COLUMBIA — Things certainly get busier for Rick Davis of Cherryfield the first week of December.
At that time, the truck driver check-in building where he volunteers is transformed into a hub of activity in preparation for the annual Wreaths Across America convoy. Trucks full of wreaths departed this past weekend and are scheduled to arrive at Arlington National Cemetery Dec. 14.
In all, volunteers will lay wreaths on veterans’ graves at 1,600 locations.
“This is more for their families than it is for their graves,” said Davis, an Army veteran and retired federal employee who has volunteered for Wreaths Across America for the past four years.
Worcester Wreath Co., which is based in nearby Columbia Falls, makes the wreaths. Company owner Morrill Worcester founded the nonprofit Wreaths Across America. Donors sponsor wreaths to be placed on veterans’ graves.
Davis stressed that the wreaths are veterans’ memorial wreaths, not Christmas wreaths. They are placed in December because families usually place wreaths on their loved ones’ graves on their birthdays and on Christmas.
“This is a big deal to the families,” he said.
Dubbed the “scale master,” Davis’s job is to weigh trucks full of brush to be made into wreaths so the organization knows how much is in a truckload. He doesn’t weigh the tractor-trailers participating in the convoy, however, because there’s no need. The cargo is light enough that the trucks won’t be over any roadway weight limits, he said.
This year, volunteer drivers began checking in Dec. 2. They gathered in the truckers’ lounge, located adjacent to Davis’s office, to socialize, play pool and enjoy food specially prepared for them by other volunteers.
“This is more or less like my second home,” said J.D. Walker of Mendon, Ill., as he sat in the lounge Friday. “Being here makes me comfortable.”
This was the third year Walker has driven a truck full of wreaths in the convoy. He does so in memory of his son, Marine Jeffrey Davis Walker, who died in Iraq May 14, 2007.
Walker said his employer, Gully Transportation, presented him with the 2020 Freightliner Western Star truck he drives, decorated to showcase Walker’s dedication to those who serve. It features stars and stripes, pictures of military personnel and sayings such as, “In honor of those supporting the front lines.”
“It’s a working truck,” said Walker, who has been driving trucks for 37 years. When he’s not driving for Wreaths Across America, he uses the same truck to haul freight for Gully customers. In fact, he said, he delivered two loads on the way to Maine and will pick up and deliver more freight on his way home.
“I’m humbled by this in a lot of ways,” said Walker, a Navy veteran. “By the time it’s all over with, you’re exhausted. But it’s a good exhaustion. You feel good.”
As Walker and other truckers were relaxing in preparation for their journey or visiting the Wreaths Across America museum, Mona Gunn arrived from Virginia Beach, Va. As national president of the American Gold Star Mothers, she served as the convoy’s grand marshal.
“It’s an awesome feeling to be a part of this mission,” she said.
Gunn got involved with Wreaths Across America in 2016, after the death of her husband, Lou, a 21-year Navy veteran.
“I needed a distraction on my first Christmas without him,” she said, adding they’d been married 43 years. “I needed to get away from home and do something different, and I got hooked.”
Gunn lost her son, Cherone, who was serving in the Navy aboard the USS Cole when it was attacked by terrorists in Yemen Oct. 12, 2000.
“One percent join the military,” Gunn said. “The other 99 percent need to understand the 1 percent that choose to serve are preserving their freedom.”
Both Davis and Walker agreed.
“People don’t really understand that freedom isn’t free and never will be,” said Davis. “We volunteer and we know what can happen.”
“If you ever run across a veteran,” Walker said, “thank him for his service.”