When Chuck Ceccacci pulled into an Indianapolis parking lot in his Freightliner Cascadia last year, he encountered an unusual reception for a trucker.
A woman covered her mouth in astonishment and rushed toward him, crying.
But she wasn’t a typical bystander — and Ceccacci’s truck was far from ordinary.
Ceccacci, a Marine veteran from Flowery Branch, Ga., drives Schneider National’s orange Ride of Pride rig, billed as a “rolling tribute” to active duty personnel, veterans and families with loved ones killed or missing from military service.
In 2001, Freightliner, whose manufacturing plant employees created the cab’s elaborate patriotic eagle design, started an annual tradition of giving a Ride of Pride truck to a trucking company that supports veterans. Schneider National, out of Cleveland, N.C., now owns seven trucks, one of which is based in Carlisle.
On Thursday, at the invitation of two Marines studying at Penn State’s Smeal College of Business and a college faculty member, Ceccacci brought the truck to the University Park campus for a day, parking it behind Smeal.
As his company’s current Ride of Pride driver, Ceccacci has logged almost 60,000 miles across the country since May to attend veteran events, funerals, parades and company driver recruitment efforts.
“It’s a privilege,” he said. “It’s an honor to do it. I’m proud to do it.”
In Indianapolis, the tearful woman turned out to be a Gold Star Mother whose son died in Afghanistan with the Marines.
Wearing a green Marine sweatshirt and a Marine lanyard, she spied the Ride of Pride truck on the third anniversary of her child’s death.
“She was just bawling in public,” Ceccacci recalled. “She came over to the (cab) door and hugged me like she had known me forever.”
By now, he’s accustomed to emotional moments.
On the road, he has met scores of veterans and bereaved parents, spouses and children. Last Memorial Day, he led the traditional Rolling Thunder motorcycle procession by veterans into Washington, D.C.
“It’s been life-changing,” Ceccacci said.
He wound up at Penn State because of two Marines, Maj. Matt Scott and Lt. Col. Shaun McDoniel.
Both are Marine Fellows studying in Smeal’s Master of Professional Studies in Supply Chain Management program. Each year, the Marine Corps selects two logistics officers to come to Penn State.
Scott’s thesis research on improving shipping truck fuel efficiency led him to Schneider, a source suggested by one of his professors, Robert Novack.
The company proved helpful to Scott, who noticed a photo of the Ride of Pride truck while exchanging emails. One thing led to another, and a company official offered to have Ceccacci swing by State College while returning from an Ohio trip.
“I said, ‘Well, I certainly wouldn’t turn down an opportunity to see that truck and thank Chuck for what he’s doing,’ ” Scott said. “What a gesture.”
Novack, a supply chain professor, expressed his gratitude when he met Ceccacci outside Smeal.
“Thank you so much,” Novack said. “This is an honor.”
Ceccacci said the company doesn’t use Ride of Pride trucks for hauling in their first years. Afterward, he said, only veterans are allowed behind the wheel.
To McDoniel, that policy is impressive.
“It really says a lot about Schneider,” he said. “Schneider has invested in seven rigs to basically show their support for the troops, their families and all those who have served.”
Ceccacci served in the Desert Storm campaign during his nine years of active duty, carrying on a family tradition. His father, an Army officer, fought in the Vietnam War, and his grandfather served in World War II and the Korean War.
But his year in the Ride of Pride truck has given him an even deeper appreciation for military service.
He drives for the living, for the Vietnam veteran in Green Bay, Wis., who, after seeing the truck, opened up about his war after decades of silence.
He rolls down the road for the little Minnesota girl who told him she couldn’t remember her slain father’s voice.
And he covers the miles for the dead, as he did during an 8-day convoy from Maine to Arlington National Cemetery, a different Gold Star Mother for a passenger each day.
“To hear those women talk about their boys, to the pain they felt when they were killed, I’ll never forget it,” Ceccacci said. “It’ll be with me forever.”
Chris Rosenblum can be reached at 231-4620. Follow him on Twitter@CRosenblumNews.