Professional drivers and trucking companies give so much to the nation. Without them, the Wreaths Across America mission to remember, honor, and teach would be nearly impossible. Veterans’ wreaths move by planes, trains, ships, and livestock trailers, but trucks and their professional drivers transport the lion’s share of America's respect. In 2022, to be specific, 609 truckloads of wreaths were delivered, representing 439 different carriers.
In November and December, one of the busiest periods of the year for the transportation sector, the Wreaths Across America mission brings drivers together in an effort of unparalleled unity. With a positive, “can-do” work ethic, these professionals make it possible for Americans to honor millions of veterans laid to rest at home and overseas. In 2023, transportation logistics are immense, with over 4,100 participating locations and Arlington National Cemetery.
Many of these drivers are military veterans and say the truckload of fresh balsam-fir wreaths is the most precious cargo they transport in their careers. Wreaths Across America shares their stories and what motivates them to serve and succeed in the “Trucking Tributes” feature online and on Wreaths Across America Radio.
Many folks have suggested Wreaths Across America add another cornerstone to its mission, and that would be healing. Remember, Honor, Teach and Heal. Gold Star families have told us that joining our mission was a lifesaver for them. They came into a family that understood their wounds and ultimate sacrifice for the country. They support a mission that ensures their loved one will be remembered, not for how he or she died, but for how they lived. It’s about the dash.
James David Walker, known by most as JD, was overcome the day he learned his son was killed while serving in Iraq. To make the moment even more exasperating for JD, he was traveling with and training a trucking student from Iraq. Little did he know at that time how supportive and compassionate that man would be to him during the worst time of his life. “I was driving over the road on May 14, 2007, when my daughter called me crying,” JD shared. “I was fueling up the truck in Kentucky at the time when she told me Jeffrey had been shot, and that he was gone. I just about lost it. I threw my phone into the bunk, and I was cussing and cursing, and my student was trying to figure out what was going on, of course, and I’ve gotta tell you I had everything I could do to keep my composure. I was mad at the world. I called my company and told them I had to get to Georgia to bury my son, and during that drive, my student Joseph kept a cold compress on my neck, and he literally took care of me on the way down. I found out later that he waited for me to come back to work to complete his training. He wanted me to finish the job. I’ll never forget him. He showed me that everyone from Iraq was not bad.”
Jeffrey Walker was fulfilling a family legacy by serving his country but chose the Marines. JD and his father served in the Navy. JD chuckles to this day that military service really turned his son around. “I’d look back and call him a thug before he joined the service because that’s what he was. Me, him, and his uncle got into a barroom brawl one night, and he came to me the next day and said, ‘Dad, I’ve got something I want to tell you.’ He told me he’d broken rank and he’d joined the Marines. I laughed and said, ‘Now what did you go and do that for?’ He said he was trying to get away from my authority!” Jeffrey went into combat logistics and did two tours in Iraq. He was able to come home on leave to meet his firstborn son, who was already three months old at the time. Jeffrey was killed during his second tour of duty.
JD says it took him ten years to get his grief under control and getting involved with Wreaths Across America was a huge part of his healing process. “Lord, I’m here to tell you that it was so overwhelming for me to meet the Wreaths Across America family and see what everybody does by getting together to load up the wreaths and carry them throughout the United States and being able to honor and respect our veterans the way they do. I had been so hard on myself, and for ten years after Jeffrey’s death, I didn’t speak to anyone. Wreaths Across America opened me up by seeing what was going on and meeting other Gold Star parents like Lorna and Scott [Harris]. After that first year, I said to myself I think I’m going to do this again next year. It’s addicting!”
In his many years of service with Wreaths Across America, JD has had some exceptional experiences and made lifelong friends in the process. During the pandemic year, JD’s Gully Transportation truck was the only truck represented in the annual Wreath Escort to Arlington, and that really put his story into the spotlight. One of the most memorable occasions, however, is when he was selected to lead the escort. “To be selected as the lead truck is just something else. It’s such an honor to represent Wreaths Across America like that and to see the patriotism lining the streets with people waving flags and kids pumping their arms, wanting to hear your horn. It’s an incredible feeling.”
JD’s beautiful, wrapped tractor and trailer get a lot of attention on the road. “Gully really surprised me with a tribute truck to my son. It says, in memory of Lance Corporal Jeffrey D. Walker. I drive that truck through the United States on a daily basis. It’s called the Golden Warrior, and it’s a tribute to unsung heroes, and, of course, my son. They really did a number on me with that one.”
Thank you, JD Walker and Gully Transportation, for your continued dedication and support of the Wreaths Across America mission.
You can hear more of JD’s interview on Trucking Tributes, listened to exclusively on Wreaths Across America Radio every Truckin’ Tuesday at 11:00 AM and again at 4:00 PM Eastern.