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Six months removed from scaling back due to the coronavirus pandemic, the annual Wreaths Across America nationwide remembrance for the nation’s fallen military is working toward a return to full-scale operations this December.
And once again, the trucking industry is expected to take on a significant role.
“We hope that everyone comes out,” Wreaths Across America spokesman Sean Sullivan told Transport Topics. “There have been some bumps in the road — COVID, obviously. [But] this is something that folks look forward to, and it’s very cathartic for all of us. It really means a lot to people.”
This year’s event is slated for Dec. 18. As in years past, volunteers will lay wreaths at nearly 3,000 participating cemeteries — including Arlington National Cemetery. The wreaths will be delivered by volunteer truck drivers, making deliveries from the Columbia Falls, Maine, location where the wreaths are made.
Last year — despite the pandemic — a small number of volunteers, cemetery employees, Wreaths Across America staff and family members placed wreaths on the final resting places of 1.7 million American veterans at 2,557 cemeteries, including the approximately 400,000 veterans at Arlington.
Sullivan told TT the trucking industry’s role is essential to the event, but has proven to be even more important to the country.
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“If it wasn’t for the trucking industry, there probably would not be a Wreaths Across America,” he said. “These folks are the unsung heroes, and this year it has been so apparent. They’ve kept the country moving. They’ve been the essential workers, making deliveries so people could continue their lives. But the reality is, these are the same people that have been helping organizations like ours for years. If it wasn’t for these wonderful people we’d really struggle to figure it all out. Without their generosity we couldn’t do this.”
Volunteer driver James David “JD” Walker of Gully Transportation of Quincy, Ill., will for a fifth year climb behind the wheel to deliver wreaths to Arlington. Walker is a Navy veteran and he drives to honor his son, Jeffrey Davis Walker, a Marine lance corporal who was killed in Fallujah, Iraq, on May 14, 2007, at 21, and is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Griffin, Ga., south of Atlanta.
“It’s personal for me,” he told TT. “From the time I started with Wreaths up until now, it’s just been an honor to represent this group and represent the active servicemen and women, the veterans, along with all of the fallen veterans.”
Walker has been a truck driver for 38 years, including 12 with Gully Transportation. He typically hauls less-than-truckload runs in the Midwest and eastern U.S.
Walker anticipates this year’s event will attract a large number of volunteers.
“I believe it’s going to be bigger than ever this year,” he said. “We’re going to have a very strong turnout. People want to remember their fallen heroes, what the wreaths mean. It sends chills up my spine. I get chills when I go to Columbia Falls, Maine, to get wreaths or going into Arlington National Cemetery."
This year, as in years past, the convoy of trucks departing from Maine will be escorted by police and military vehicles.
A convoy arrives at Arlington Cemetery. (Elizabeth Fraser/U.S. Army via Arlington National Cemetery Facebook)
Walker was glad Wreaths continued on a limited basis last year, but said it was a far cry from the scale of a normal year.
“It was lonely,” he said. “Even though there were some people there, it wasn’t like before. There was no socializing and seeing the veterans and the volunteers.” But, he noted, “It served its purpose and we did what we needed to do.”
While there were fewer people participating last year, Sullivan noted that the organization itself grew during the pandemic; in fact, wreaths were laid at an additional 400 cemeteries in 2020.
“We are hoping people do come out and do come out safely,” Sullivan said. “We would love it if people come out in droves. We really want to focus on remembering, honoring and teaching and laying as many wreaths as possible on Dec. 18. This is a day to honor our veterans and it is definitely a go.”
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