A Memorial Day for truckers

By Bill Hudgins, columnist

It’s funny how the mind wanders.

Rolling down the road the other day, my iPod randomly played “Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves.” That made me think about Dick Curless’ classic “Tombstone Every Mile,” Harry Chapin’s “30,000 Pounds of Bananas,” Red Simpson’s “Nitro Express” … you get the picture.

This was back in March at a time when every day seemed to bring news of some kind of bad truck wreck. I saw more than a few just in my short daily ramblings. In most – but not all – of them, the loads got hurt worse than the drivers.

That’s when my mind made a big leap: Why is there no memorial day for truckers?

It turns out that the Memorial Day that America celebrates on the last Monday of May to remember our fallen soldiers, sailors, aircrews, Coasties and Marines, isn’t the only “memorial” day. For example:

  • April 28 is Workers’ Memorial Day (for AFL-CIO members).
  • May 15 is National Peace Officers Memorial Day.
  • Oct. 5-7 is National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend.
  • There’s even a National Homeless Person’s Memorial Day on Dec. 21.

There is no Truckers Memorial Day. There should be.

We honor our warriors, police and firefighters because they lay their lives on the line to defend, protect and serve others. They’re inadequately paid, overworked, often abused or neglected by a frequently ungrateful and indifferent public. Without them, our lives, our society, would be far more difficult to maintain, even impossible.

Does this sound familiar?

Trucking consistently ranks among the top 10 most dangerous jobs in America. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration figures say 635 truckers died on the job in 2011.  By comparison, 125 police and officers and 81 firefighters were killed or died in the line of duty in 2011.

As with cops and firefighters, the possibility of dangerous situations is ever-present on the road. For instance: In one of those accidents

I mentioned earlier, a trucker who lives in my hometown was rolling down I-65 in Nashville on a wet, slippery day when a motorist cut in front of him and hit the brakes.

The trucker locked up his brakes, and the rig skewed over the guardrail, landing cab down with the trailer angled back up the slope. Amazingly, the trucker was OK. But I don’t have to tell you that anything can happen in an instant.

Truckers risk their lives to help others in peril, as the recent Goodyear Highway Hero award demonstrated. And I believe that the truckers who were nominated this year represent only a fraction of those deserving of nomination.

So it’s my opinion that the time is past due when fallen truckers receive special recognition.

When, where and how would we observe a national Truckers Memorial Day? That’s a toughie.

National Trucker Driver Appreciation Week seems a pretty logical choice, though its connection to American Trucking Associations might not sit well with many. Also, its dates have floated over time from August to September. Unlike the people it would honor, Trucker Memorial Day shouldn’t move around.

The Mid-America Trucking Show also makes sense. A lot more truckers attend MATS than the Truck Driver Week events – though its dates can change, too.

Whenever and wherever the observance is held, I don’t think it would detract from the solemnity of the observance to include events like a driving skills contest, a truck beauty competition, a light show and fireworks. Kind of a combination of MATS, Appreciation Week and the Walcott Jamboree.

And there should be a concert. Lord knows few things twang the heartstrings like a good trucking song. Besides the songs I mentioned earlier, the playlist ought to include Red Sovine’s “Phantom 309” and “Teddy Bear,” Leland Martin’s “Stone Cold Fingers,” Dave Dudley’s “Six Days on the Road,” “Freightliner Fever” by Boxcar Willie … (fill in your favorite).

And of course, Buck Owens’ “Will There Be Big Rigs in Heaven?” I feel sure there will be. Those clouds ain’t just gonna move themselves. LL