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.
"I've lost family members and friends serving in the military, so everything we do with Wreaths Across America is near and dear to our hearts."
Mike Eggleton Jr. is the Vice President of Raider Express, a family-owned refrigerated trucking company running two hundred and fifty trucks out of Fort Worth, Texas with additional offices in Hastings, Nebraska.
"I'm a third-generation trucker, "Mike explains. "My grandfather and father owned trucking companies. By the time I was eight years old, I was working in the office, and by twelve I was dispatching trucks. It's all I've ever known."
Following Mike's graduation from Texas Tech University, he started Raider Express where his father would eventually join him as did his brother also after his graduation from Texas Tech in 2001. The rest of the family business story as Mike puts it is, "history from there."
The last ten years of Raider Express's history has involved donating time and company resources to support Wreaths Across America. As many of our drivers and companies share with us, they were brought into the organization mission to remember, honor and teach through the Truckload Carriers Association.
"We have family members who are veterans, and we strongly support any veteran and any U.S. military we have out there. We wouldn't be the country we are today without the sacrifices of the great men and women who are out there every day for us."
While Mike has not personally served in the U.S. Armed Forces, however, his pride and respect for those who have run as deep as his family history of military service. Both of his grandfathers served in World War II, one of whom, David Rankin, was a mechanic for the Enola Gay. His other grandfather, Richard Eggleton was an infantry soldier in the U.S. Army and received a Purple Heart after taking a grenade the shoulder during combat on Okinawa.
One of Mike's close friends in college was Lt. Darryn Andrews who is now laid to rest in Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. Lt. Andrews was one of six killed in action while serving in Afghanistan in 2009. His military service and death have been highly publicized in connection with the Bowe Bergdahl desertion, and subsequent Taliban prisoner swap news stories.
Mike explains what motivates him, his wife and his company's commitment to the mission.
"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."
Mike is a perfect example of how Wreaths Across America teaches younger generations about the sacrifices made for freedom by involving his three young children in the wreath-laying ceremonies.
"Last year the weather was terrible, and the kids were extremely cold with their hair covered in ice," Mike recalls. "They wanted to go home, but as soon as they saw the trucks and the volunteers showing up, they knew they could help too. It was easier to explain the meaning to my young son when he saw people laying the wreaths and saying their names."
Military veterans are valued employees at Raider Express in their offices, and among their professional drivers and according to Mike there's a waiting list within the company for drivers who want to haul America's respect.
"For years we've paid the driver's a week's vacation for doing it because it's out of the realm of what they need to make to help support their families. One of our drivers, Abel Cardona, is a Marine veteran, and this will be his third year participating now, and he forgoes that pay because he feels guilty taking it. Last year he had a student with him, and the student did the same thing because that student was so moved by the Wreaths Across America effort."
Thank you, Mike Eggleon Jr. and Raider Express for your patriotism and tireless support of the Wreaths Across America mission to remember, honor and teach.
You can hear more from Mike 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 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.
One highlight from this year's performance came when Six-String Soldiers invited children of all ages to the stage to sing along with them, the Rick Charrette song, I'm An American! It echoed through the valley where replica dog tags of fallen heroes hang among the balsam fir trees' tips that will be used to make veterans remembrance wreaths.
"Rain, snow, or sunshine as you know these guys walk the walk, so we're here to dedicate this section of the tip land to the Old Guard," proclaims Wayne Hanson, Chairman of the Board for Wreaths Across America. "We certainly appreciate everything they do for us."
It was, in fact, a competitor of Abilene Motor Express who reached out to them to tell them about Wreaths Across America and Will says once the owners, Keith and Kolen Jones heard about the effort they were one hundred percent behind it right away.
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."