Professional drivers and trucking companies give so much to the nation. Without them, the Wreaths Across America mission to remember, honor, and teach would be nearly impossible. Veterans’ wreaths move by planes, trains, ships, and livestock trailers, but trucks and their professional drivers transport the lion’s share of America's respect. In 2022, to be specific, 609 truckloads of wreaths were delivered, representing 439 different carriers.
In November and December, one of the busiest periods of the year for the transportation sector, the Wreaths Across America mission brings drivers together in an effort of unparalleled unity. With a positive, “can-do” work ethic, these professionals make it possible for Americans to honor millions of veterans laid to rest at home and overseas. In 2023, transportation logistics are immense, with 4,000 participating locations, in addition to Arlington National Cemetery.
Many of these drivers are military veterans and say the truckload of fresh balsam-fir wreaths is the most precious cargo they transport in their careers. Wreaths Across America shares their stories and what motivates them to serve and succeed in the “Trucking Tributes” feature online and on Wreaths Across America Radio.
When it comes to a love of country and our veterans, Fred and Diane Thompson are the real deal, and they’ve been involved with almost every aspect of Wreaths Across America, from wreath making to trucking. They are loved by staff and volunteers for their sense of humor, nimbleness, and patriotism.
Fred invested fifty years in the trucking industry, owning his own truck for seventeen of those years, and he joined Walmart Transportation in 2012. Fred and Diane’s’ fathers served in the military, and Fred served six years in the Maine National Guard. Fred and Diane knew about Wreaths Across America from stories in the news, but everything came full circle when he joined Walmart. “That very first year, we had the honor of going to Harrington to be a part of hauling the wreaths, the day before activities, the send-off dinner and all that, “Fred recalls of his first engagement with Wreaths Across America as a professional driver. “Once we did that, we knew that this was something we wanted to be a part of from that point forward. We had a good idea, but when you go and actually do it, and you get to talk with Karen and Morrill and the Wreaths Across America staff, you begin to understand what you’re a part of and what the mission really is, and we thought this was a very worthwhile organization.” Fred shared that the Walmart Transportation family out of Lewiston, Maine, places a wreath annually for a former driver and military veteran, Reginald St. Pierre, who is laid to rest in Augusta, Maine. “To see how much it meant to the family really made me understand what this was all about.” For the first few years, Fred handled wreath transports as part of a Walmart relay team of drivers. 2014, he hauled a load of America’s respect to Arlington National Cemetery. “That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was so humbling.”
The organization continues growing, thanks in part to Fred and Diane’s commitment and dedication to the mission. Fred and Diane serve as Location Coordinator volunteers for a local cemetery in Maine. “Every year, we try to do something different with Wreaths,” Fred shared. “In 2018, the location coordinator moved to Freeport, and he asked us if we’d become the location coordinators here in Gardiner, and we said we would. It’s the Gardiner area, and we place about eight hundred to eight hundred and fifty wreaths or so.” Diane explained the community makes the event successful. “We get started earlier in the year, and Wreaths Across America provides materials so we look official in our fundraising. It’s really word-of-mouth, and people want to be involved. Last year, a local fire department showed up in full regalia, and they all placed wreaths. It was amazing.” Fred added that even in the middle of a blizzard last year, more than sixty volunteers from area communities showed up to honor veterans and place wreaths.
What’s truly amazing is that even while they’re coordinating fundraising and volunteer efforts for their own community for National Wreaths Across America Day on Saturday, December 16, 2023, Fred and Diane will be familiar faces at the Wreaths Across America Driver’s Check-In during the weeks leading up to the departure of the annual Wreath Escort to Arlington. “For two or three weeks, it’s like Grand Central Station in Columbia Falls,“ Fred chuckled as he related to the pace of operations. “We have a lot of trucking companies that donate their services, and sometimes the information doesn’t always get passed down to the driver. They’ll show up not really knowing anything about the mission, so we do the Driver First Mile program. We realized over the years that many of these drivers never had a chance to tag a tree on the tipland or go on a museum tour.”
While Fred helps the transportation team with tours, loading trucks and other logistics, it’s Diane who becomes the “star of the show” while drivers are relaxing. Diane helps drivers make a veteran’s wreath while explaining the symbolism behind the balsam fir bouquets. “I think it’s important for them to understand what the wreath means,” Diane shared while wiping away a tear. “It brings a deeper level of understanding for the truck driver about what they’re hauling. It affects each person with an emotional remembrance of someone they loved.” And when we said the Thompsons are the real deal, Diane reinforced that claim. “I was trained by Morrrill Worcester himself how to make a wreath!” Indeed, many professional drivers have shared with us that the personal wreath-making class with Diane was a highlight of their trip to Maine.
Wait, there’s more! Fred and Diane also work as an Ambassador Team with the Wreaths Across America Mobile Education Exhibit.
Thank you so much, Fred, and Diane Thompson, for your love of veterans and all that you do to support the mission to remember, honor, and teach.
You can hear Fred and Diane’s full interview on Trucking Tributes listened to exclusively on Wreaths Across America Radio every Truckin’ Tuesday at 11:00 AM and again at 4:00 PM Eastern.