Duckworth completes WAA mission
A University of Alabama graduate with a degree in Broadcast Journalism, Bentley spent 15 years as a trucking Publisher before becoming the Editorial Director for Randall-Reilly's Recruiting Media division.
John Christner Trucking’s Bill Duckworth overcomes obstacles to make a special delivery
“Make your life a mission – not an intermission.” Arnold H. Glasow
2012 was an interesting year for Bill Duckworth, a driver for Sapulpa, Oklahoma-based John Christner Trucking (JCT). Much of the year was spent driving and displaying a new Freightliner Coronado that had been customized to commemorate his carrier’s 25th anniversary. The truck with a blacked-out theme was a huge hit at truck shows and Pride and Polish events, where it won numerous accolades in the Combo – Company Truck category.
Duckworth appreciated the fact that the company tried to incorporate 25 years of design into one truck, which was usually accompanied by two motorcycles that Christner had specially built by Orange County Choppers — one to represent the fleet’s 1987 start and the other to represent the present. “We were using this truck in a lot of our recruiting ads, and I used it to haul our tradeshow booth, where we would display the choppers,” Duckworth said. “It’s easy to see why we would get so much attention.”
However, on the horizon for Duckworth was a delivery that would be a lot more about substance than style.
Last fall, John Christner learned about the Wreaths Across America program while in Maine for the Trucker Biker Rally, an annual motorcycle run along scenic American roadways put together by some fun-loving folks who work in the trucking industry. Wreaths Across America’s mission is to ‘Remember, Honor, & Teach’ about the service and sacrifices of our veterans, active military, and their families. The non-profit organization coordinates wreath-laying ceremonies at veterans’ cemeteries prior to each holiday season.
“I went to the Wreaths Across America museum on one of our stops during the motorcycle ride, and I knew immediately I wanted our company to be involved. I made a verbal commitment on the spot,” Christner stated. It didn’t take long for Christner to decide who should drive the truck either. “The first thing that popped in my head was I should let Bill do it,” he said.
Duckworth is called “Dollar Bill” by most people at the company, and Christner’s choice was right on the money.
Duckworth is a Vietnam War veteran, who enlisted in the Marines in 1969. He served his country for 21 years before retiring as a Gunnery Sergeant. While in the military, Duckworth got a Class A license and decided to make trucking his career choice after receiving advice from a former comrade who was already in the industry.
Duckworth went to work for now defunct Burlington Motor Carriers and eventually became a safety and training manager there. His wife was also a fleet manager for Burlington in Albany, GA, near where the Duckworths lived. Another of Bill’s military friends was dispatching for John Christner Trucking and knew they were looking for a fleet manager. He passed that info along to Bill, and the Duckworths were soon making the move to Oklahoma.
“They hired my wife, and I came along as a dedicated driver running mostly Tulsa to Nashville,” Bill said. Over time, Duckworth moved back to Georgia, where his wife is now a nurse, but Bill has remained at JCT, working in several capacities. “I’ve been with John Christner for 13 years now and would not work anywhere else.”
John Christner appreciates Duckworth’s loyalty and wanted to reward him with the special Wreaths Across America opportunity. “Bill is just a neat guy. He had a lot of success in our Lease Purchase program and even ran our orientation for a year. He’s done everything we have ever asked, and I felt like having him haul the wreaths was the perfect fit,” Christner said. “I knew Bill was former military, and 22 years after retiring from the service, I thought he could still fit in his dress uniform.”
When Duckworth received the call from JCT about Wreaths Across America, he said he was completely excited about it. “I found out more about the wreaths process and which cemetery I would be going to, and knew I would love to be involved with it,” Duckworth stated.
Unfortunately, Duckworth’s excitement would soon turn to anxiety.
Two months before he was scheduled to pick up his load of wreaths, Duckworth was diagnosed with prostate cancer. His doctor recommended he come off the road immediately to begin treatments, but Duckworth had other plans.
As a former member of the Armed Services, Bill Duckworth understands the importance of finishing a mission. His response to the doctor was he wanted to “Charlie Mike,” which is US military slang for “Continue Mission.” He agreed to the cancer treatments, but not until after he delivered wreaths to honor fallen soldiers.
With Duckworth behind the wheel, Christner’s truck was one of 67 fleets that left Harrington, Maine carrying loads of handmade wreaths as a part of Wreaths Across America Day. They traveled across the nation to honor our fallen soldiers and assure that they were remembered during the holiday season.
Volunteers met the wreath-filled trucks to participate in ceremonies at 800 veterans’ cemeteries and help lay more than 610,000 wreaths. “I threw my dress blues in the truck with me and got a run that finalized in Ft. Stewart, GA. They have a unique way to honor the veterans there, and I was grateful to participate,” Duckworth stated.
While most veterans’ cemeteries have traditional headstones over a fallen soldier’s grave, Ft. Stewart plants a tree for each soldier from their base who was killed in combat. There are 460 memorial trees at Ft. Stewart, and they honor these ultimate sacrifices on Wreaths Across America Day by having a Warriors Walk around a parade field. “I was able to drive my truck to the cemetery and help place wreaths by the trees. It was a humbling experience,” Duckworth added.
Soon after his special delivery was complete, Duckworth began radiation treatments. After a few months, he was cancer-free and back at work full-time.
These days, you still can’t keep Duckworth from a truck show. Dollar Bill’s attention to detail recently landed him a gig as a judge for Overdrive’s Pride and Polish Truck Beauty Contest National Championship Series. Duckworth was a logical choice. As one John Christner staffer said, “This man knows a clean truck!”
Duckworth will be driving the John Christner truck for Wreaths Across America Day again this year and says he enjoys the patriotism displayed by Americans today. “It’s nice that people recognize our military now. It wasn’t that way when I came back from Vietnam,” Duckworth stated.