A shared mission and common values brought two organizations together to support one cause this holiday season: remembering fallen veterans.
On its surface, the partnership between truck drivers and wreath makers seems like an odd one. But look closer and you’ll find that, on at least one project, the two go together like motor oil and a big rig’s engine.
Every December, Wreaths Across America (WAA), a nonprofit established by the Worcester Wreath Company in 2007 to expand the wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery to other veterans’ cemeteries nationwide, hosts National Wreaths Across America Day. Truckloads of wreaths are delivered to participating cemeteries throughout the country and laid at veterans’ gravesites.
“Every single wreath that goes on a veteran’s grave goes in the back of a truck that is donated by a trucking company and the driver,” said WAA Executive Director Karen Worcester. “A lot of these drivers are themselves veterans, and a lot of these big companies understand the value of working with veterans, so it is a perfect opportunity for us to work together.”
Last year, 406,000 wreaths were delivered to more than 800 locations by 80 volunteer trucking companies. The main event of the day takes place at Arlington National Cemetery and features roughly 30 truckloads of wreaths, Worcester said. “Still, there are thousands and thousands of drivers and companies that would like to be involved at Arlington that can’t be, because of their schedule or inability to get out there that day,” she added.
This year, to help some of those truckers make a connection to the Arlington event and expand the reach of National Wreaths Across America Day, WAA partnered with the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) and Pilot Flying J—a TCA member company—for a “rolling tribute.”
At an event last week to kick off the tribute, WAA handed out 1,000 wreaths to truck drivers, who fastened them to the grills of their trucks. On December 14, they will be asked to go to the nearest participating cemetery, remove the wreath, and place it on a veteran’s grave. It will be one half of a pair: On the same day, a corresponding wreath will be placed on a gravestone at Arlington National Cemetery.
“The rolling tribute was a way that we could involve more people and … make it a more personal mission for those that aren’t going to be involved in the actual transporting of the wreaths to Arlington,” said Worcester.
TCA, which has sponsored a public awareness campaign supporting WAA over the last several years, credits the overlap in the organizations’ missions for the continued success of the partnership.
“WAA’s mission is ‘Remember. Honor. Teach.’ That mission resonated very strongly in trucking, especially with the connection that exists with our veterans,” said Deborah Sparks, vice president of development at TCA. “It’s that emotional connection, being in sync with the ideals of our carriers, that makes this partnership and this rolling tribute such a success.”
Over 100 trucking companies and 150 trucks are expected to deliver nearly 500,000 wreaths to more than 900 locations this year. Next year, for the 150th anniversary of Arlington National Cemetery, Worcester’s goal is to lay a wreath at every one of the 400,000 graves there.