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On December 18, more than 2.4 million veterans across the country were honored for their service with a hand-made wreath on their gravestone.
Wreaths Across America began 30 years ago with founder Morrill Worcester leading a charge of Wreaths Across America at Arlington National Cemetery.
âWhen I dropped those 5,000 crowns that first year, I just thought it was a way for me to say thank you, for what we have in this country,â Worcester said.
The ANC hosted around 38,000 volunteers over the weekend and together more than 250,000 wreaths were deposited according to Wreaths Across America.
Volunteer Mackenzie Gray of Richmond, Va. Lays a wreath on a gravestone. Gray’s grandfather is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. (Marissa Gamache / Transport subjects)
The crowns’ journey begins almost a year before their arrival at the cemetery. In January, a group of volunteers begin next year’s bows, making each one by hand. In late October or early November, once the first hard frost hits Maine, the wreaths are folded and shaped by hand and packaged for travel.
This year, 390 trucking companies and volunteer drivers distributed 525 trucks of wreaths to 3,136 cemeteries across the country.
Of the 66 crown trucks destined for the ANC, 13 were 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 Lewiston Walmart Former Driver of the Year, State Truck Driving Championship winner and US Road Team Captain’s finalist.
Over the past week, Duncan has been able to haul the most valuable cargo of his 40 years as a driver, Gold Star wives and mothers.
âThey are amazing women, all three are leaders and spokespersons,â Duncan said. âAppreciate and admire their individual personalities and leadership styles as I served them; this is 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 right) is a veteran. (Photo courtesy of Ken Duncan)
Duncan has been involved with Wreaths Across America since 2013, volunteering to drive Tons of Wreaths, lead the Mobile Educational Exhibit, and lay wreaths with his family.
“What I realized, and I’m almost ashamed not to be before, is that a family is forever torn apart and spends the rest of her life putting her family back together,” Duncan said. “That I was able to serve [the women], it was a great honor.
Wreaths Across America does a lot to honor deceased service members, but in recent years, they have broadened their support to include living veterans.
âOn Wreaths Across America radio station, we brought different groups together and talked about veterans issues to help de-stigmatize them and educate people,â said Joe Reagan, director of military and veteran outreach for Wreaths Across America. The mission of Wreaths Across America is to remember, honor and teach. So for Reagan, running training sessions and providing resources to veterans aligns and develops organizational goals. Wreaths Across America hosted panel discussions on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Women’s Issues, and Intergenerational Relationships among Veterans.
America’s Road Team Captain Tony Spero lays a wreath on a gravestone in Arlington National Cemetery. (Marissa Gamache / Transport subjects)
For an industry like trucking, veterans often have gained experience and skills while serving that are directly related to a job. Reagan stressed the benefits for companies to find ways to speed up the training process so that veterans can access the workforce as soon as possible.
“In an industry where special licenses are involved, we see them say, ‘You know, you don’t necessarily need to take this training because you have comparable training to what you received in the military.’ Reagan said.
Americas Road Team Captain Ralph Garcia, a veteran and ABF freight driver, drove the American Trucking Associations Workforce Heroes camo truck with fellow and fellow captain, Tony Spero, in the convoy. Trucks and drivers from the companies of ATA President Harold Sumerford Jr. and outgoing President Sherri Garner-Brumbaugh were also at the ANC with tons of wreaths.
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