Today was the culmination of each rider’s efforts to plan, begin, endure, and complete the mission. The RFTW as a whole completed the first three of four routes to ride for those who can’t. The Sandbox Route begins tomorrow.
The Central, Midway, and Southern Route riders gathered together for a photo on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and then walked the short distance to the Wall (Vietnam Veterans Memorial). Casual conversation and typical rider banter transitioned into a heavy silence as the weight of the moment settled upon each of us as we descended toward the apex. What conversation that did exist was conducted in hushed tones or in whispers in solemn honor of the more than 58,000 who gave their lives in Vietnam. FNGs sought out someone they rode with to have their FNG pin turned upside down to bear witness that they completed the mission. Each rider had his or her own personal experience with the wall. Some took rubbings of the names of those they rode for, others left mementos, while still others remembered their own family members who laid down their lives for their country. All of these activities took place as dim reflections against the polished granite with the etched names of the fallen. I think it is fitting that one can not perfectly see their reflection in the Wall. Instead, everything that transpires at the Wall is witnessed through the lens of sacrifice. Sacrifice always has a name. At the Wall, sacrifice has 58,000.
It has been an honor to bring you this SitRep each day. I have done it for those who could not be with us, and in remembrance of all who have gone before us.
The day started under black, rain-laden skies. We rode for the first few hours in the rain through the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Gas was donated at all the stops today and lunch was provided at the New Market Civil War Battlefield by Honor Bound where we also honored a friend of the RFTW who no longer is with us. Our Route Coordinator, Tom, gave Lt Col Troy D. Marshall’s family a plaque in remembrance. We picked up an LEO escort at our Toms Brook fuel stop, who ushered us safely to Arlington and left us a few blocks from the Holiday Inn host hotel. Tonight is a night to relax and prepare mentally for what is to come.
The Wall is a powerful, imposing memorial to a band of brothers who far too often were shown disrespect instead of the honor they deserved for answering the call of service to their country. The parade across our great nation and our visit tomorrow to remember their brother’s sacrifices will change that. We respect you, we honor you. This run from Ontario to DC was for you and all of those who cannot ride.
There isn’t too much else to write about today except the joy we all felt at arriving in DC. The mission, to date, has been rigorous and challenging in many ways. Some of our days saw temperatures range from the forties up to the low one-hundreds. We rode through a brief sandstorm, planned around wildfires, and then again planned around a snowstorm. Riders not comfortable with riding side-by-side in close proximity to the bike in front of them are now the experts who will teach next year’s FNGs how to be comfortable doing so. We’ve developed relationships and now call each other sister, brother, and family. Tomorrow we complete the mission at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Typically, we arrive en masse at the host hotel and park in the top parking lot where photos are taken, hugs are shared, and people make plans for dinner and times to connect later in the evening. That was somewhat circumvented due to us arriving on the heels of the Southern Route. Our LEO escort moved our timetable up by an hour so instead of the Southern Route arriving, then moving to the bottom level parking, we were pushed to the bottom level and those who weren’t staying at the host hotel were asked to ride on to where they are staying. For me, this meant I missed getting both hugs and pictures after our arrival at the host hotel. The photos you see here taken after our arrival were provided by Jean Galt.
A quick note about the countless number of overpasses and people who came out to line roads to cheer us on. Thank you so much for supporting the mission and our Veterans. I cannot express just how much this meant to all of us. You gave each of our heroes the welcome home parade they deserve. The very last overpass we passed under on our way into DC that had supporters on it held two of my coworkers. Thanks, Ben and Randy for following along with the RFTW these past ten days and taking the time to come out in poor weather. The short video and media below of us on the road were captured by them.
Morning began under grey skies and rain in Nitro, WV where the huge hearts of this small town once again hosted us. Breakfast was served at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church where volunteers, including the Mayor, served biscuits and gravy alongside Tim Horton’s donuts. Lance, our Raffle Rouser got the morning going with our final fundraising efforts by essentially hosting a fire sale. Most everything he had to sell sold. Well done Lance!
As is done every morning Tom, our Route Coordinator, lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance and a Chaplain prayed for safety and clear skies. Platoons split out for safety briefings and then we were off to the West Virginia State Capitol. The circular drive in the center of the campus is opened each year allowing the RFTW to park at the steps of the Capitol building amongst the other buildings, monuments, and memorials. In years past, the Governor would speak to us and we’d take a group photo on the capitol steps. However, a local staffer told me the Governor has been out recently for Lyme Disease treatment. Instead, a brief ceremony was held near the combined WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam war memorials. The Chaplain’s prayer was answered and the rain stopped while we were at the Capitol allowing us a much safer ride to Rainelle.
As I mentioned in a previous SitRep, we ride a Missing Man formation on every leg of our journey. Today’s Missing Man on our leg from the Capitol in Charleston to the Rainelle Middle School is an RFTW family member. Ronnie Stone rode as a leader with the RFTW a number of times, most of them serving as a Tailgunner for 1st Platoon. In fact, Ronnie was one of my Tailgunners my FNG year in 2016. It was at this very Capitol in 2021 where I last saw Ronnie’s smile and felt his gentleness. Ronnie will be missed by many. Today we rode for Ronnie, just as he rode for the FNGs and the mission of the RFTW for so many years.
The route from Charleston to Rainelle is a wonderful twisty mountain ride along a river with scenic waterfalls (nope, we didn’t have time to stop) and verdant forest. The route isn’t as famous as The Tail of the Dragon, but the road is one of a few named roads in the US. Riders, if you didn’t know, you do now. You’ve just ridden The Talon. While riding The Talon is great, joyriding is not our mission. We ride for those who can’t and we stop in Rainelle because the first group of riders from whom the RFTW has grown stopped here on their first journey from San Diego to Washington DC. Passing over this stretch of highway is a means to an end.
The small town of Rainelle is an incredible patriotic town. When we arrive it is fully decked out in red, white, and blue for Memorial Day and the Fire Department flies massive USA and POW/MIA flags at the peak of their ladder truck’s extension. But the town is not what, or who, we’ve come to see. All of the fundraising in the form of platoon challenges, military branch of service challenges, raffles, and auctions are to raise money for Rainelle Middle School. The school utilizes the funds we provide for field trips, computers, and anything else that can help the children but isn’t available in the local budget. This year, the riders donated a total exceeding $25,500. When we arrived, townsfolk were out waving flags as we paraded through town and then went around a block to put our 400’ish bikes in line to stop right in front of the Middle School. As we passed the kids we heard them chanting “USA! USA! USA!” over the roar of our engines. What a great sound! Once we were parked on the street in front of the school, the melee began. Throngs of children interacted with riders to obtain autographs in booklets prepared especially for today. Riders knew this was coming so they prepared by securing gifts in the form of stickers, pens, pencils, snap bracelets, frisbees, little ducks, pop sockets, and all sorts of other things to leave behind as mementos of our visit. Once all of our gifts are handed out and we finish signing booklets the school provides a lunch. Today, it was Italian-themed and held in the school cafeteria. It was great seeing riders some many decades removed from a Middle School lunchroom sitting at the tables enjoying the moment.
There are many moments of patriotism on display each day that cause riders to well up with emotion. For this SitRep Writer, there were several. One was upon entry to the State Capitol when a US Marine Sergeant held his salute for all of us as we rode in but that isn’t all, a young man, who has been coming out to see us since he was a toddler was also there doing the same. That young man, if I have my notes straight, is now 19 years old. Thank you both for showing us such honor. The second was as we were passing along our route to Rainelle. There were countless people out waving flags or recording videos of us as we rode by. It was one of these groups all dressed in yellow shirts lined up perfectly spaced and one holding a US flag while all the others (I’m estimating them to be about 20 strong in number) were saluting. It was obvious they represented a local military-affiliated service organization but we were moving too fast for me to identify which one. There is a photo in the image gallery below of the group just after they stopped saluting. Maybe you’ll recognize yourselves or someone you know. The last moment was at the school with the students. The Principal, Kim Tincher, had her students lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance and then one of the classes sang the National Anthem. Hearing the wonderful voices of this school pledging allegiance to the flag in unison with the veterans, many of them combat veterans, who fought for the freedoms to make this day possible, had me welling with pride for our nation and the future of our children so much that I was hardly able to mumble out the words.
Before I wrap up this SitRep, I’d like to tell you a bit more about the Ambassador Team and circle back to the miracles I mentioned a day or two ago. The RFTW Ambassador Team rides out in front of the pack visiting people on overpasses and people who’ve stationed themselves along the sides of the roads we travel. We want to let those people know that we greatly appreciate them coming out to encourage us on our mission. But that isn’t all the Ambassadors do. They also visit schools and make donations on behalf of the Run For The Wall. Today, the team did just that. They visited two small schools on our route to Rainelle and conducted a flag folding ceremony at each. This ceremony is where the meaning of each fold of the flag is explained while two people fold a flag. The team also left a donation at each of the schools.
Now let me leave you with one of the many miracles we’ve seen. One of our riders had his bike loaded onto a chase truck due to a mechanical issue. He was rummaging in his saddlebags and gear before stepping off the trailer to get into the cab of the truck. What he didn’t realize until they stopped some 100 miles later after traveling through severe wind gusts was that he left his helmet sitting on the seat. I’ve personally set a helmet down on a seat in the smallest of breezes and had it blown off. Amazingly, the helmet was still on the seat when they stopped. Let me run that by you again. The helmet, which is round, was left sitting on a seat that also isn’t really flat, was still on the seat surviving centrifugal forces from the normal cornering and braking of the truck, and high wind gusts. It is by the grace of God that we travel safely across the country. It is not a coincidence that we have a group of chaplains all on their own motorcycles riding with us.
Carousel of images. Click to view.
Rainelle Middle School Singing the National Anthem
How is it possible that each day of the Run is as good as or maybe even seems a little better than its predecessors? Every day is amazing but I think the closer we get to Washington DC our collective perspectives have shifted so much that we experience each day through different lenses than when we first started in Ontario.
Our morning started under the shadow of rain clouds and drizzle, which faded away to glorious sunshine. Thank you Chaplains for praying for clear skies. The pack rolled out with excitement for the opportunity to return to Robly Rex VAMC in Lousiville. The homecoming we received after a two-year absence was incredible. The stalwart man of joy, Popcorn Billy, was there to greet us with hugs and smiles so big the sun had competition for which one of them shone the brightest to dispel the shadow of our two-year absence. One of our Staging Crew, Heather, is a nurse at Robley Rex. It was a pleasure for many of us to meet her coworkers who came out with a sign to show their support. The hospital’s Associate Director provided a formal welcome and one of the staff was spinning patriotic tunes as a backdrop for our conversations with those who came out to greet us. After the formalities were concluded we settled into meeting new staff and nurses, posing for photos, and reconnecting with people we’ve grown to know over the years the Central Route has stopped here. All of this was amazing and the riders felt a renewed connection to this hospital that is a shining example of what a VA Medical facility can look like when run with excellence. The most poignant moment came when the playlist that had been left running unattended while we visited played the National Anthem. All conversations stopped, then everyone, riders, and staff alike turned toward the source of the music and the flag that was flying nearby and saluted or held their hands over their hearts. The moment showed why the visits to Robley Rex are so special. Both riders and hospital staff share a kindred spirit of patriotism.
The pack departed Robley Rex with a send-off only rivaled by the preceding welcome bound for yet another donated gas stop and a visit to the Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Several FNGs expressed wonder at the sight and ingenuity of the sundial design. This memorial is one of a kind. Even for seasoned Central Route riders, there is a sense of awe when faced with the sundial that casts a shadow on the name of the fallen hero on the anniversary date of their loss of life. The hour allotted for the visit was too soon consumed and the pack departed for yes, you guessed it, another donated gas stop followed by lunch in Mt. Sterling at the Mt. Sterling Community Center.
The Mt Sterling reception of the riders was fabulous. The Mayor along with a significant number of volunteers served us food, which if I understand it correctly, was catered by a number of local restaurants who came together to provide the meal. Supporters handed out drinks, and first aid kits, and even came around to our tables to collect our trash. Such amazing joyous servanthood was on display. Thank you Mt. Sterling for the kindness and generosity bestowed upon our riders. We will add this stop to the other memories we carry to the Wall as we complete our mission.
After lunch, the pack rolled through a beautiful “lumpy” countryside chock full of verdant trees bound for Nitro, WV. When the pack was a few miles out we spotted a Huey helicopter with the US flag painted on the bottom on the horizon. The pilot flew the Huey over the pack leaving its mark on us with its shadow, then turned around and flew back over us before landing near where we were to park. What an incredible sight! Shortly after our arrival, there was a ceremony attended by Mrs. West Virginia who briefly addressed the riders, and a State Senator who did the same. There was also a bit of a surprise welcome by one of our riders who played the bagpipes for us. Amazing! Dinner was served in a local church, the CMA washed bikes and prayed for riders at the fire station, and gas cards were thrust into the hands of the riders so they could… yup, fill up again with donated gas! Thank you so much, Nitro. You blessed us with incredible kindness.
A day that started in the shadow of rain clouds filled with the beaming smile of Popcorn Billy and the staff at Robley Rex. We then experienced the wonder of the shadow of a sundial that honors the fallen with the passing of time and the shadow of a helicopter that welcomed us to our destination.
Not to diminish from this day but I want to also add as an addendum a recount of generosity and sacrifice that was expressed by a supporter in Junction City. The details of this event were sent to me via email by Kathy Hunter, one of our riders. Here is her account edited just a bit for brevity. I was asked to share with you a story that happened at City Cycles while we were in Junction City. I went in to buy new chaps because my belt had broken. There were very few chaps available so an employee volunteered to take mine to his home to repair since he had a leather sewing machine. He and his wife Brandy to the chaps repaired them and drove 25 miles back to our hotel. He is an Army Veteran and said he wanted no payment for his work. I of course thanked him and gave him money to cover gas and a beer. He and his wife later texted and said we could stay with them if we came through on our way back home. Wow, such kindness!
On a dark night far from the light pollution of cities, one can see a sky filled with an uncountable number of stars. These stars are beautiful to behold yet the light we see is not reality. It is from a past that influences our present. My day was about a different kind of star, the Gold Star of a family who has lost a loved one in battle. That past also influences the present as each Gold Star family will always remember their loss, and so shall we. We ride for those who can’t. We remember our Gold Star families.
The day was filled with ceremony and generosity spread across three communities. I’ll speak to those events to a degree but what I want to communicate to you today is the purpose of our Outreach Team, who I’ve taken to calling the “Green Sleeves”. The team wears the color green as it is representative of “hope”. The Green Sleeves ride out ahead of the pack with the charter to visit Gold Star families who live along our route. Their mission is vitally important and often emotional. The team, when possible, visits two families at one time. This is to build a connection between them so the families can support each other after the team has gone. When the team visits the family they do a couple of things. They present the family with a letter from the Run For The Wall, which states the following:
On behalf of the Run For The Wall riders, we would like to express sincere condolences for your loss and appreciation for your loved one’s service to their country. Lost but not forgotten. We consider it a great privilege to ride across our nation in support of all veterans and their families. Many of our riders are not veterans but choose to ride to show their patriotism and support those who have served and are now serving our country.
The Outreach Team also takes the time to listen to the Gold Star Family’s story, and they leave them with several mementos including a special RFTW Outreach pin, a Gold Star Family pin, a unique Hope bracelet made by an RFTW supporter, a ride pin, and this year also a PGR Pin as the current leader is a PGR State Captain. While today’s ride with the Outreach Team had no visits, they can sometimes be very busy. Even though we had no family visits, the ride had me thinking about the immense sacrifice each Gold Star Family has unwillingly made for our nation. It is a feeling those who haven’t walked in their shoes cannot understand so we do the one thing we can.. we honor them, respect, them, listen to them, and ride for their loved ones. Upon my arrival in Corydon, the lessons of my afternoon with the Green Sleeves were immediately tested as I encountered two Gold Star moms at the fairground’s dining area. The lessons of the afternoon caused me to not just notice them and be silent, they prompted me to acknowledge each mom with gratitude and honor. I’ve used the words “me”, and “I”, a lot in those last few sentences but the lesson and why we ride isn’t about me. It is about the Gold Star families we ride for, and their loved ones who cannot ride.
Our morning started in Wentzville Missouri, where the pack attended a brief ceremony at the first Vietnam Memorial in the US, which was followed by the dedication of a new mural placed on a nearby building. The Fire Department Color Guard presented the Colors and the Wentzville Holt High School band played the National Anthem. I spoke to the band director who said they have been coming out to play at this event since at least the year 2000 and maybe longer. He pinpointed the year 2000 because that is when he first started coming to the ceremony himself when he was eight years old!
We departed Wentzville for Mount Vernon where we were received by an overflight of a medivac helicopter, a throng of children holding flags, and a town that turned out en masse to welcome us home. At our gas stop, children with backpacks filled with water and bags filled with lollipops walked among our bikes offering us quick refreshment. We were doing what we call a “gas and go”. We were at the gas station and staging area just long enough for every bike to fill up. Thus we were tethered to our bikes knowing the pack would leave at any moment. Thank you for coming to us to bring us water and a wee bit of sugar. After the gas and go the fire department escorted us to the local airport where we were fed an abundance of fried chicken as students passed among us carrying water, soda, and even refills of some of the side dishes. The service was amazing. I asked one adult volunteer if she could pinpoint the number of volunteers they had helping host us. She put the number as “exceeding 200”. Wow! That is a huge turnout. Thank you so much for investing in us as we fulfill our mission. After the meal, there was a brief ceremony and a large sendoff featuring a Huey helicopter flying a massive flag.
With full bellies and full hearts, the riders departed for Corydon Indiana knowing dinner would be fried catfish. Corydon never disappoints with amazing hospitality and fried catfish that is worth waiting for in a line of riders of any length. I understand the volunteers who provided the meal arrived at 10:00 am that morning to make it a reality. Thank you for a long day of service. On a personal note, my wife and son registered here as FNGs!
I’m going to leave you with one last item. It is a story somewhat related to the Outreach Team (Green Sleeves, if I say it enough, maybe it will stick) and their mission to recognize Gold Star families. The story comes to us from Dan Koster, who was the SitRep Writer my FNG year. The Green Sleeves conducted a special presentation during our ride to Williams to the family of Trenton Rhea and Dan Koster met with Travis Rhea, Trenton’s brother the evening of the first day of the Run. Dan sent this to me via text message about the experience: WHAT AN INCREDIBLE YOUNG MAN! [Kay and I] met with Tavis Rhea. Travis’s twin brother Trenton was KIA in Afghanistan in 2013. We have become good friends with Trenton and Travis’s father Marshall Rhae from Oakley KS. Marshall called me about a month ago to tell me Travis lives close to Williams, AZ. We made arrangements to meet him at the American Legion, which always serves the RFTW riders an incredible barbeque dinner. After meeting with Travis for more than two hours we came away with not only a real understanding of what a hero his twin brother Trenton was but what an incredible young man Travis is. Travis told us that Trenton wanted to be a soldier from the time they were five years old. We came away with deep gratitude for their family values and great love of the United States of America.
Today was another great day on the RFTW. We rode in front of a storm the entire day, keeping dry and out of harm’s way. This is but one of the many miracles that happen on the Run. I’ll tell you of a couple more that have happened in the days to come.
I rode out with our Ambassador Team to visit folks on overpasses supporting our riders. It was a new perspective for me to see how these great men and women become the face of the RFTW by greeting and acknowledging the time and effort so many people put into setting up flags and banners, then waiting for us to pass by. They sometimes spend an hour or more in miserable weather all for a few minutes of supporting us. What those supporters may not realize is that what they do gives us more drive and commitment to complete the mission. Ambassadors range out about 30 minutes ahead of the main pack. When they see a bridge lined with supporters they “drop off” a couple of their team to the bridge to thank the supporters and hand them ride pins. Sonia, one of the Ambassador team leads, told me that one of the people she spoke to earlier on this Run was so grateful that she stopped. He had been coming out to cheer on our riders for more than a decade and in that period not one person had stopped. This is also why we ride. We acknowledge those who sacrifice to support us, just as our servicemen and women sacrificed to make it possible.
For lunch, we went into Concordia, MO where Lori Wilson and her team welcomed us with open arms. Lunch was, as always amazing. As we enjoyed our food, kids from the community gave us care packages. Each package contained a button made by the children along with a pre-addressed envelope for us to use upon our return home. Their hope is to receive a number of these envelopes stuffed with details about the riders, their RFTW experience, and where they are from. The older kids organized groups to clean up the park where we met, volunteered to move tables, and helped with clean-up as well. After acknowledgments of those who contributed to make lunch a reality, one of the most amazing moments of the day occurred. Lori invited everyone to join in singing the National Anthem. Wow, so many voices, so many patriots putting their heart into our National Anthem.
Our final stop was in Wentzville, the home of the first Vietnam Memorial in the US. The massive US Flag that we ride under is astounding and brings me to tears every time I see it. The local service organizations put on a fantastic ceremony where we honor both riders and local heroes such as Lance Corporal Schmitz, who was lost in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan during the abrupt withdrawal in August of 2021. Dinner was steak and potatoes with all the trimmings. Thank you, Wentzville for another great visit.
Special thanks to Mama G for helping with today’s SitRep. I was absent for the stop in Concordia.
Today was the longest day so far for the Central Route. Breakfast and Raffle Rousing started early at 5:30 am and dinner hosted at the Eagles in Junction City, Kansas didn’t get rolling until about 7:30 pm. Your riders and this SitRep Writer are tired and dreams of tomorrow and memories of today are fighting for the attention of minds that long for sleep.
I’ve entitled this post Generations not out of any real creative means for a writing prompt but to rather simply speak to the number of families with whom I’m traveling and one amazing family with whom several of us riders became enamored during our lunch stop in Oakley. My family is represented by three generations fulfilling the RFTW mission and several other families have grandparents traveling with grandchildren or siblings traveling with their kids (aunts, uncles, and nieces). Still, more families will grow in representation as we move East. The Gilman’s come to mind. They ride as a family for Frederick Gilman, KIA 16 March 1970. But the family who stirred my mind to think about the flesh and bone families on the run is the Kuhlman family.
The Kuhlman family lives on the street opposite Memorial Park where the great town of Oakley hosted us for lunch with the help of several service organizations. It was my lucky day as it was my bike that blocked their driveway making the Kuhlman’s walk part of the way home from church. After dismounting my bike, I struck up a conversation and discovered that three Veterans reside there and four generations of the family were there to greet us. One of those veterans was 97-year-old Mildred Kuhlman, a WWII Nurse. I’m told she rarely comes outside, and she wasn’t when we arrived. But, with a bit of coaxing her son was able to bring her out to meet many of us right there in her driveway. Mildred has a twinkle in her eye that not only draws you in but also communicates that she knows full well what our mission is about. I didn’t ask her about her service for we know that The Greatest Generation sacrificed much and at 97 she deserves to be free from reliving those horrors. It was an honor to sit next to Mildred and speak for a few minutes. She allowed a few of us to give her a hug and we pressed ride coins into several of the family’s hands. I’m grateful for the generations of Kuhlman’s and families like them across our great nation that are sowing seeds that mature into generations of patriots.
Pictured from the Kuhlman family are Mildred Kuhlman, Ron Kuhlman, Raye Kuhlman (both Ron and Ray are Veterans), Braxton, Becky, and Bowen Stramel, grandchildren to Ron and Raye, and great-grandchildren to Mildred. Not pictured was Ron and Raye’s daughter whose name I didn’t capture. Rounding out the photo is a father-son duo who are completing the run and myself.
One of the things I love the most about the Run For The Wall is that we really do think of each other as family. That family is comprised of brothers and sisters with a common history of military service or deep respect and support of veterans. While completing the mission together our hearts are knit together and our family grows beyond the traditional nuclear family with whom we came to the run. By giving of ourselves to join in something that is much bigger than anything we could achieve or become on our own, we become part of the current generation of the Run For The Wall who will shepherd it for generations to come.
None of this could be possible without the support of hundreds of people who donate fuel, feed us, and support the mission. Today we started in Limon Colorado and finished our day in Junction City Kansas. As mentioned above we stopped in Oakley Kansas for lunch. Volunteers in Limon were up at 3:30 am to prepare us a biscuits and gravy breakfast. In Oakley, we were given bbq beef sandwiches, and in Junction City, we were served Chicken Fried Steak. Thank you to everyone who prepared and served food or set up chairs, or did any number of other supporting tasks to make it possible for us to continue the mission.
When thinking of generations, we always remember those who’ve gone before us. Today, the RFTW visited three memorials. In Oakley, we lunched in Memorial Park, which was recently renamed from Clark Park. While there, a new installation to the park’s memorials was unveiled. Braden Gormley took a bit more than a year to design the new memorial and then poured one month of labor into its creation. A subset of the Central Route did a breakout (left the main pack for a side destination) to a memorial in Wakeeney where they found a peaceful, serene, memorial to the five branches of service. And, in Junction City, the entirety of the Central Route visited the Kansas Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Heritage Park where a ceremony was held, which honored the RFTW as well as many who were in attendance.
We speak to the new generation (FNGs) joining the run about the countless supporters that line overpasses to spur us on as we cross the country. Today there were too many overpasses with patriots waving to count. People with banners, flags, and signs all showing their support for the riders and our nation. And as a fitting closing chapter to the day-long support of people at gas stations, people on overpasses, and people on the city streets across which we traveled is the 300 or more people lining the street with US flags as we approach and enter Heritage Park. There is nothing quite like it. It leaves my throat lumpy, my eyes watery, and my skin goose bumpy even remembering it. Thank you to all who have welcomed home the generations of our RFTW family.
Not to be missed today was that every one of our gas stops was donated. Amazing. Thank you so much. Also, very much worth noting is that we paraded through Russell Kansas in honor of the late Bob Dole, US Senator, Presidential Candidate, and US Army Captain who served during WWII until he was severely wounded.
Pictured in the gallery below are the memorials in Wakeeney and Junction City as well as various photos captured throughout the day.
When we were children I think we all pretty much looked forward to snow days. I remember one from somewhere around my kindergarten or first-grade year. Frankly, I remember very little from that period of my life. We had nap time at school on mats printed to look like dollar bills, making mud pies under a tree, turning too tightly on a bicycle causing a handlebar to go into my eye cutting the inside of my eyelid, and an epic snow day! I was pretty short, so it may not have been that epic, but for me it was awesome. The snow that fell that year in Lancaster California was deep enough that my dad made pathways through the snow resulting in the snow on either side of the pathways being higher than my head. It was so cool!
Thankfully, the snow that caused our route to detour to a more direct route from Raton, NM to Limon, CO wasn’t higher than that young boy’s head, at least not by the time we hit the road. This morning was amazing. Our plan was to receive donated gas between 8:10 and 8:40 then have our rider check-in and briefings with departure around 10:00 AM to a lunch provided to us in Pueblo, CO. None of that happened. The entire region was hit with what I think was an unusual May snowstorm. A friend of mine who lives twenty minutes outside of Pueblo related that power had been out for five hours and that they had a good amount of snow on the ground. At my hotel check-in tonight in Limon, CO the kind woman at the front desk indicated they had 15 inches at her home.
Our leadership and those that support them rallied in a phenomenal way. Fred, an FNG, spoke with me about it at dinner tonight. I’m not going to quote him because my memory isn’t that of the young boy earlier described, but this was his sentiment. You know a leadership group is performing really well when you can only see the positive results of their efforts, not the efforts themselves.
Riders, drank coffee, prepared their bikes, donned rain gear, and swapped stories to pass the morning until the revised staging time of 11:00 AM. I was surprised not to see spontaneous games of Hearts or Spades from our mostly Veteran cohort but that didn’t materialize. To pass the time, I found Sage Coffee, a local coffee shop where I enjoyed a hot mocha and chatted a bit with the really nice people there. In my short time at the unexpected overnight stop in Raton, I came to realize that the town has a lot of heart. Thank you, Raton for welcoming the Run For The Wall as we adapted to both fire and snow.
After a unique morning briefing held alongside a Raton Fire Truck while using its speaker as a PA system, the pack set off to La Junta for a very unique fueling experience. I can’t state this with certainty but I suspect this fueling station was the smallest the Run has utilized in a time period that is likely measured in decades. The Loves Travel Stop in La Junta with a bit of spill over into the Pizza Hut next door, hosted us for fuel and staging. From there the second leg saw the Central Route arrive in Limon. It was a short ride of about four hours with just one stop.
Dinner in Limon was provided by the Chamber of Commerce and hosted in the gym of Limon High School. The kind smiles and warm food were the perfect remedies for our cold and shivering riders. Temperatures were in the 40’s for the entire ride. According to the weather.gov website, at a temperature of 45 degrees and having wind at 60mph, the wind chill feels like 31.9 degrees on your skin. Brrrrr! Besides dinner, the Chamber gave us t-shirts emblazoned with the RFTW logo, the “We ride for those who can’t” mission tag line, and Limon Colorado 2022. It is a great souvenir from a town that clearly loves to host us.
During our dinner, where the tables were covered with red, white, and blue tablecloths (my wife would be proud that I noticed) Charlie, from the Chamber of Commerce introduced a hero from WWII. Ninety-seven-year-old Don Morrison is a local businessman who flew 17 missions over Nazi-occupied territory. The entirety of the room gave Don a well-deserved standing ovation. Every Veteran deserves honor and respect, but there is a reason we call our WWII heroes “the greatest generation”. Countless men volunteered to go to war on a global scale to preserve freedom for millions. Thank you Don for answering the call.
After quickly fueling in La Junta, I rode ahead of the pack to Limon where I had the fortune to meet a small group of Patriot Guard Riders. These amazing people drove from Colorado Springs to Limon to complete their mission! Our route change caused their mission of greeting us in Fountain (not terribly far from Colorado Springs) to cancel so they issued themselves their own FRAG Order and came out to Limon. We had a great time talking with these amazing patriots as we awaited the arrival of the pack.
Today was everything I expect from the Run For The Wall. We had the opportunity to honor the Veterans riding among us and also honor the veterans and families who host us. RFTW leadership excelled at what they do so well, safely hosting a parade across the country for those who never received the one they were due, and while we weren’t focusing on proper distancing from the bike in front of us, we saw some amazingly beautiful skies and countryside dotted by quaint patriotic towns and cities. A biker couldn’t ask for a better day in the saddle.
There is one more thing I’d like to add to close out this SitRep. Each morning we are holding a drawing in which only our veterans may participate. The wife of Ron Seldon, a Vietnam Veteran who has spent many years taking his vacation time to go to Vietnam in search of the remains of missing soldiers was donated $2400 by the Run For The Wall. Ron passed away executing the mission of the RFTW some years back. Ron’s wife wouldn’t accept the money. Instead, she asked that it be given to riders to defray their lodging expenses as they complete the RFTW mission. So, each morning we are holding a drawing that awards a Veteran riding with us some of the money that Don Seldon’s wife so graciously sewed back into the RFTW.
Click the image to open a carousel of photos you can click through
I’d like to start today’s SitRep with an inside tip. Do not ever accept a bag of XXTRA Flamin’ Hot Crunchy Cheetos from the Hydration Team. I was handed an 8oz bag of this demon snack at our first stop and just had my first taste. I’m thinking they may be better used as ice melt come tomorrow than eaten tonight. The forecast is showing a mix of rain and snow tomorrow morning in Raton, where we are spending the night, and snow starting at 1:00 am through 11:00 am in our lunch city of Pueblo. Maybe if we seed the snow clouds with XXTRA Flamin’ Hot Crunchy Cheetos we can warm things up a bit.
This morning started in Gallup as normal with the Staging Team and the Road Guards arriving in the still-dark morning to prepare for the arrival of the riders. Everything was going as planned until a wrench fell into the cog of the well-tuned RFTW machine. Wrenches have a way of doing that but no dropped wrench is going to deter us from our mission. As always, Leadership remained flexible and solved the issue but it preempted much of our Raffle Rouser’s time to complete auctions and to raise money for Rainelle. I’m sure he too will adjust to achieve his goals.
The biggest show of flexibility to meet and resolve a problem, came in response to a wildfire. Day three of the Central Route is usually spent traveling to one of our favorite locations, the Angel Fire Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park. Unfortunately, New Mexico has been battling fires since April. With fires in proximity to Angel Fire and Eagle Nest, taking the Central Route’s riders through that area became impossible causing Central Route Leadership to quickly make alternative plans. Ok, new plan… divert riders around the areas impacted by wildfires, now how and where do we feed them, bunk them down for the night, and where do we fill up several hundred bikes with gas? The NM State Coordinator stepped up to the challenge. Our day went brilliantly yet still had some “Gumby” required. We traveled to our first gas stop where we were met by a contingent of motorcycle LEOs who lead us through Albuquerque by shutting down traffic on the interstate to both expedite our passage through town and to ensure our safety. Even the incredibly precise and coordinated movements of the LEOs didn’t go quite up to plan when we followed them down an off-ramp instead of continuing on the freeway when they’d completed their escort. I was impressed with how they reacted in an instant to block traffic at the off ramp’s intersection allowing us unimpeded access up the opposite on-ramp to quickly get back on our way.
Lunch was provided by the Black Mesa Casino. On short notice, they pulled together sandwiches, chips, and drinks then served it to us at tables set up in a theatre. Similarly, on short notice, an amazing BBQ dinner of elk burgers, elk brats, and beef burgers awaited our arrival at the Raton Aquatic Center. There, a number of volunteers manned the grill and kitchen to feed us some really fantastic food. Neither Raton nor Black Mesa expected to support us just a short while ago but flexed last minute to do so today. Thank you!
I spent the afternoon traveling with the Staging Team. This team is responsible for making sense of the mayhem that is several hundred motorcycles trying to find parking in such a way that they can hit the road safely organized. Every day, several times a day, the Staging Team helps riders find their platoons and helps them park aligned in a manner that facilitates a group departure to the next stop. No parking lot is the same so how they fit us all into the space they have available is never the same. Add to this layout and traffic management problem, the need to stage bikes in places the Run has never visited and you have a major need to be flexible. A huge shout out to the Staging Team and its leadership for flawlessly executing your mission. At one of our stops, I saw the Staging Team leader get the lay of the land and start writing platoon numbers on the pavement with chalk all within about 60 seconds of arrival at a location he’d never been to. Steve would say that their success lies with the team who steps up every time. I do agree but only partially. The team cannot execute if they do not have and understand the plan and that plan comes from Steve. Here’s a tip of the cap, which somehow stayed atop my head in today’s wind, to you all. Click this image this link to see a short clip of staging in action.
Speaking of wind… If any of you are armchair meteorologists, I’d like to know how the wind could be blowing from the South to the North as we were headed East and then be blowing as equally hard from East to West when we were headed North. The wind was relentless. I spoke with one rider who said his right shoulder was sore from pushing his bike into the wind to keep it upright. Wind and desert do not mix well with motorcycles. Several tumble weeds met their fate upon the crash guards of my motorcycle. We rode through a dust storm and through tumbleweeds all the while riding straight but constantly pushing down on our handlebars as if to turn right.
Why did we “turn right” all day into the wind? Why do we do what we do and why do supporters spring into action at the last minute to provide us with a meal? It is because of our mission. One person who knew that mission well was Rupert “Preacher” Harrell. I didn’t know Preacher personally, but I’ve been prayed for by him while on the Run. Rupert was to be our Senior Chaplain this year. Instead, he was honored as the Missing Man all day today. I heard this story about him this morning. Rupert once saved a man twice. The first was when he pulled that man, pinned down under enemy fire into a helicopter while serving in Vietnam. The second was when he lead that same man to Jesus Christ. I can think of no better legacy to be said about a man.
I don’t think I’m going to find the most appropriate words to describe today’s events to you, but I’m going to give it my best. The morning started in Williams Arizona on historic Route 66 where breakfast and snacks for the road were provided by very generous supporters of the RFTW. The effort it takes to procure, prepare, and serve what is so graciously given to the riders is significant. Thank you for honoring us with your sacrifice of service and resources.
One of the routine events in a rider’s day is the morning meeting. Every morning we kick things off with raffles, 50-50 drawings, military branch challenge donation collections, and auctions. Each of these are fundraisers that culminate in a donation to the Rainelle Elementary School on our 9th day of the Run. I’ll write more about Rainelle in a future SitRep. Following the fundraising, we pledge allegiance to the US Flag, the lead Chaplain prays for the day ahead, then we honor Gold Star families, Silver Star families, POW/MIA families, FNG’s, and several KIA’s. For the KIAs a bio is read and an FNG selected to carry that bio to the Wall. Each one, remembered, honored by the riders of the Run, but more specifically by the individual tasked with the honor of carrying that KIA’s memory to the Wall.
Today’s route saw us travel from Williams AZ to Gallup NM. We stopped for fuel in Winslow after parading through town, then rolled on to Holbrook for lunch. As we entered town we were lead in a parade past every school, and I mean every school where every student lined the street holding flags, waving signs, clapping, waving, and yelling, “thank you”. The honor these students and their teachers showed to complete strangers, veterans, riders, was overwhelming. I wear foam lined glasses when riding so wind, rain, and sand don’t get in my eyes. I had to lift them off my face to let the “rain” run down my cheeks instead of pooling in my glasses. Thank you Holbrook for raising the next generation to honor others. It is an enormous testimony to the character of your people.
One of the most important ways we honor others is through the Missing Man Formation. Every mile of every day we ride for a missing man at the front of our line of riders. The formation consists of two riders followed by just one who is in turn followed by two. The space next to the one rider in the middle is left for the “missing man” and the person riding next to the missing man is the missing man escort. Every leg, we ride for someone different. I’d like to tell you about one of the riders who rode as an escort today. Tom is an FNG from Washington State. He rode in honor of his father, Sheldon Grover, Field Musician First Class USMC, who served as an antiaircraft gunner onboard a ship during the campaign for Okinawa. I am unsure of what Tom was feeling before he started his missing man escort, but looking at him I could see he was experiencing many emotions and thoughts and that his ride might not be easy. When his escort was completed I asked him how it went. Part of his response was, that “it became easier the closer we rode to its completion.” Riding as the missing man escort can be quite difficult. Thank you to those who have and will fulfill this role during our run to DC. We honor you and are all behind you, literally, spurring you on to the completion of your mission.
I’d like to take a moment to honor Tom and any veteran like him who felt shamed upon returning from war. Tom is a Vietnam Veteran who gave me permission to relate this portion of his personal story. After successfully fulfilling his honorable duty in Vietnam he returned home. Upon landing, the reception he felt in the airport left him feeling so ashamed that he went into a bathroom, changed into civilian clothes out of his dress uniform, and left it behind. Tom, the days of shame are long past. We honor your service. You and your brothers had your well-deserved parade today in Holbrook and will have several more before our mission is complete.
Lunch in Holbrook was wonderful. The American Legion Navajo Post 37 hosted us with as much enthusiasm as was shown by the students who welcomed us into town. While we ate, we were treated to several different Native dances. I am uncertain of their ages, but most were rather young compared to their audience. One in particular was quite young and stole the hearts of those I was sitting with (sadly I only captured blurry photos). The National Anthem was performed by Isabella Moyte who was met with a roar of approval from the room when she finished. Each of these performances were gifts of honor to the riders. The Native dances all have significant meaning, and the National Anthem was sung in Honor of our nation.
We left Holbrook bound for Gallup, NM where I greatly anticipated our time at Red Rock Park and the three mile’ish parade we ride through town. While not the throng of people we usually encounter on the parade through town, we were met with a good number of patriots who waved flags and cheered our arrival. This is significant. Gallup, NM and the Navajo people were especially impacted by COVID. To see the city rebounding and people starting to get back to a generally normal way of life is very encouraging. The culmination of our parade through town was our arrival at Red Rock Park. The street was lined was flags on both sides ushering us through the history of warriors past who sacrificed for our great nation into a ceremony of honor presented by representatives of several First Nations (Navajo, Comanche, Osage, Cheyenne, and descendants of the Modoc tribe from NE California).
Arrival at Red Rock Park
The Head Singer (Paul Bemore), drummers, and other singers along with the Head Gourd Dancer (Travis King) lead our riders and members of their tribes in several songs/dances. The one that I found to be most significant was the song/dance that brought in the flags. The Master of Ceremony (Ramona Yazzie) said that First Nations have over 500 flags. A combined color guard of sorts was created by having a number of people from all of the groups represented carry in a large number of flags. The flag ceremony and the song that went with it honors RFTW veterans as warriors. Let that sink in. People rich in heritage, who now live and fight under the flag of the United States yet remember their own sovereign history, choose to honor our veterans as highly as they honor their own warriors. This moment is not just an extremely memorable stop on the Run For The Wall, it is an exchange of kindred spirit olive branches that renews each time these songs are sung and the ceremony is completed.
As the ceremony started I approached a gentleman in what I probably am ignorantly calling “costume”. [edit: a reader tells me this is called regalia.] I fear that completely under represents the significance of what he was wearing. I do know the feathers and other adornments have deep meaning, so I apologize for my lack of knowing the correct terminology. I introduced myself and asked for basic information such as what does this ceremony represent, who organized it, what Nations are represented here today, and so on. T.J. Anderson introduced himself, answered my questions, and then introduced me to several of the elders who were present. Thank you T.J. I was honored that you’d take the time to introduce me to the elders who were present.
I’d like to leave you with an additional image, provided I can paint it with words well enough to convey its importance. One of the elders had spent the previous night in the hospital. He’d been released just that morning yet he was present at the event in a motorized chair. When the flags were presented during the flag ceremony, he found the strength of will to stand. While so many wish to degrade the notion of sovereignty and the flags that represent individual nations, this man fought through his difficulty to stand and give honor to the US Flag and the other flags flying with her.
I’ve entitled this post “Honor” and I’ve used the term many times. My hope is that I have conveyed that we daily receive and can choose to give honor to others while on the Run. It is part of what makes experiencing and participating in this mission so special. My prayer for each of you reading this is that you’d fully receive the honor given to you. You are worthy of it. If you are a veteran, we honor your sacrifice, please reach out if you need help. If you are a supporter, we honor you as well. Thank you for supporting the Run For The Wall. If you fall into a different category, we’d like to honor you as well. Come join the RFTW family by finding a way to support the mission.