Chuck Ceccacci spent nine years as a Marine. Although no longer active, a Marine he remains.
Now, and for the next 13 months, Ceccacci is committed to honoring the families of those who have served as he crisscrosses the country in an 18-wheeled tribute.
Ceccacci, of Flowery Branch, is employed by nationwide commercial trucking business Schneider National, and is the 2013 veteran selected to drive its rolling memorial. All Ride of Pride drivers are veterans.
Today, he will lead the July Fourth parade in Cumming.
Each year, truck manufacturer Freightliner custom designs a cab and selects a trucking firm to manage its cross-country trips. The truck’s digital decal scheme includes the American flag, a bald eagle, camouflage, barbed wire and the POW/MIA logo. The quote, “Those who serve deserve honor, respect, thanks,” is displayed on the cab.
This is the 11th Ride of Pride truck, and the sixth time that Schneider National has been selected to oversee its campaign across the nation.
“I was selected by my peers and the leadership of the (Schneider) organization,” said Ceccacci. The Ride of Pride program was initiated by Vietnam veteran Ed Keeter, a former shift manager at Freightliner’s Cleveland, N.C., manufacturing plant.
Freightliner employees customize the tractor’s design to show support for active-duty personnel, retirees and families who have lost someone in service to the country, as well as for prisoners of war and those missing in action.
“The other five trucks,” said Ceccacci, “are still running and only used by veterans, and are still maintained like rolling memorials.”
The truck covers its miles empty, serving solely as a memorial. Ceccacci travels the country participating in events related to the campaign mission.
Ceccacci comes from a lineage of military men, including an uncle who served under Gen. George Patton.
“I love my country and the time I’ve spent in the military,” Ceccacci said. “I feel honored to have been chosen as the 2013 Ride of Pride driver. It’s an overwhelming feeling.
“I’ve been given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to represent our veterans, including my father who served in the Vietnam War and my grandfather in World War II and the Korean War.”
Reaction and reception to the moving memorial has been positive, Ceccacci said.
“So many people are interested in this; I’m gone two to three weeks at a time.
“Because of my passion for it,” he said, and the sacrifice made by veterans, “that’s how people react to it. They (Schneider National) put a light on me and gave me the torch, and I just want everyone to see it.”
Ceccacci said he has been forever changed by the experience.
It’s the POW’s who render his comments fractured and his voice full with emotion.
“I met a WWII POW, Wesley,” said Ceccacci. “He was in the Philippines’ Bataan Death March. ...He was so happy to be an American. ... To me, that was my hero. There he is, still walking, and he never quit smiling.
“I’m surrounded by giants out there. There’s a lot of heroes out there; I just want them to be known.”
For those who would like to follow the 2013 Ride of Pride journey, its progress is documented on the Facebook page www.facebook.com/rideforpride.