Bruceville trucker and wife deliver wreaths for Arlingtion National Cemetery
By Bernie Schmitt
From the cab of his big rig, Don Crouse has seen the nation’s “purple mountain majesties,” its magnificent vistas, and lots of American towns and cities. What he did during the holiday season exemplifies his feelings for his country and those who fight to keep it free.
A veteran truck driver from Bruceville, Crouse and his wife, Cindy, joined other over-the-road colleagues in December to deliver thousands of Christmas wreaths that decorated the gravesites of soldiers buried in Arlington Memorial Cemetery.
Crouse has been driving big rigs across the United States for more than 40 years. When he learned help was needed in transporting Christmas wreaths from Maine to Arlington, Va., he knew he had to be involved.
“I’ve never been in the military,” Crouse said, “but I appreciate the freedom we have. The soldiers buried there gave their lives in the name of freedom. The least we can do is to help honor them.”
The Crouses were one of 71 big-rig trucks that delivered wreaths for thousands of soldiers’ graves at Arlington. They drove from Indiana to Columbia Falls, Maine, a small town 30 miles south of Canada and a mile from the Atlantic Ocean. It is home to the Worcester Wreath Company which donated the wreaths.
“We arrived there on Dec. 9, and the wreaths were loaded on Dec. 10,” Crouse said. “It had been raining for a couple of days and it was snowing as we headed south. We made it down to Newburg, New York the first day and to Carlisle, Pennsylvania on the second day, where we had the truck and trailer washed.”
The famed Rolling Thunder Honor Guard motorcycle riders met a convoy of trucks at the Hall of Heroes in Washington, D.C. and escorted them down Constitution Avenue to Arlington National Cemetery on Saturday, Dec. 13, for ceremonies. Thousands of volunteers, including active-duty military personnel, helped to organize and lay wreaths on 220,000 graves.
“One of the neatest things about this was seeing all the small children there with their parents,” Crouse said. “It was one of those times where if you didn’t have a tear in your eye there was something wrong with you.”
Wreaths were taken to 1,100 other military cemeteries throughout the country and some to foreign nations. The second Saturday in December has traditionally been the day U.S. Presidents have laid wreaths on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In 2008, Congress designated that second Saturday as “Wreaths Across America” Day.
This wasn’t the first time Crouse has helped deliver wreaths. He was a part of it in 2008 and in 2011. He and Cindy have sweatshirts with the “Wreaths Across America” logo on them, as well as the quotation: Don’t say I should have, say I did.
“We really have to thank my boss, Tom and Marsha Boyd of T.S. Boyd Grain in Washington,” Crouse said. “I can’t thank them enough. I was willing to pay my way, but needed the use of the truck. But they paid for the fuel, the highway tolls, and they paid us for our time.”
Crouse also wants to publicly thank Logan Graber, Mike VanLue, and Mark Headley for their help in working out the logistics for their trip to 1,700-mile trip from Indiana to Maine, and then down to Virginia.
For many years Crouse was an independent driver, having bought how own truck back in 1974. He would be out on the road for three months at a time. The job has sometimes put a strain on truckers and their families. He put around two million miles on his last truck and had to decide whether to go into debt for a new one or drive for someone who had a truck fleet. That’s when he applied for Boyd Grain.
“It’s nice because we’re home a little more often,” Crouse said.
Crouse knew nothing of the Facebook social network on the Internet until he won an I-Pad at a truck show in Dallas about four years ago. He met, or rather re-connected with Cindy upon sending her a Facebook message three years ago. Both are graduates of North Knox High School. He was graduated in 1966 and Cindy was graduated in 1967. They married a short time after that.
“We have a good time together,” Cindy Crouse said. “I like it. He had me in 42 states in about six months.”
Don does the driving, refueling, and maintenance if needed, and Cindy does the paperwork and prepares meals. They have seen about every scenic mile this country can offer. Cindy likes being home more often, but she misses the mountains. She also likes being in the Seattle area where her children and grandchildren live.
“She had no idea how many Wal-Marts, Lowe’s or Home Depots we would stay at,” Crouse said.
Over the years Crouse has hauled everything from lumber to tennis shoes. He once hauled the entire Peter Pan Show to Branson, Mo. Another time he delivered a load of Harley-Davidson motorcycles from Pennsylvania to California.
“There are a lot of hijacking networks in the U.S.,” Crouse said. “The most popular things they like to steal are loads of energy drinks, shoes, and laundry detergent. That because it’s high dollar and easy to move.”
Truckers are not permitted to carry firearms, but they take along their dog Bella who is a pretty watchful companion.
“You can’t carry anything to protect yourself, except a dog,” Crouse said. “And she’s very protective.”
He credits radio personality Dave Nemo, whose show is now syndicated and broadcast on satellite radio, for getting him into trucking. Nemo got his start at the famed New Orleans station WWL, which continues to have a late-night show for truckers. It was listening to Nemo when Crouse learned about the Wreaths Across America project.
“Years ago, we listened to that station and if your family had to get in touch with you they could call that station and they’d put a message out. This was in the days before cell phones. My family knew to request the song “Give Me 40 Acres” and whoever requested the song, I’d know who to call.”
Crouse says the second best thing to happen in truckers in this modern age is satellite radio. The number one thing, he said, is female truck drivers.
“Thanks to them we now have private show facilities at truck stops,” he said. “They are the best thing to happen to trucking.”
He and Cindy hope to deliver wreaths again next year. He’s hoping to talk his boss into painting a mural on the side of the truck’s trailer in support of the project. He’s even got a drawing sketched out.
“We’ll see,” he said. “It would be nice to let everyone know about this project. We want to get the word out.
“It’s important for kids to know the facts about how they have the freedom to do what they do,” Cindy Crouse said. “We hope to be a part of that.”
For more information about the Wreaths Across America project, log onto www.wreathsacrossamerica.org. Learn about the man who started the project, Morrill Worcester, by logging onto www.msnbc.com and look for “Taking the Hill.”