"The real heroes … are the guys who didn’t come back.” –John “Doc” Bradley, Navy corpsman and flag raiser at Iwo Jima, as quoted in “Flags of our Fathers” by James Bradley
One of the greatest honors of my profession is getting to meet some of the many veterans that fill the ranks of the trucking industry. It’s been my good fortune to meet truck drivers, technicians, and countless others that proudly served in the ranks of our armed forces – including some of the truckers that signed up to haul freight as war zone contractors in Iraq.
Trucking – and truck drivers in particular – always pay special attention to veterans. It’s the reason OEMs such as Volvo Trucks North America, Mack Trucks and Freightliner (now folded into Daimler Trucks North America) create special one-of-a-kind artistic tributes for the annual “Rolling Thunder” parades in Washington D.C. It’s why drivers emblazon their rigs with a whole host of personal tributes to the military.
It’s also why – despite widely disparate feelings over whether the wars our nation fights should be fought in the first place – drivers are united in their support of the troops, here and abroad. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a soldier in uniform at a trucking show wear out his or her hand from the many ‘thank you’ clasps bestowed upon them.
It’s a feeling reflected by the industry as a whole. For example, in late August, Navistar unveiled a documentary film “Drive and Deliver” to provide an inside look at the pride and hard work of the truck-driving professional. Yet the company is also giving the proceeds from the DVD sales of its movie to a driver recruitment campaign – 'GetTrucking.com’ – created by the American Trucking Association (ATA) to help place veterans of the armed services into much-needed truck-driving positions.
“One of the goals of the film is to showcase truck drivers as a vital and proud breed of the American workforce,” said Al Saltiel, vice president of truck marketing at Navistar. “Now, in partnering with the ATA, we have the opportunity to celebrate the service of our military personnel and help them transition to truck-driving jobs when they return home.”
Yet I also find it incredibly interesting that many veterans – though obviously proud of their service and even more so of their comrades – don’t talk about it all that much. To them, I’ve found, it’s as if they were called upon to do a tough, nasty job … then once it was over, went on with their lives. Almost all of them push away the mantle of heroism. Sean McEndree a combat wounded veteran and truck driver, exemplifies this. He turned his rig – ‘Fallen Heroes II’ – into a rolling memorial for the soldiers, sailors, and aircrews that died in Iraq and Afghanistan; not for himself. In fact, his best buddy – Sgt. Barry Meza, the man who saved Sean’s life after he was wounded – is really the ‘hero’ of the truck, placed in honor right along the engine cowling.
In many ways, though, this is the American way. Now, sure, there are plenty of ex-military types that promote their service and themselves to the high heavens (and many who never served faking all kinds of war stories – the most nefarious of untruths). But just look at examples from our history and you see the real score. Heck, the founder of the U.S. Marine Corps – Samuel Nicholas – was a QUAKER for goodness sake. Yes, a Quaker – as in the religion devoted to pacifism. Yet he realized – as many did during the Revolution – that fighting would be necessary to secure our survival as a people and as a nation.
So Nicholas – a friend of George Washington – founded the Marines in 1775, became its first officer … and then quickly disappeared from the history books once the war was over, dying young reportedly around 1790. “It is strange indeed that such a heroic and capable figure faded quickly from view,” the USMC notes in its official histories. “The Marine Corps of today is greatly indebted to this gallant Quaker, who, armed in righteousness, established the prestige and the glory that we are pledge to ‘carry on.’”
[It is perhaps the supreme irony that he is buried at the Quaker meetinghouse at Fourth and Arch Streets in Nicholas' native Philadelphia … and that Marines seeking to honor his gravesite cannot carry any weapons onto the grounds.]
So to you, our veterans – both inside and outside the trucking industry – we salute you. Carry on.