Tom Lehr knows what it’s like to fight on the front lines defending his country. On Saturday, Lehr, a 19-year veteran driver for Schneider, hauled what he considered the most precious cargo of his career. The U.S. Marine veteran joined 74 other truck drivers to bring wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery as part of Wreaths Across America.
The balsam fir wreaths from Worcester Wreath Co. in Columbia Falls, Maine, were brought to Arlington National Cemetery and over 2,100 other locations across the country and abroad as a national tribute to fallen military veterans.
“It’s a great honor and privilege to bring the wreaths down so we can remember all the people that have gone before us and keep them in our memory,” Lehr said. “As long as someone remembers those who made the ultimate sacrifice, then they are not forgotten.”
In years past, Wreaths Across America included a parade-like journey from Maine to Arlington National, a miles-long procession of tractor-trailers carrying wreaths, veterans and Gold Star families led by an escort of law enforcement and motorcycle riders. This year’s event was scaled back due to COVID-19.
“Getting down to Arlington and going through those gates, pride will be the word that I will use. My heart is going to be as big as it can get,” said Lehr, one of several Schneider drivers who participated and the company’s newest Ride of Pride driver. Each year, Freightliner honors military veterans with specially designed trucks intended to be rolling tributes to members of the military.
“This is our commitment to the people who have served before us,” Lehr said. “What they did in their life is worthy of recognition and remembrance, and we need to remember them.”
The scaled-back event also altered a tradition started nearly a decade before the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) and Pilot Flying J, which honors the truck drivers who deliver them with a hot meal at a nearby Marriott.
This year, because of COVID restrictions, that was not possible, but TCA and Pilot still wanted to acknowledge those drivers who donate their time to the important cause. This year, the organizations will show their support by mailing a second-annual commemorative challenge coin and a matching adhesive truck decal to each of the 75 Arlington National Cemetery drivers.
The double-sided coins reflect this year’s theme — “Be An American Worth Fighting For” — as well as this year’s event date, which was Saturday. The decal, which can be adorned to the cab of the driver’s truck, resembles one side of the coin but reflects the statement: “I Have Delivered A Truckload of Respect.”
“A special part of our support of Wreaths Across America is the partnership with TCA and the trucking industry,” said Wendy Hamilton, Pilot Flying J senior manager of operations and executive support. “While this year’s Arlington driver rally may be different due to the pandemic, we remain dedicated to sponsoring and recognizing the professional drivers that transport wreaths across the country and to Arlington. Thank you, professional drivers, for your care and dedication to delivering the wreaths and being part of paying tribute to the veterans and their families who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.”
Wreaths Across America delivered wreaths to more than 2,100 locations in all 50 states and select international locations this year. The wreaths were laid at the gravesites of those who represented, fought for and sacrificed for the United States.
In 2019, more than 2.2 million wreaths were placed at the headstones of 2,158 locations around the country.
To learn more about Wreaths Across America, visit www.wreathsacrossamerica.org.