Honoring and Remembering Our Veterans for the Holidays

Giving Back; Supply Chain

Once a year, a few drivers get to transport very special cargo in support of Wreaths Across America.

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Every December, hundreds of trucks roll across America with wreaths to be laid on the graves of veterans as part of Wreaths Across America’s annual initiative. With the motto “Remember, Honor, Teach,” the organization strives to remember fallen U.S. veterans, honor those who serve in the military and teach kids about the value of freedom.

Wreaths Across America originally focused its efforts on laying wreaths in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. Over time, the program grew to include wreath-laying ceremonies at more than 3,000 locations across the United States, at sea and abroad. That’s hundreds of thousands of wreaths, requiring many volunteers!

Along with other companies, Walmart helps each year by donating trailers to carry wreaths. Walmart’s drivers step up to move the trailers.

In 2021, Walmart World talked with two Walmart drivers about Wreaths Across America and what the campaign means to them. For both Hal Coleates and David Mott, the annual event is much more than an assignment or a ceremony. It’s a deeply felt way to honor heroes who gave their lives for our nation.

A veteran’s story

Hal Coleates (pictured above) is a Walmart driver based in Marcy, New York. He works out of Transportation Office 6838. At 19, he joined the Navy Construction Battalion (known as the SeaBees), the Naval Construction Force. He served for 15 years.

While Hal has been with Walmart for seven years, he has been driving for over 35 years. When he joined Walmart in October of 2015, that year’s Wreaths Across America effort was just gearing up.

“I just fell in love with it,” he says. “It was amazing to be able to give back like that.”

Hal had been giving back in his own way for years, attending military funerals as part of the honor guard when he was in the Reserves, either helping to carry the casket, folding the flag and presenting it to the family, or standing at attention to show respect to the deceased.

“My comrades and I were proud to help local families give their loved ones a proper military funeral,” he says. “Each ceremony was extremely moving.”

Once he left the Reserves, Hal says he felt a little lost.

“It wasn’t until I started working for Walmart and discovered Wreaths Across America that I had a new avenue to give back,” Hal says. “I now feel renewed and able to honor our late soldiers. They need to be remembered, and I am thankful to have this opportunity to serve them.”

“I now feel renewed and able to honor our late soldiers. They need to be remembered, and I am thankful to have this opportunity to serve them.” –Hal Coleates

At first, Hal participated in Wreaths Across America ceremonies. Then, in 2017, he was among the drivers picked to escort wreaths from Marcy to Woodland, Pennsylvania. As the convoy leader, he also read a speech at the Passing of the Wreaths ceremony, when the trailers carrying wreaths are passed on to the next set of drivers. In all, Hal says about 20 different drivers handle a trailer during its journey.

“When we stopped for a break, people gathered around the trucks with their questions, giving us an opportunity to teach,” he explains. “Some took photos with the trailers, and some rested their hands on the trailer and prayed.”

Connecting to veterans and their families has been both meaningful and rewarding for Hal. “I once worried about how I would be able to honor and take care of my friends that are gone. I’m grateful knowing that Wreaths Across America will be there, with thousands of volunteers to lay the wreath, stand back, salute, and call out the name of every soldier in cemeteries across our country.”

The honor of the escort

While Walmart driver David Mott (pictured below) never served in the military, his two sons have. So taking part in Wreaths Across America is personal for him, too.

Dave, who works in Transportation Office 7814 in Lewiston, Maine, has been with Walmart for 14 years. One of his sons is active as an Army Ranger and one is now a retired Ranger.

Dave first got involved with the program in 2010, when he delivered a trailer to Harrington, Maine — home to both the Worcester Wreath Company and Wreaths Across America. The Worcester family started donating wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery in 1992. Over time, the effort grew into what is today Wreaths Across America.

Though Wreaths Across America has expanded beyond Arlington National Cemetery, a convoy to the cemetery is still a centerpiece of the program. Veterans, Gold Star families and others escort the trailers carrying the wreaths.

The fleet starts in Lubec, Maine, with a sunrise service, before making its way to Arlington over a week. Along the way, the group stops at schools, malls, VFW posts and other community locations to spread the message of Wreaths Across America. This year’s convoy to Arlington begins on Dec. 10, 2023

“Wreaths is a way for me to give back. It's also a pleasure to see that many elderly folks along the way that had a husband, a son, a brother that served in the military and died overseas, perhaps.” –David Mott

Dave explains that Walmart drivers from all over the U.S. participate in Wreaths Across America. It’s considered a great honor to be chosen to drive in one of the wreath escorts. In 2012, after Dave drove the Walmart truck for the escort for the first time, he was hooked. He drove again in 2013, but then had to make way for another driver. He still volunteers to do whatever he could to help.

“It’s an amazing experience,” he says.

For several years when he wasn’t helping with the escort, Dave used vacation time to volunteer for Wreaths Across America at Fort Sam Houston cemetery in San Antonio, Texas. He also leads tours at Worcester Wreath Company so visitors can see how wreaths are made.

In 2019, Dave was asked to help with the Arlington escort’s advance team. The first year he was second-in-command. In 2020 and 2021, he is in charge of the effort. That means arriving at each stop ahead of the convoy to set up and start the ceremony. As soon as the convoy arrives, he’s on his way to the next stop.

“I've been very blessed in so many ways,” Dave says. “Wreaths is a way for me to give back. It's also a pleasure to see that many elderly folks along the way that had a husband, a son, a brother that served in the military and died overseas, perhaps. It's so heartwarming for them to see their loved one is remembered.”

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