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More than 2.4 million veterans across the country on Dec. 18 were honored for their service with a handmade wreath on their headstone.
Wreaths Across America started 30 years ago with the founder, Morrill Worcester, driving a load of wreaths from Maine to Arlington National Cemetery.
“When I brought down those 5,000 wreaths that first year, I just thought it was a way for me to say thank you, for what we have in this country,” Worcester said.
ANC welcomed about 38,000 volunteers over the weekend, and together more than 250,000 wreaths were laid according to Wreaths Across America.
Volunteer Mackenzie Gray of Richmond, Va., lays a wreath on a headstone. Gray’s grandfather is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. (Marissa Gamache/Transport Topics)
The journey of the wreaths starts almost a year before they arrive at the cemetery. In January, a group of volunteers starts on next year’s bows, making each one by hand. In late October or early November, once the first hard frost hits in Maine, the wreaths are bent and shaped by hand and packaged for the trip.
This year, 390 volunteer trucking companies and drivers distributed 525 truckloads of wreaths to 3,136 cemeteries nationwide.
Of the 66 truckloads of wreaths destined for ANC, 13 were a part of a special convoy that carried 15 Gold Star families.
In the first car of the convoy was Walmart driver Ken Duncan of Lewiston, Maine. Duncan is a former Lewiston Walmart Driver of the Year, state truck driving championship winner and a current America’s Road Team captain finalist.
Over the past week, Duncan was able to transport the most valuable cargo of his 40 years as a driver, Gold Star wives and mothers.
“These are incredible ladies, all three of them are leaders and spokespeople,” Duncan said. “Getting to watch and admire their individual personalities and leadership styles while I was serving them; it’s something I will never forget.”
Ken Duncan (far left) and his family braved the cold and rain in December 2018 to lay wreaths on headstones at Arlington National Cemetery. Duncan’s nephew (fourth from the right) is a veteran. (Photo Courtesy of Ken Duncan)
Duncan has been involved with Wreaths Across America since 2013, volunteering to drive loads of wreaths, drive the mobile education exhibit and lay wreaths with his family.
“What I have become aware of, and almost embarrassed that I wasn’t before, is how a family is forever ripped and that they spend the rest of their days stitching their family back together,” Duncan said. “That I have been able to serve [the women], it has been a great honor.”
Wreaths Across America does a significant amount to honor fallen members of the military, but in recent years, they have expanded their support to include living veterans.
“On the Wreaths Across America radio station, we have been bringing in different groups and talking about veterans’ issues to help destigmatize that and to help educate folks,” said Joe Reagan, director of military and veterans outreach for Wreaths Across America. Wreaths Across America’s mission is Remember, Honor and Teach. So for Reagan, having educational sessions and providing resources to veterans aligns and grows the organization’s goals. Wreaths across America has hosted roundtables on post traumatic stress disorder, women’s issues and intergenerational veteran relationships.
America’s Road Team Captain Tony Spero lays a wreath on a headstone in Arlington National Cemetery. (Marissa Gamache/Transport Topics)
For an industry such as trucking, veterans have often gained experience and skills while serving that directly connect to a job. Reagan noted the benefits of businesses finding ways to expedite the training process so veterans can access the workforce as soon as possible.
“In an industry where special licenses are involved, we are seeing them say, ‘You know, you don't need to necessarily take this training course because you have a comparable training course you received in the military,’ ” Reagan said.
Americas Road Team Captain Ralph Garcia, a veteran and ABF Freight driver, drove American Trucking Associations’ camo-wrapped Workforce Heroes truck with a colleague and fellow captain, Tony Spero, in the convoy. Trucks and drivers from ATA Chairman Harold Sumerford Jr.’s and immediate past Chairman Sherri Garner-Brumbaugh’s companies also were at ANC with loads of wreaths.
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