Military Veteran Delivers Wreaths Across America
Russ Gleason Hauled Wreaths from Maine to Knoxville for Skyline this Year
For almost a decade, Skyline Transportation has donated its drivers, trucks and trailers in support of Wreaths Across America. Skyline is one of many trucking companies that help Wreaths Across America (WAA) transport thousands of Veteran’s wreaths to participating cemeteries across the United States. Each December our driver, or team, leaves Knoxville and drives to the WAA headquarters in Columbia Falls, Maine to load their trailer full of balsam wreaths destined for the graves of military veterans.
This was the first experience for Skyline driver and military veteran Russ Gleason. He said it has been a fantastic experience from the start.
“This is my first time to do this. I was excited when they told me I was going. Everything my wife and I have seen has been very humbling. I’m torn because I’d like to be able to do this every year – especially have the opportunity to go to Arlington – but I wouldn’t want someone else not to be able to do it too. This has by far been the best thing I’ve seen or done during my career.”
Russ joined the Navy in 1987. He spent two years on the USS Midway in Yokosuka, Japan. After that, he was stationed at NAS Miramar. Russ served with fighter squadron 24 when he was deployed to Desert Storm on the USS Nimitz.
After the Navy, Russ worked in law enforcement in CA. His father moved to TN and Russ followed soon after and obtained his CDL. He started driving over the road in 2002. He actually came to Skyline about eight years ago, left for two years but has been back a year. That’s when he put his name in to drive a load for Wreaths Across America.
“I knew Skyline was involved in Wreaths when I first drove here. My first day back at Skyline, I asked Rocky (Summers) to put me on the list to go to Maine. I really didn’t have any preconceptions of what it would be like, I just wanted the chance to do it. I’m so glad my wife and I could do it together. She is a nurse and used to work at Ben Atchley State Veterans Home. The fact that she had taken care of veterans and got to experience this with me, well, it was really something for her too.”
All the volunteers involved in WAA really impressed Russ, especially the way they took care of the drivers. It was hard for him to talk about his experience without getting emotional.
“Those people were fantastic. Every single person that we dealt with was just awesome. When I was ready to get loaded, the guy at the dock asked if it was my first time doing this. I said yes and he said, ‘Well, thank you for coming’. Just that statement…as a driver you never hear something like that. Those people were out there in single-digit weather, loading thousands of boxes onto trucks, and they all looked like there wasn’t any place they’d rather be.”
Gold Star Quilt
Russ and his wife were able to tour the museum in the WAA headquarters dedicated to veterans through the ages. While he was impressed by the dog-tag trees, the chapel, and the Vietnam section, the Gold Star quilt was the most impactful.
“It was the best thing I saw on this entire adventure. It was made by a Gold Star mom and donated to all the Gold Star families. To stand in front of that Gold Star quilt knowing it was made by a mom who lost her son, out of everything else, that was the most moving thing to me.”
On his birthday, December 13, Russ returned to the Knoxville yard, accompanied by an official Wreaths Across America truck, police escort and military veterans on motorcycles. He seemed overwhelmed as he reflected on his journey.
“I don’t know that I can put this into words. It’s something that needs to be experienced and I don’t think I can find words to do it justice. Thinking about what all those people up in Maine do. Knowing that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go there without everybody at Skyline doing their part, I’m just really glad I got to go. I can’t think of anything else that I would’ve rather been able to do than this.”
On Friday, December 14, Russ helped a small group unload more than 200 boxes, just under 2,00 wreaths, onto a smaller trailer bound for the Knoxville National Cemetery. In that group were three siblings – Donald Fitzgibbon, Michelle Morgan and Robert Fitzgibbon. Robert is a Gold Star Father (far left in picture).
On Saturday, December 15, Russ hauled the wreaths to Knoxville National Cemetery for the wreath laying ceremony. “I wouldn’t miss it for anything. I would feel like I didn’t complete the journey. I’ll be there with bells on.”
We are so proud of Russ Gleason, his military service, his commitment to Skyline and his involvement in this year’s Wreaths Across America project.