One of the best things we do with the Wreaths Across America Newsletter, is get a chance to share the personal stories and perspectives of the many folks involved. Here is a first hand account from Dave Mott, a Walmart Truck Driver and Blue Star Father who drove in the 2012 Wreath Escort To Arlington. I hope you enjoy this inside peek at what it was like for Dave and his son Nick to join us this past December. And thank you to the Mott family for allowing us to share.
As the Holiday season 2012 approached I thought about getting a wreath for my front door. I knew I wanted one, and although I had purchased a very nice one for dear friends in Florida…I didn’t buy one for myself, thinking perhaps there was one out there that would be special for my door, perhaps a local church, or the scouts…somewhere there was a wreath that would make itself known to me, little did I know…
I was on vacation in Florida when I got a call from a fellow driver telling me I had been chosen to drive a truck load of wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery. My first thought was one of disbelief, many good drivers had thrown their name into the ring for the chance to help deliver wreaths to our nations cemetery as I had. To this day I am not really sure why I was chosen, and my questions as to why my name had been picked was only met by smiles from my peers. I had no idea how much this trip would mean to me, how much it would change the way I look at my fellow countrymen and women, or how much of an imprint it would make on my very soul.
The first day of our journey found eleven Walmart Peterbilts bobtailing our way from our facility in Lewiston, Maine to Harrington, Maine where many good folk had been building and boxing wreaths and loading them into our trailers, staged there previously over a period of a month by other drivers. Along the way, we stopped at the Veterans Cemetery in Augusta to honor those fallen heroes, one of which was a fellow Walmart driver, Reggie St. Pierre. Reggie’s family met us there with hugs and gratitude for our visit, no one seemed to notice the light drizzle on that chilly morning. It was heartwarming to see his family’s faces light up as we all made our way into the tight quarters there…and as we filed out I couldn’t help but feel Reggie’s presence with us…helping to keep this trip a smooth one as was his way.
From there we made our way to Harrington where Morrill and Karen Worcester, owners of Worcester Wreath Company, had started Wreaths Across America in 1992. Their staff welcomed us with open arms and was still working on loading the final few trailers to begin their journey, not only to Arlington…but to veterans memorials and grave sites in all fifty states. The transportation and delivery are handled by about 100 different trucking companies who donate equipment, fuel and drivers for this worthy cause…with more and more companies offering their help every year. Walmart alone had 96 drivers involved and delivered wreaths into 16 different states, many of the drivers driving one leg of that particular trailers journey, then passing the trailer onto a different driver for the next leg until final destination. Two of us were chosen as Arlington drivers and were able to pick up and deliver to Arlington with many ceremonial stops along the way.
After hooking to my trailer, a Worcester Wreath employee came by with a pickup load of wreaths and attached one to the grill of my Peterbilt, as he did each and every truck that would be a part of the procession. As busy as we all were at the time, I didn’t think about this particular wreath, and it would be 8 days and 1684 miles later that it would occur to me the significance this balsam fir piece would hold, and how proud I would be to remove it from my grill and have it grace my front door, as it became that very special wreath I had been looking for.
Our first Sunday morning was cold but clear. We were lined up and ready to go early, fire trucks and police cars, Patriot Riders wrapped in cold weather gear astride their Harley’s, a tour bus carrying Gold star parents, and lots of tractor trailers from all across the nation. As we pulled out of town with a police escort making our way south on Route One, the chatter on my CB radio was full of enthusiasm and excitement as we were told the procession was over five miles long! People came out of their homes in advance of our passing, some waving flags, many with obvious tears of appreciation on their faces. I saw a young man in his Spiderman pajamas, a little girl who drove her Barbie jeep down to join her family at the edge of the road, giving us the universal horn pull sign as we held our air horn tethers down in unison.
I will never forget though, an older gentleman standing behind his walker…proudly wearing a hat pronouncing his military branch of choice…standing bolt upright facing us, with what can only be described as a crisp and perfect salute to our entire procession. As tears welled and the lump in my throat grew, it became clear to me the pride these people have for our country, for our freedom that so many have fought for, and all too many have died for…today young and old alike embraced this convoy of wreath carrying rigs…an embrace that would continue for me, all the way to Arlington.
With two sons currently serving in the Army, my thoughts often went to them and my desire to share this love of country and pride in our soldiers that I felt every mile of this journey. As the miles fell away, I began to formulate a plan to share this with my Sons. Nick had just returned from his duty overseas and was stationed in Georgia. Shaun happened to be in training getting ready for his next deployment which made his involvement impossible. So a few phone calls to my son Nick, getting permission from his commanders and a quick airline reservation later…we had a plan. My journey continued with so many stops along the way that it would be impossible to mention them all. But in every single town and city we passed through or visited, we found the same enthusiasm for our veterans.
The streets were lined with school children waving flags and we drove under ladder trucks from several cities with giant American flags that billowed as we maneuvered our rigs beneath them. Veterans groups like the VFW and Elks clubs welcomed us and fed us all with so much gratitude and respect. Schools opened their auditoriums and held ceremonies with children showing with pride the work they had done at local veterans gravesites and memorials where they cleaned stones and recognized soldiers, even writing letters to family members showing appreciation for the sacrifice they all shared in loosing a loved one. All the while we were met at the border of each new town or city with local police and fire trucks, the previous towns would hand us off to the next…many were waiting with police and fireman lining both sides of the road in full dress uniform, standing in salute as we passed by. Bystanders would pull over and stand beside their cars in a show of respect when they realized what our convoy represented.
The fellow drivers and their families, the Gold Star families, the volunteers for Wreaths Across America, the four Maine State Police Troopers, Maine’s first lady Ann LePage and her sister, the many Patriot Guardsmen whose numbers grew with each state we entered as they led the way on their Harley’s…all became family to me as we traveled together. The quality of these people was outstanding, their pride was heartfelt. At each stop I met and visited with good folk, along the way I began to mention my sons and the fact that Nick would join us for the final leg of our journey into Arlington itself. As I spoke of my sons, a movement began…an effort from many to pick Nick up at DC’s airport and whisk him to our last dinner together as a group at a VFW just outside of Washington.
Several members of my Walmart Transportation family worked diligently to find a ride for my son. They would be joining us late on the last evening before we arrived at Arlington and were not sure if they would make it in time for his flight. They took the time to find subway routes and taxi cab phone numbers just in case their travels down took longer than expected. The four Maine State Troopers had also been discussing Nick’s arrival and had mentioned it to Maine’s First Lady…soon afterward I was approached by them and told not to worry, Maine’s Governor wanted to handle this…to welcome a Maine soldier home, and in style. This thought I had…of Nick joining us, swelled into a mass of pride from all those who traveled as one. On our last night together, others had left for our final ceremony at the VFW…I walked out of the motel to join a Maine State Trooper to meet Nick at the airport, and found this too had grown into something special.
Nick walked off his plane and was met not only by his very proud father, but a fully uniformed Maine State Officer and seven Patriot Riders. Our ride from the airport to the VFW with Harleys ahead and behind, lights flashing and flags billowing, had my son wondering what had just happened. Our arrival at that evenings ceremony found it in full swing, but the ceremonies were interrupted when Nick walked through the door. Ladies of the VFW were trying to seat Nick and get him some food when the whole room stood in appreciation and people began to file back and shake his hand, pose for pictures with him…and ask me how he got so much bigger than his dad. During all of the commotion, I was approached by a very nice lady who asked if Nick was my son. We visited a bit, and she told me her son had been in the same company as Nick and said she would love to speak with him. On our ride from the airport, Nick had told me his company commander had given him a Regimental Coin…and wanted him to mark the gravestone for a particular soldier they had recently lost, but didn’t know the exact location of the stone.
We were going to go back to our room and look up that soldiers information later, Nick had his name on a piece of paper in his pocket, and he had been very concerned that we accomplish the task of finding this soldiers grave site. Shortly after our arrival at the VFW, the nice lady who had stopped and visited with me approached Nick and they began their visit. I watched their conversation change from polite, to wide eyed amazement as Nick discovered this was the Mom of his soldier. She was stunned when he pulled her sons name out of his pocket and also showed her the company coin from his commander, and he was equally stunned when she pulled a piece of paper from her pocket that she had written her sons grave site on. I witnessed the gratitude on this mothers face, that her son had not only been remembered, but his site was being discussed and actively sought out by a fellow soldier.
This Mom later told me she had no advance plans to attend this ceremony, and really wasn’t sure why she came. It was a last minute decision she had made, but told me with a smile, now she knew why she had been called to attend.
Saturday morning, National Wreath Laying Day….found Nick and I up early and ready to go. Upon arriving at the Peterbilt, we found our Walmart family had been up late, decorating the Pete with American flags and a large Army flag attached high on the handrail on Nicks side. The Branchville Fire Department held a wonderful breakfast for all of us, and Nick was able to visit with a Gold Star Mom who’s son had also been a member of Nick’s team. As we climbed into the truck for this final leg of our journey, I was filled with so many emotions. My son would ride with me and experience what his Dad does for a living, drive a truck….while showing gratitude for what he does for a living as a soldier. The ride into Arlington was solemn for us, he saw the streets lined with grateful people, police and Patriot Guardsmen roaring back and forth blocking traffic.
Our arrival at Arlington itself found upwards of twenty thousand people, waiting to help unload and place the 110,000 wreaths we were delivering. Nick and Kim, a member of my work family, was able to witness the changing of the guards together while I prepared the load for it’s final delivery. At 1030 hours sharp, all of the trailer doors were opened and people of all ages began to unload and place wreaths on soldiers graves. Nick and I found his soldiers grave, laid a wreath and coined his headstone after a short prayer together. This young man, Son to the Mom we had met only yesterday, made the ultimate sacrifice for our country’s freedom.
It was over all too soon. Nick and I were together less than twenty four hours, but our experience will last a lifetime. One more hug as I dropped him off at the airport for his return flight, I knew he couldn’t wait to get home and hug his own children. My return to Maine without escorts or the lively CB chatter I had become accustomed to, was melancholy. Every mile brought reflections of the many good people I met during this journey, the pride of having been chosen to make this run and to even have a job with a company that supports this great movement, the honor I felt to have two son’s willing to defend this country’s freedom.