to find carriers, veterans, and non-veterans that want to participate in the program. We get drivers every year who call us to get involved."
From the white wigs to the tailored red coats every aspect of the United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps is designed with history and field music in mind. The unit was formed in 1960 and according to SFC Martin was originally made up of non-musician infantrymen, harkening back to the field musicians of the Continental Army.
"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."