by Brad Bentley
Every headstone has a story — That was the message delivered by Karen Worcester as she stood before thousands of volunteers who gathered to lay remembrance wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery on Saturday, Dec. 14.
She also expressed appreciation to those who have made her family’s attempt to honor deceased veterans grow into a national observance. Several years ago, her husband, Morrill, found himself with a surplus of 5,000 balsam wreaths at Worcester Wreath Co. in Harrington, Maine. He brought the batch to Arlington and placed them on graves in an older, little-visited section of the cemetery.
With a mission of “remember, honor and teach” about the service and sacrifices of veterans, the Worcesters later launched the non-profit organization Wreaths Across America, which now conducts wreath-laying ceremonies at hundreds of veterans’ cemeteries nationwide. This annual tradition requires the assistance of many trucking companies and industry organizations to make it happen.
And at Arlington National Cemetery, the hallowed ground that represents fallen soldiers who marched in all American conflicts, the trucking industry left quite a footprint this past weekend.
The opening ceremony took place on a custom-built, mobile stage—a curtain-sided flatbed trailer—provided by Gary Salisbury, former Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) chairman and the president and CEO of Fikes Truck Line. The agenda included two songs by Lindsay Lawler, the spokesperson for TCA’s Highway Angel program and a country singer known for patriotic, pro-trucking lyrics.
“Wreaths Across America Day at Arlington National Cemetery is the most special experience I have ever been a part of and one that has given me such great honor,” Lawler said. “To stand before thousands and salute our past and present troops and their families by singing our National Anthem and God Bless America is a memory that I will carry the rest of my life.”
After the opening ceremony, volunteers flocked to 41 tractor-trailers that were scattered throughout Arlington National Cemetery. The trucks were loaded with more than 143,000 wreaths — a record amount helped along by a last-minute surge of donations that enabled Wreaths Across America to surpass their original goal of 135,000.
Throughout the day, participants could easily identify some 300 core volunteers thanks to vests donated by the Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA). Cindy Atwood, Deputy Director of the CVTA, served as the head greeter and said she was privileged to work with a dedicated group of individuals who arrived at 6:00 a.m. to organize and facilitate the wreath laying process.
“Volunteers gathered in the dark and very cold weather, then stood at the gates to welcome those coming to lay wreaths on the graves of our veterans. The greeters rarely have an opportunity to lay a wreath themselves and yet they proudly man their posts, answering questions and directing the crowds,” Atwood said.“Everyone is happy and motivated, with a shared desire to make this a memorable experience for all involved. Wreaths Across America sheds light on the strength of the community during the holiday season and serves as an amazing example of individuals, businesses and government coming together as one to remember our fallen heroes in a meaningful and respectful manner.”
The simple act of laying a wreath on a headstone can have a powerful effect. “Until you step foot onto this sacred place and listen to the stories of remembrance from friends and family members of loved ones buried there, you have no idea how this place will impact you,” Lawler said. “Placing a wreath on a grave of someone unknown to me, whose family and friends were not able to be there to place one themselves gave me such a sense of unity and pride for my country.”
In less than two hours, the simple white headstones in more than 30 sections of Arlington’s landscape were transformed by green wreaths with red bows. Simultaneously, veteran’s cemeteries nationwide were experiencing a similar metamorphosis thanks in part to the generosity of the trucking industry... Continue reading.