Convoy Day #7 (Saturday) Wreaths Across America Day
The day began with bus ride from the hotel down to the Branchville Fire Station for breakfast, a briefing and some final good-byes to brothers, sisters, veterans, Gold Star families and a bunch of new friends that now share a common bond. It was bitter sweet as this would likely be the last time everyone would be together. There were many good-byes and tears shed by all as everyone had become a family during the whirl-wind trip to Arlington. What a great group to travel with. Everyone laughed, goofed around, cried and shared the best parts of what makes us all human; compassion, honor and service. The trip was a life experience.
The trucks were staged and they rolled out in a quiet, respectful manner to remember our fallen, making their way through the quiet streets of Washington; thoughts were solemn as final good-byes were traded over the CB radios by the truckers. Once the convoy arrives at the cemetery, drivers could end up miles apart and there will likely be no time to regroup. The Oakhurst truck was positioned as #2 in the convoy and Joe & Heidi would have a great view upon arrival.
As always, the police did a fantastic job coordinating and controlling all traffic to clear the path for the convoy. There would be a lot of traffic on the final approach into the city and over the bridge into the cemetery with nearly 30,000 people expected to attend the event.
Upon arrival into the cemetery, the DC Police moved a huge traffic jam of cars to the right so the convoy could punch through the congestion. Arrival was shortly after 8:30am. As the convoy rolled over the Arlington Memorial Bridge and up to the main gate, there was a massive crowd waiting to greet the procession. The looks of happiness, salutes, waves and “God Bless” overwhelmed Joe and Heidi as they approached their final destination at Section 59. The Oakhurst truck picked up their coordinator and they navigated the truck through the quiet roads of the cemetery. Section 59 is a beautiful spot that allows a view of the cemetery including the McClellan Arch and up to the Memorial Amphitheater. Adjacent to Section 60, this area of the cemetery and other newer sections, this is a very busy place with many people there for specific remembrances.
The Oakhurst truck was fortunate to have a lot of help with friends from the Knox County and other Sheriff Departments as well as Maryland National Guard members. The truck was placed in a manner to allow many people to take some great photos with their families. It was also a great spot for our streaming event web camera to be place high atop the tractor wind deflector overlooking Section 59 and beyond.
At 9:30am, an opening ceremony was held at the McClellan Arch. This is usually held in the Memorial Amphitheater, but that venue has become too small for the volume of people that now attend. Karen Worcester addressed the attendees. Also present was Patrick Hallinan, superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery, Chirs Burruss, President of the Truckload Carriers Association, Governor Paul LePage and first lady Ann LePage, who made virtually the entire trip with the Patriot Guard on a motorcycle. Country singer Lindsey Lawler and songwriter Chris Roberts performed. The crowd was provided instructions to properly lay wreaths in Arlington. Wreath laying ceremonies were also planned to be held at various sites in the cemetery as well as other area historical monuments.
Back at the Oakhurst truck, the volunteers took over the organization and distribution of the wreaths and by 10:00am, there was a massive crowd waiting for the truck to be opened. A retired army veteran who worked at the Pentagon set up a small table adjacent to the truck to provide free coffee and donuts and precisely at 10:00am, the magic began and the wreaths began flowing. There were Cub Scouts laying wreaths, their youthfulness refreshing, among families who make this a part of their holiday tradition. Soldiers and veterans unloading the Oakhurst truck together – a great swarm of humanity.
The sections that our truck was adjacent to had many families that had loved ones buried in this part of the cemetery. It was moving and chilling to see how many families and how young some of these families were. We all watched as the stark white stones became covered in green and red – a Christmas miracle.
As quickly as it all began, in a flash it was done. Our 3,456 wreaths were out of the truck and only the repacking of the boxes and cardboard remained one hour later. As we all gazed around the cemetery, most other areas were wrapping up as well. Wreaths as far as the eye could see. In the somber, overcast light of the sky, it was a breathtaking sight.
The trip to Arlington, with all the ceremonial stops along the way brings forth many emotions. All of the people at Oakhurst Dairy, that are involved in this journey contribute their own special ingredient to its success. Joe Masse, Heidi Kleiner and Parker Eckert represented our company with pride and humility. They experienced something far greater than they could have imagined and they shared it with all of us and for that, we thank them. Oakhurst Dairy thanks everyone that contributed to this successful trip in 2013. We especially thank Morrill and Karen Worcester and the entire Worcester extended family for their drive and determination to Remember, Honor & Teach. We will never forget.