In August of 2021 while attending a Poker Run supporting the E.O.D. Warriors I met a very cheerful lady named Mary “Cupcake” Pittman. Her riding vest was adorned with Run for the Wall patches and she was talking about how much fun the ride is. My first thought of her was, man, she needs to cut down on the caffeine, she had so much energy. I later found out that’s just the way she is. I like her already. So, ok, I’m intrigued and say ‘tell me more’. While listening to her I learned about what RFTW is and how it helps bring veterans together with a genuinely worthy cause. Healing of the mind and soul and riding for those who can’t. So, I started doing my homework finding out as much as I could about the ride and joined the RFTW page on Facebook. What’s the route I want to take (there are 3 that leave Ontario), how much is it going to cost for hotels/gas/food, what would I need to take. Got that all taken care of, now I had to convince the wife. Well, that was easy enough. She said “when do WE leave”.
On December 13th, we were registered. As I read more on FB and the RFTW website about the ride, I’m getting more and more anxious. My wife is getting into it as well but keeps telling me to stop with the “Is it May yet” (that’s the first thing I say, EVERYDAY). I’ve been keeping contact with Cupcake and she’s going to do a presentation (pre-orientation) about the ride to a group of FNG’s. Wait, what? FNG’s? I haven’t heard that since I was active duty. I’m assured that it means Fine New Guy/Gal (but we all know the truth). There was a lot of really good gouge. Some of it is common sense, but there were a few items even I wrote down (I already started a packing list). I had small change ($1’s, $5’s, $10’s) on my list for gas, then Cupcake dropped a bomb on me. Have the money on hand but some of the gas stops might be donated. She also mentioned that it was a good idea to contact the Missing Man Formation (MMF) Coordinator to secure a position in the MMF and the Honor Guard Coordinator to get a leg to carry the Flag to the Wall, which I promptly did. I secured a leg for both my wife and I to ride in the MMF and to carry the Flag to the Wall.
And then, BAM!!!!! It’s Finally May! Since we made the decision to go on this ride I’ve been asking at my VFW of past members or family of members who were POW/MIA/KIA. I’ve got a list of five that will be riding with me.
My pool table has turned into a staging area. Santa might have a list and check it twice, but my checklist has been checked, double checked, and triple checked just to make sure I didn’t forget anything.
May 17, Day 0: ‘Twas finally the day before RFTW and not much sleep last night. Mentally going thru my checklist. Did I pack everything? – check. Bikes are serviced – check. Gas is topped off – check. 0500 time to get up and get going. One last look at my checklist, got everything. We fire up the bikes and hit the road for a hour and a half hour ride to Ontario. We had it easy as there are some that are riding to Ontario from the east coast just to be able to go All The Way. The first song on the radio I hear was “The Heat Is On” by Glenn Frey and the second was (Highway to the) “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins, how fitting.
At 0800 we rolled into the parking lot at the host hotel to get checked in for the ride. I had barely turned off my bike when I was given my first Welcome Home and a hug. Inside we get a coffee, meet up with Cupcake, and are introduced to the Midway Route Coordinator (RC) Ken “Six Strings” Dugas. He’s a real nice guy, but then again, everyone I’ve met has been real nice. I had so many Welcome Home’s & hugs from complete strangers that are going to be my family for the next 10 days. We are all checked in for the ride. Wrist band proudly affixed to the left wrist & platoon assignment sticker attached to the bike. We have a little time so we stopped by the merchandise trailer and purchased some T-shirts, stickers, and patches.
1100: Time for the Midway route FNG meeting. We were introduced to the leadership and a lot of good info was passed out. Hand signals were covered (some change depending on the group you’re riding with but that’s normal), and informed that the gas stop tomorrow morning is $20. Around 1200 we head to lunch with some other FNG’s and people we just met and then off to get checked into the hotel.
1430: Time for the mandatory All Hands Meeting. Luckily, it’s right across the parking lot. When we get there we get to stage with our platoon for the first time. These guys know what they’re doing. Now I understand why we were told to follow the directions from the blue hats (stagers), they’ve done this a million times. After the All Hands meeting we broke off with the RC for his speech then we meet up with the 8th Platoon Leader (PL) Virginia “Cherry Girl” St. Andre and are introduced to our platoon. Around 1630 we break for the day. The last thing we’re told is to get plenty of sleep. Yeah, right! Like that’s gonna happen.
May 18, Day 1, 0500: It’s finally here. The day we’ve been waiting for. Up and ready. The bikes are packed up and we’re off to the staging area. We stage and meet up with our platoon, then grab some coffee and breakfast (assemble your own breakfast burrito’s) which is provided and served up by volunteers. There’s no charge but I don’t believe in that. Nothings free, someone paid for it. Where’s the tip jar, donation made, now I can eat. 0645 Mandatory all hands meeting. There was a lot going on. Intro’s of past/current Board of Directors, presentation of letters & plaques to all those involved to get us going, awards, presentation of the colors, and a speech by Gunny Gregory (founder of RFTW). We were supposed to have a military fly-over but it was overcast so that didn’t happen. Not long after we hear 1 horn blast. That’s the 10 minute warning before we are KSU. Time to get to the bikes and gear up. Engines are coming alive. The rumble of Harley’s, Indian’s, Honda’s, and yes even Can-Am Spyders is music to my ears.
Then 2 horn blasts for the 5 minute warning (which is more like 2-3 minutes). This is it. IT JUST GOT REAL! It’s time to roll. As we leave Ontario we have a Police Escort. It’s nice to roll thru stop signs and red lights on our way to the freeway.
Our first leg is 128 miles to Ludlow, CA. I rode in 4th position with the wife in 5th and the tailgunner behind her. While riding we’re keeping the bike spacing tight. You can imagine that 288 motorcycles makes a large footprint on the road so keeping it tight helps keep us together and makes it not as much of a negative impact to the cars on the road. Not an easy task when riding with people for the first time. There were a lot of hand signals for “tighten it up”. When we get to the gas station I understand why this is called “Coordinated Chaos”. We follow the fuel team directions. They flag you into a lane to fuel up. The 2-wheelers are up front fueling side-by-side. When one bike is filled they pass the nozzle to the next bike, move up the filled bike and pull another in his spot, then repeat the process. They got over 200 bikes thru the gas pumps in less than 20 minutes. It’s hard to put 3-4 cars thru the pumps in that time.
After we fuel we have a few minutes break then we’re off to Yucca, AZ (130 miles) and it’s getting hot (a mild 105 degrees). This is a Gas-n-Go stop so no break. As we pull up to the pumps I ask how much money for this stop and they inform me this is a donated stop. I owe someone or some organization a lot of gratitude. After all the bikes are fueled we’re off for Kingman, AZ (30 miles) for lunch (Sliders) at Mother Road Harley Davidson. Lunch is provided and served by volunteers with no charge. Remember what I said about nothings free, where’s the tip jar. After lunch we headed back to the bikes to gear up. After 1st & 2nd horns we we’re off for Seligman, AZ (70 miles) for our next fuel stop, which is also a donated stop. I forgot to mention, not only are the fuel team (yellow hats) very proficient getting us thru the pumps, the staging team (blue hats) are top notch as well. They get us back in riding formation with the precision of a well oiled machine. After a 45 minute break (includes fueling time) and a LEO escort we’re off to Flagstaff, AZ (77 miles)(435 miles for the day) where we had dinner at the VFW. Throughout the day there were a lot of overpasses that were lined up with flags and people cheering us on.
During dinner (Sloppy Joe’s/beans/chips) there were awards given to the VFW to show our appreciation. Six Strings informed us that the gas stops for tomorrow have all been donated. Then it’s off to top off the gas, take a shower and (TRY) to get some sleep.
May 19, Day 2, 0430: Time to get dressed and find a coffee pot. I’m hearing a lot of engines rumbling. The Ambassadors and Road guards must be staying at our hotel. They’re the only ones crazy enough to be up at this hour. We head to staging where my wife (Siren) heads to the Missing Man Formation (MMF) and I head to platoon 8.
0600 mandatory rider meeting. Six Strings gives us the daily gouge and safety brief, got updates on Central & Southern routes, then the Bio of a person who’s name that is on the wall is read. An FNG is asked to carry that Bio to the wall to place it and say their name. We will be doing this each morning. Then all of the FNG’s are asked to come up front. We are given a group Welcome Home and hugs all around. All of the POW’s, Vietnam Veterans, Purple Hearts, Gold and Blue Star families, and active duty & veterans are identified. We had a few raffle items then the 50/50 raffle. Then there is the lost & found where for a small donation ($5) you can get some of your lost/found items back.
0700, We’re off to Holbrook, AZ (100 miles) for our first fuel stop. With Siren up in the MMF I get time to ride with the group without her. Tomorrow I will start the day off in the MMF. I should mention that on our fuel stops the Mission 25 (M25) Ministry trucks do a great job bringing water and Gatorade (and snacks) to keep us hydrated during the ride. We hear a lot of preaching of hydrate-hydrate-hydrate, water-water-electrolyte’s. It’s a proven fact that if you don’t you WILL tap out.
Next, we’re off for Jamestown, NM (110 miles) for fuel and a break/hydrate. After that, we were off to Milan, NM (41 miles) for lunch at the Milan Elementary School. The kids were lined up on the sidewalks as we rode in, hearing them chant “USA, USA, USA” waving American flags to greet us.
It was inspiring to see the children being so patriotic. Before lunch there was a performance by them showing their patriotism then an awards ceremony where Six Strings got them chanting “USA, USA, USA” again. I wish this had been recorded, so many Adults could learn from them.
Lunch was delicious and again I found myself looking for the donation jar.
After lunch we were off to Casino 66 in Albuquerque, NM (60 miles) for a Gas-N-Go. When we were staging our LEO (police) escort arrived to lead us to our dinner destination (27 miles) at Thunderbird Harley Davidson. I can’t tell you how cool it was to ride the I-25 North. This was the second “Presidential” escort of the day where the LEO’s had the entire northbound freeway closed to car traffic. It was just RFTW on the road. All of the on ramps were blocked. I’m sure the street traffic didn’t like it too much. It was 1700 after all (5 o’clock rush hour) but really, how cool was that. Again, dinner was great. Served and provided, where’s that donation jar. After an awards ceremony, Six Strings informed us that tomorrows fuel stops were again donated. Then we were off to top off the gas and get to our hotel. It was warm again today, that shower is going to feel good.
May 20, Day 3, 0430 again: Didn’t get much sleep last night even though we went to bed before 2200. I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that tomorrow I’m riding in the Missing Man Formation and also carrying the Flag to the Wall, both on the first leg. Their names kept running thru my head. The men I’m riding for. SSGT Rodney Dale Staton, USA. PFC John Edward White, USMC. PFC Michael Christopher Burns, USMC. LCPL Leo Edward Swan, Jr., USMC. SP4 Michael Patrick Murphy, USA.
Staging today is at the Rich Ford dealership. They put out a nice breakfast spread. Eggs, sausage, bacon, pancakes, biscuits & gravy, coffee, juice and milk. Before breakfast I pull out the sidewalk chalk and write down the names of the men I’m riding for next to my bike. “I ride for….” When I’m done I place the profiles I made for them next to my bike on the marker they have provided for the missing man. I say their names. It’s said that we die twice. First when we leave this place, second is the last time your name is said. I can tell you that these men will not see that (second) day for a long time.
Next, I’m off to see a Chaplain. This was/is a heavy thing for me and I was getting a little emotional but Gary “Chief” Whaley got me right in the head. (Anyone who knows me knows that isn’t an easy thing to do.) We talked and prayed. I’m good to go. Next, I met up with Vickie “Needy” Meyer to receive the Flag to the Wall. We rendered the proper honors and with Old Glory safely tucked away I’m ready for the first leg of the day.
Before I know it, second horn has blasted. I’ve been on my bike waiting for this moment for what seems like a lifetime. With the sweet rumble of 288 bikes sounding off to the conductor, “Senior Chief” our Senior Medic, prompting our revving as if in an orchestra, we are set to roll. Six Strings, and for the life of me I forget who’s in the #2 spot, I’m so excited, we start to roll out of the parking lot. I follow keeping it tight. I’m on a Spyder so I have to keep it as far left as I can to keep the Missing Man position open but keep about 6-8 feet behind the lead, keep it tight I keep telling myself. I haven’t hugged the zipper that close, ever on 3 wheels. But it just felt right, easy almost like someone was helping. As we started off the sun was at just the right angle to make it hard to see the zipper (paint was faded and sun in my eyes) but we made it. We’re headed to Santa Rosa, NM (113 miles) for our lunch stop. Along the way I’m having conversations with the men I’m riding for. I had my playlist on my headset going but I think one or two of the guys didn’t like Alanis Morissette or the Red Hot Chili Peppers as those songs kept skipping to the end. Call me crazy, and you might be right, but we talked. Sure, it was one sided as I could only imagine their responses. But the real crazy part was that occasionally, I could see in my peripheral a bike riding in the missing man spot. When I looked over there was no one there, but still. And all too soon, my leg in the MMF of the ride was complete.
After a quick Gas-N-Go in Moriarty, NM (113 miles total) I pass the Flag to the Wall to the next rider. The next stop was Blue Hole, NM.
When we got to the Blue Hole I’m starting to see some of the guys and gals stripping off their leather. They have swim trunks on. I’ve heard of this, but this is going to be interesting. The Blue Hole is a natural spring, in the middle of New Mexico (desert). The water is 61 degrees and compared to the 100+ degrees outside that’s gotta be cold. Yes, they’re going for a dip in the pool. Next time I’ll have my swim trunks. It’s time for lunch. It’s sliders and hot dogs but man were they delicious. Again, where’s the tip jar.
After lunch we parade thru Tucumcari, NM and there is a huge turn-out. Lots of people lining the streets cheering us on. We wave and honk our horns. After a Gas-N-Go we’re head for Glenrio, NM (100 miles) for the last gas stop of the day then another LEO escort into Amarillo, TX (80 miles) for dinner at the Christian Heritage Church. Dinner was great, BBQ ribs, they kept asking to fill our plates. Where’s the tip jar. It’s a lot to take in. These people and organizations are taking us in, feeding us, paying for our gas. God has been good to us.
As a platoon, we are riding like we have been riding together for years (or 1,000 miles), not days.
May 21, Day 4, 0500 (I slept in past 0430 for a change): Forecast last night was Cold, Windy, and Rain (lots of it) so I pulled out the rain gear. We woke up to mostly cloudy, cool (compared to 100 degrees), high winds, and no rain. I’m starting to like “Chief”, our Chaplain. He must have some serious connections. When we were at the all hands meeting “Six Strings” called “Siren” (my wife) up to sing the National Anthem. She is an Opera singer and she had the crowd saluting and singing along.
We left Amarillo for Shamrock, TX (95 miles). The winds were 25 mph head winds gusting to 40 mph and we were riding at 75 mph. It was tough fighting the wind, both hands firmly on the handlebars (thankfully, I’m on 3-wheels). At one point there was traffic passing us on the left. We get to the 144 mile marker (I remember it vividly) and BAMMMM! An airborne Grouse (a rather large bird) took flight and rolled over the top of a passing SUV. It had no flight path except to be an airborne piece of FOD (foreign object debris) and hit me in the right shoulder. Yeah, that hurt. Thankfully, because of the high winds I was holding on with both hands. When we pulled into Shamrock for the gas stop I had one of the medics check me out just to make sure. Good to go. I’m living up to my street name “Bullseye” (I have had almost every animal hit or near miss me). Only $20 for this gas stop, I’m feeling blessed.
Next was a Gas-N-Go in Weatherford (donated again) then a lunch stop at the Stafford Air and Space Museum in Weatherford, OK (101 miles). The people there were very friendly. But then again, they have all been friendly. Maybe it’s the southern hospitality. And again, lunch served by volunteers & provided by some organization (I had seconds this time). Where’s that tip jar. There was a WWII vet there and we all thanked him for his service and welcomed him home. After lunch we took a collection and are having a RFTW brick laid there to mark our 2022 trip.
We’ve been riding for about 1,300 miles together and it is starting to show. Siren and I are riding so tight that her front tire is usually in my peripheral vision where we use to be 1-2(or more) yards away. We’re just riding better together.
Next stop is the VFW in Shawnee, OK (105 miles) for dinner. Again, served and provided by volunteers. Where’s that donation jar. The days are short but feel like they’re running long (it’s a long journey).
May 22, Day 5, 0500: I had a sound sleep last night. Ahh, the beautiful sound of loud pipes. Wait!, I’m not dreaming, am I late! The days are starting to run together. It’s just the Ambassadors & road guards getting an early start. Last night was a 70% chance of rain so we have the rain gear ready. We woke up to overcast, cool and no rain. ”Chief”, our Chaplain, is getting extra brownie points. I’m not bruised from my bird strike yesterday so I’m happy. “Six Strings” announced that today was another gas stops are donated day.
First gas stop was in Sallisaw, OK (122 miles) then a quick Gas-N-Go in Ozark, AR (60 miles). We had a light sprinkle of rain today riding into Arkansas but the rain gear wasn’t needed. Lunch was in Russellville, AR (47 miles).
I was raised in Arkansas so I knew that lunch, which was served & provided by volunteers, of smoked BBQ Chicken, beans, coleslaw, and chips was going to be delicious. But first we had to walk the flag line of the Russellville Patriot Guard Riders (PGR). I’m a PGR rider in San Diego and I shook each of their hands and thanked them all. Lunch was finger licking good. Where’s that tip jar.
We had to keep moving. Another 94 miles to our last stop for the day in Forrest City, AR for dinner at the Ridgewood Baptist Church. Dinner was fried chicken and finger licking good. As we do at each of our stops, we gave thanks and awards to show our appreciation.
May 23, Day 6: During the morning meeting “Cupcake” asked me if I would carry the Sandbox Wall to Wall flag. Of course I said yes, with honor and pride. Today was another all gas stops donated. This is such an awesome thing. We had a LEO escort into and from the lunch stop and another when we headed into Cookeville, TN. It was another “Presidential” escort with the freeway shut down. On our way out from Cookeville, I don’t think there were more than 2 or 3 overpasses (and there were a lot of them) that weren’t lined up with flags, fire trucks and people waving and cheering us on. What a beautiful sight.
Platoons 7 & 8 (8 is our Platoon) did a breakout mission to the Tennessee Veterans Cemetery. It was very heart felt getting to make this breakout mission.
My wife, Alexandra (Siren) told me she’s been hugged more on this trip than she has ever in her life. It’s all about the healing and coming together. She’s starting to see how veterans “Have Your Six”. After dinner in Cookeville, an awesome spaghetti meal (I was stuffed after having seconds), there was an auction. Siren won the bid on a beautiful hand-made blanket. Then my wife pulled the trigger and said “we’re riding Wall To Wall” which after getting to D.C. runs from the Vietnam wall to the Current Conflicts Wall in Illinois. That will be another feather in the hat. We figured, we came this far, might as well go ALL The Way. Before we headed out to the hotel there was a light rain. It was welcomed after the ride we’ve been on. A short trip to the hotel, gear stowed, and met with the Midway team at the lobby (outside, on seats from the hotel, under the awning) for a few drinks and we were off to get some much needed sleep. Tomorrow will be a busy day.
May 24, Day 7: During the morning meeting I passed the Wall To Wall flag off to Siren for the next leg. We had lunch at the Knoxville, TN Veterans Memorial. They have a fountain there and some of the “Veteran Riders” actually walked (gear on) thru the cold fountain waters. Maybe I’ll do it next time.
While we were there, there was a booth with challenge coins of Tennessee war veterans and I randomly picked up a coin for 1st Lt. Alexander Bonnyman, Jr. (USMC), a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.
I had the caretaker show me where his name was on their wall. He told me the story behind his award and I was touched. I made an etching of his name and will pass the coin and the etching on to my nephew, a Marine who lives in Knoxville and is a member of the Knox County Sheriffs Dept.
I also participated in a Wreath laying ceremony. We had one service member representing each branch of service. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard (and Civialian).
Today’s ride through the Smokey Mountains had LEO escorts and rides thru tunnels. Hearing the rumble of Harley’s thru the two tunnels was awesome.
After lunch we had a LEO escort out of town and another when we rode into Swannanoa, NC (all highway traffic was stopped to allow us to pass)
to the Ashville Harley Davidson for a pulled pork dinner where we met with a 102 year young WWII veteran to grace us with his presence. He received a standing ovation where we all thanked him for his service and welcomed him home.
Then we were off to the Host hotel for the night. After settling in, and under a canopy of trees, we had a nighttime serenade where Siren and a few others sang songs for us. Then in the hotel bar Siren sang the Anthem. We were saluting and singing along. I was asked/given a flag to carry to the Wall by Rick MacDowell, a veteran who couldn’t go all the way to place it for SP4 John L. Powers. I did so with honor. I’m really loving my RFTW family.
May 25, Day 8: Started the day with a light rain but it wasn’t enough to warrant rain gear. My wife was part of a trio that sang the Anthem this morning to the Midway riders. Six Strings announced that all of the remaining gas stops will all be donated. Before we headed to the bikes, Siren handed off the Wall to Wall flag to one of our Canadian riders for the day.
We had lunch at the Pentecostal Holiness Church in Siler City, NC. The Road Guards were having a little fun on the swings.
Next stop was the Falcon Children’s Home. I swear that after lunch they were trying to get me to tap out. I know we were taking the scenic route but there were so many right hand turns I thought we’d cross our path, and the heat/humidity were starting to take a toll on me. I’m sure it was just fatigue from riding for so long, but this was the hardest day of riding for me. From there we were off to the Bizzell Grove Church in Princeton, NC for dinner. The spaghetti was great. I’m getting good at finding the tip jar without asking. Next we’re off to top off our tanks then our hotel for the night.
May 26, Day 9: At this mornings meeting, when all of the FNG’s are called up front (we did this each morning), we (the FNG’s) actually outnumbered the veteran Midway route riders. The FNG’s are actually really important. We are part of keeping this memorial ride going and keeping it a tradition. It’s sinking in, we are a family riding on a mission. We’re almost there.
We’ve been running thru red lights and stop signs so much I’m going to have to get use to stopping at them again when this is all over. Our Road Guards and LEO escorts have been doing a great job keeping us safe.
Today is going to be a short travel day, only 193 miles. Our first stop is a Gas-N-Go in Smithfield, NC before our lunch stop in Weldon, NC at the Moose Lodge. In the field there they have displays honoring the fallen.
This display is made of the Dog Tags of fallen veterans)
(Veterans KIA of North Carolina)
Then a short trip to Ashland, VA for the night. Before we departed were informed we get to sleep in an extra 45 minutes tomorrow. Doesn’t sound like much but after what we’ve been through it’s a blessing.
May 27, Day 10: This is it. The last travel day to the WALL. Today is another short travel day, 95 miles. I know we could have knocked out these miles yesterday but it’s about timing our arrival for Midway, Central and Southern to arrive in that order. Remember I mentioned that after the morning meeting we have our lost & found. Our fearless leader was given some special clothing that was found. Somehow nobody claimed that item.
Our first (and only) stop before Arlington is at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, VA. We were greeted and welcomed by a retired Marine Corps General. Our tour was cut off a little short due to a Tornado Warning but it worked out for the better because not even half an hour after we got to the Host Hotel for the night the skies got dark and the bottom fell out in a down pour. Thank our lucky stars we weren’t riding in it. That wouldn’t have been fun at all. And to think that Southern Route has had to ride thru storms almost the entire trip, and Central through the snow.
May 28, Mission Complete Day: We got to sleep in a little today since we don’t have to leave the Hotel until 0800. We all, as in Midway-Central-Southern Routes, meet at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for our group (family) photo. What a sight. There are about 1,500 of us and it’s quite breath taking. There was a lady rider, I think from Southern Route, that was playing military songs on her bagpipes. Then when she was done someone passed Siren a megaphone and she got in front of us and sang the National Anthem. We were all on our feet saluting or hand over our heart as she went. Some sang along with her.
After the photo was taken we walked the short distance to the Vietnam Memorial Wall and laid a Wreath (as a RFTW group). Then I was on MY mission. I went with my wife to find the names of my 5 riders to place the tributes I made for each of them.
PFC Michael Christopher Burns, USMC, panel 31W, line 44.
SP4 Michael Patrick Murphy, USMC, panel 10W, line 91.
SSGT Rodney Dale Staton, USA, panel 13E, line 87.
PFC John Edward White, panel 45E, line 44.
PFC Leo Edward Swan, Jr. USMC, panel 51E, line 13.
As I mentioned on day 7, I also picked up another rider along the way. Retired Green Baret Rick MacDowell asked me to place a flag that he gave me at the panel for SP4 John Lynn Powers, USMC, panel 5W, line 107. After I had that completed I had to find my mentor, Cupcake. I thanked her for informing me of the ride and bringing me along. Then as the tradition is, I had her turn my FNG button upside down to signify that I am now Mission Complete. I will be back again next year, and the year after that, and the year after that, and …
My beloved Daddy was Killed in Action (KIA) on June 7, 1968 in Vietnam- thus, Memorial Day, June 7th, and Father’s Day always felt like a 1, 2,3, gut, heart, soul punch each year. I carefully avoided any Memorial Day events my entire life. Since June of 1968, I have recited the pledge of allegiance with my right hand over my heart and my my left hand behind my back with my index and middle fingers crossed. Even though my dad was career USMC, he was the nurturing parent and we all adored him. He was the embodiment of loving kindness, patience, integrity, strength, passion and a hilarious sense of humor. Needless to say, his death left a huge hole in the fabric of our family soul.
In the summer of 2017, I left Santa Fe, NM and bought a one way ticket to New Zealand. I was planning to immigrate to New Zealand and spend the rest of my life in a monastic setting. I shut down my website of 20 years for Healing Retreats, and gave away all my belongings save my car and some clothes. I went to California to bid family and friends farewell. I made one last trip to my dad’s grave at the Serbian Cemetery in Los Angeles, CA and fully thought I’d never return unless for a family emergency or death.
Three days before I flew to New Zealand, I had coffee with a childhood friend whom I had run into at an event. Because I had joined SDIT (Sons and Daughters in Touch, a private Facebook group for Vietnam Gold Star sons and daughters) I was becoming more at ease with actually speaking about being a Vietnam Gold Star daughter—language that was never used prior. My childhood friend Ken apparently had a passion for documentaries unbeknownst to me. As I was sharing some of the miraculous unfolding of what I thought was my last “Healing Retreat” I led, he suddenly got sparked with an idea to do a documentary about how I had in effect “raised myself from the dead” since my father’s death and used the tools on myself first, then applied them for the healing of others. After our meeting, I sat in my car dumbfounded as God revealed a “movie trailer” vision of how my time in New Zealand would unfold, and it wasn’t at all what I expected… in other words, the New Zealand “plan” was now dust and this “project” with Ken was God’s Will. Both Ken and I had felt the “buzz” that comes when a project clearly has God’s handwriting on it. I didn’t have the courage to share this with anyone at the time, so I went ahead and flew to New Zealand and returned to the USA within two months time. I met with Ken and he simply told me to start writing the story.
Since everyone thought I was still in a far away country, instead of returning to Santa Fe, NM, a friend in El Dorado Hills, CA suggest I come to her home to write the story and be away from any and all distractions. I started writing a week before Christmas and completed the first rough draft by April. A few days before Christmas I took a walk in this new neighborhood after writing all day. I passed a home that was flying the USA flag alongside the POW/MIA flag. The still small voice whispered to me to ring the doorbell and introduce myself. I ignored it and continued walking. I was afraid perhaps that a PTSD Vietnam Vet would not appreciate the intrusion. When the voice repeated itself for the third time I finally surrendered. Taking a deep breath, I rang the doorbell and promptly stepped back, ready to make a mad dash just in case… As the door slowly opened I heard a man speaking on the phone. Oh dear, I had interrupted a phone call. Once the door was fully open and I saw his kind, blue, soulful eyes. I knew I was in no danger at all. He was wondering what I had to sell perhaps, so I said, “I’m sorry to interrupt you but I noticed your flags and I’m a Vietnam Gold Star daughter”. I think that was the first time I had ever uttered those words to a stranger. He was a large husky man with an unassuming demeanor and he very quickly said into his phone, “I have to go, something has come up and I will call you back” and he hung up and came towards me to hug me and asked, “Can you please repeat that?” As we embraced, and I cried, I felt like I was with the brother I never had, but always wanted in our family had suddenly materialized and I was safe, warm, and held in a knowingness about the War like never before.
His name is Don Burns, and his road name is “EZ”, and he certainly embodied kindness, patience and a calm presence. God could not have picked a better brother for my journey. He told me about Run for the Wall (RFTW), which I had never heard of before and I confess, at the time, I thought – what a great pilgrimage these Vets do, but I would never get on the back of a Harley after all these years. He made me promise I would send him an email with my information and my dad’s and I did. He gave me his card and my housemate was astounded when she innocently asked, “how was your walk?” and I tossed his card on the counter for her to see.
I went to the Northern California Run for the Wall lunch the following month and again assured myself that there was absolutely no way I could ever do this for a myriad of reasons: I don’t do well in crowds, I’m too sensitive, I have low back issues, I’m emotionally empathic and I would be in constant overwhelm. The list appeared endless as to why I could never participate. Not to mention that visiting The Wall always seemed to elicit a gigantic inner turmoil of emotions that simply wanted to be acknowledged and simply allowed, but were always politely stuffed back down for fear of upsetting others.
I eventually shared with Ken about meeting Don (EZ) and the RFTW mission. We had no money for our project and just the thought of entertaining the idea of traveling with The Run to participate in its Mission to get to DC seemed absurd. However, the more I simply prayed, it seemed I was being led to participate with RFTW on some level. I attended my second Northern California RFTW lunch with the local group and EZ showed up with a picture of my dad and announced to the group that he would be riding for my dad that year. Bam! The depth of how this landed in my heart is impossible to convey in words, suffice it to say that the purity and soulfulness of it touched me profoundly. And, I noticed I was still terrified of getting on the back of a Harley. It had been 30-years and I had memories of crashes, although no broken bones but I was all too well aware of the inherent dangers of motorcycles.
By the next N. CA lunch meeting, I was feeling at ease with the group and easily embracing the other Vietnam Vets and Gold Stars that were attending, as well as the civilians who support the mission. Ken and I had a phone conversation, surprising me to no end, he simply said, “I don’t know what it is, but we have to be in DC. We have no funding, so let’s just each pay our own way and we’ll figure it out as we go along”. Wow, I truly had no idea Ken was like me, a “jumper”, one who is willing to leap without a parachute, follow the mystery, and not worry about earthly details! I had certainly chosen the right person to do this project with! He said he would drive up in April for the next lunch and interview EZ and me for the project. In the meantime EZ kept mentioning we needed to go for a “ride” so he could see how I handle on a bike. I skillfully kept avoiding this “ride”.
Needing funds to get to DC, I did what I know how to do… I scheduled a weekend retreat for mid-May (that I teach), and that gave me enough funds to purchase my airfare to DC, and then meet-up with the Central Route for Day 10. I would be done teaching the Wednesday prior to Memorial Day, so I’d fly into DC Thursday. It seemed God’s Grace kept leading the way though I still worried about being in crowds and my innate sensitivity. While praying one morning, the inspiration for a “Go Fund Me” to fully cover my remaining hotel costs came. I had never done a Go Fund Me and felt quite wary of it, but I had to surrender yet again. I posted it on Facebook simply stating a Gold Star Daughter was making a pilgrimage to The Wall. I didn’t say it was me, and I simply just let it be. I was stunned to say the least, and with each donation, I found myself bawling. With the exception of one of my dearest friends who is an amazing civilian and “gets” my profound loss, each donation came from others profoundly touched in their own way by the war—a Vietnam Vet started with the first donation and I wept. Next a Gold Star widow, two childhood friends whose dad’s served in Vietnam, but returned home with deep wounds, and then a few Gold Star Vietnam children. They all had already made the supreme sacrifice. I was incredibly touched and it seemed the tears were never going to stop.
EZ had to spoon feed me step-by-step as it was a lot of information to assimilate the details of the RFTW. He told me I would be receiving a ticket to ride through Arlington National Cemetery on Saturday morning, and RFTW is the only group with this permission, and only 400 bikes do this each year with FNG’s on the back. I would be an FNG. He then hinted that it would be good for me to ride with them for some of the journey, and again I worried about my low back issues, being on a bike, being with “this” particular crowd, etc…and I kept resisting. We were raised by our “strict” Marine mother who had forbade us to cry about our dad the day we got the news, the day of his funeral, and basically anytime we began to show emotion about it, so I surmise I was also afraid I might cry, even though on some level, I knew I couldn’t be with a better crowd in which to allow my tears to flow.
In April at our last lunch, I was finally going to jump on the back of the Harley with EZ and the group after our lunch. My specially ordered t-shirt had arrived which had a cross inside a heart and the words, “Semper Fi Daddy” underneath, so I wore my shirt and prayed! I trusted EZ, he was the big brother I had needed since 1968. He filled a “hole” that I didn’t even know existed prior to meeting him. I hopped on the back of his Harley and thought, if we die, I’m good, as truth be told, a part of me has always looked forward to dying since 1968. Ken stood by capturing all of us on video, and as soon as our pack pulled out onto the road, I got “it”. My body was flooded instantly with “the mission”. It suddenly all made absolute perfect sense. Wow. Robert “Old School” Reavis gave me my road name that day. My body flew up a bit when we hit a hard railroad crossing, my helmet strap was flapping in the wind, my earrings and ponytail as well… so “Dangles” was my road name and it fit.
Now of course everything had changed, and I wanted to go “All the Way” but alas my retreat, that I was teaching was planned and full. My heart ached. There was no possible way to change things, so I had to surrender. My flight into DC Thursday wasn’t arriving until 7PM, not enough time to get up to the Central Route lodging. So we planned the next best thing, Ken would show up early Friday at the host hotel where I was staying, and he would drive me west to meet up for the last day of the Central Route’s journey. EZ had been discussing this with me for awhile, but I didn’t quite understand and I was attempting to avoid being on a Harley. Now all that had changed.
The Missing Man Coordinator was a man named Tom “Bones” Pogue, and EZ told me I needed to call him. Just like with EZ, as soon as I heard Bones’ voice on the other end of the phone, I knew I was “home”. It was astounding to me that Bones was not a Vietnam Vet as his heart and soul was cut from the same cloth of depth, genuineness, care, and love. If this was the “crowd” I was going to be around, I had nothing to fear. If I had any expectations or fears left, they were skillfully being burnt up in a huge bonfire of blazing love to reveal a simple spaciousness that soothed my soul.
I had never met other Vietnam Gold Star “kids”, save for a long ago picnic and Christmas event in 1968 that was actually a horrid memory, as we all were shell shocked and shattered, and never saw one another again. On The Run were some “wall siblings” (those whose dad’s name are also on The Wall) that I would be meeting, and words can not convey what this meant to me as well. I had already connected with them via our private Facebook group, and had talked to some on the phone, but being able to meet face-to-face and hug is just beyond description.
Early Friday morning before Memorial Day had finally arrived! Making the drive from DC to meet up at RFTW’s meeting spot was amazing. I had visceral memories of living in Quantico, VA with Daddy and our family, and my heart was singing as my body recalled this entire area with fondness. Wearing my special t-shirt which matched the color of the blue sky reminded me of our happy times in this state. EZ had told us to be on time and we were early. Waiting for the bikes to finally roll in seemed like an eternity, my excitement was palpable!
Vroom, vroom and here they come! Platoon leaders, road guards, motorcycles galore and there I was obviously an FNG trying to contain my overwhelming emotion and excitement! My big brother EZ told me where to wait for him. I met my first “wall sibling”, Sandy who was also an FNG who had started the morning riding in the Missing Man formation for her Daddy, also a Marine and we exchanged quick hugs and tears as I was escorted by EZ to our spot and to meet Bones. As soon as I saw his soulful eyes, I said “Bones” as I went in for a hug. Two other RFTW brothers came up and introduced themselves as friends of Jed’s and gave me bear hugs. I was truly “home” here. Bones showed me the Missing Man chalk drawing and dedication he had made for my Daddy and it was perfect. And then it was “time”….something that had been building for months, perhaps 50-years was about to begin… I was going to ride Missing Man Formation for my beloved Daddy on the back of a Harley in the beautiful state of Virginia behind a police escort.
As we pulled out, it wasn’t lost on me that the last time I was in a police escort was 1968, as we rode in a black limousine following the flag draped coffin in the hearse ahead that carried my beloved Dad. Almost 50-years later I was now riding on a Harley, hair blowing in the wind, heart, soul and body finally mended back together, full deep breaths and easily allowing any tears to flow. Wham, the presence of My Dad was there as soon as we entered the road. Ohhh the love, the love was so palpable, strong, deep and overflowing… that is what brings the tears now. Sure perhaps always a hint of sorrow of what could have been, but the love is so thick, I can breath it, taste it, smell it, and touch it with my hands it seems. “Dangling” in the wind through the veils of time and space is the palpable essence of shimmering love… Mmm, was it my Daddy who whispered to Old School the idea of my nickname of Dangles?
Dear Lord, what a day this is… the sky is azure blue, a few soft fluffy clouds here and there as I ride with my brother who simply gets “it”, no words necessary, and behind me, a long flowing sea of souls on motorcycles committed to the same mission and whom are my “family”. I don’t use the word “family” flippantly, for the word alone means we “belong together” and I belong to them as they belong to me. My healing is their healing, and their healing is my healing. Together, we will love the war out of one another for the rest of our days. As we pulled into the host hotel, flags are waving, people are cheering, and I’m happier than I ever have been. All of my many years of individual healing, leading healing retreats, prayers, and such has all been deeply exquisite and lovely, but “THIS” was the missing piece. Thank you Holy Spirit for insisting I ring the doorbell. My brother EZ opened up so much more than his front door.
To be continued RFTW, to be continued…. so much love and gratitude to each and every one of you,
I had the privilege of joining this run for the first time this year in 2016. The idea was planted in my mind in 2015 from a few gentlemen I had met during Rolling Thunder. They had me traveling across the country with no idea what exactly I was about to get myself into. Only the promise that it was an adventure that would open my eyes to ,many things, especially the treatment of our military service people.
I had a basic concept as I watched it and read about it numerous times, but this was entirely different and was worth the time I spent getting to know this group. Tough, rigid, well organized, and yet kind, caring, and complete awareness of why this Run means so much to so many. While on this trip, I had a rider ask me… why are you here? You aren’t even military. I wondered the same thing at first. But after several days and numerous conversations with others… it came down to this: I may not be military, but I believe that everyone who has made the commitment to protect and serve this country takes tremendous courage, and shows tremendous bravery and sacrifice, on so many levels. Because of that… I am in awe and believe that these same individuals deserve my utmost respect and gratitude. It’s up to me to show it, and this event is a perfect way to do that.
I wondered why I was doing this, as I sat on my bike that morning in Ontario, CA. The answer: We ride for those who can’t. 2017 is fast approaching and I already feel the anticipation building. Looking forward to meeting more wonderful people and being part of something that makes a difference with all who have sacrificed.
I’m an in-country Vietnam Veteran. I’ve owned motorcycles most of my life. Currently I own two. The 1989 Honda Goldwing I bought new in 1990 (last years model). Twenty-six years later and 90 some thousand miles later, I bought a 2011 Harley Electra Glide Classic with 21K on the clock.
I hope to make this ride in 2017 with my son and grandson. They will ride the ‘wing. They’ll fly down from their residence in Oregon and we’ll ride out on the Southern Route. After the event in D.C., we hope to ride back with some of the group that ran the Central Route back to Kansas City, KS where we’ll split off and head towards Oregon. After getting them home, I’ll give the ‘wing to my son and ride home to Southern California.
My name is Harold DePuy road name “Grumpy”. I am a retired Army Sergeant First Class and VietNam veteran. It was a dream of mine to do Run For The Wall some day. Funds were always short and Patriot Guard missions were a priority. In 2013 I was told to get off the Harley due to health problems. So I sold the Harley and prepared to spend my time at home doing not much of anything.
I was talking to some friends one day, and they suggested I get a trike. Well I knew I could never afford a Harley trike, and didn’t really see myself on a Can-Am. So I figured I would look around for parts and build a VW trike. I thought it would take about two-years to build. One day I drug a transaxle into my garage, and the build was on. Eight months later the trike was finished and registered. Over the next couple years changes were made to upgrade the trike including a new 1776cc engine.
The 2016 RFTW was coming into Las Cruces, NM, and I went to Barnett Harley Davidson to greet them as I had always done for several years before. But that day I told myself I had to go with them, no matter what. The trike was ready, and I felt I definitely was, too. So that evening I packed with the help of my wife and son. At 4:00AM I was headed back to Las Cruces, NM. I registered and was welcomed as never before by several riders, and was assigned to the 9th platoon. Eventually I ended up at the back of the pack because the performance cam and big carburator put out a high amount of exhaust fumes. I didn’t care, I was doing the Run For The Wall!
I was actually living my dream. I had no rooms reserved, and saw the Southern Route itinerary booklet for the first time that morning. I was as fresh as an FNG, as you could get. I learned real quick what I needed to do, with Road Guards encouraging me along the way. The tail gunners were tolerating the gas fumes. My wife downloaded the itinerary from the RFTW website, so she was booking rooms for me the whole way.
We made it to Monroe, LA to the City Hall Wreath Laying. When it was time to leave, the trike would not start. The ignition and starter burned up. Bill from the Shriners came to my rescue. We had the trike back on the road by 6:00PM. Thinking that I was good to go for the rest of the mission was only the beginning of many challenges that lay ahead of me. Coming into Chattanooga, TN the number 3 spark plug blew out of the engine. And forgetting to put the trike in gear caused it to get away from me and roll down the steep bank. I had to dune buggy the thing back up the embankment with three cylinders. The support truck hauled the trike to Thunder Creek Harley Davidson where the service manager called for help, since they didn’t work on VWs. Stateline Wagons came to the rescue. They hauled the trike to their shop and had me on the road again the next day.
Coming into Roanoke, VA, just short of the D-Day Memorial, I broke an exhaust valve spring. After making the repair, I missed the D-Day Memorial. I pressed on to Lynchburg, VA. By this time several riders were commenting on how determined I was to make it to DC. Well we rolled into Arlington, VA on schedule. I stayed in DC for three days before heading back home.
On my return trip back home to El Paso, TX. I burned a hole in the number 3 piston. I was dead in the water. I called the guys at State Line, and Nick said to get a room and that he would send a truck to get me and the trike. The next day the truck showed up, and we went to Chattanooga, TN where they pulled the engine out and replaced it with a brand new engine. I wanted to cry. How could these guys be so kind to someone they barely met? What true Americans! They kicked me out without charging me a dime.
The rest of the trip home was great. No problems. I missed a lot of stops due to all of the break downs, but the bottom line is, I made it!!!
Plans are in place to make The Run again in 2017… This time on a Harley Street Glide. I plan to see the guys at State Line again, and Thank them. And next year I will start the run in Ontario, CA. The trike will have to sit this one out. Is it May yet?
I had heard about Run For The Wall from my fellow Legion Riders, but for nearly three years after leaving the Navy I could barely walk, much less ride any significant distance. In 2014, I followed my brother John “Opie” Picray, Paul “Bugle Boy” Hobbs and David “Duke” Bentley west, in my sedan with my civilian sister in the passenger seat, as we all headed for California. We promptly became the group baggage wagon.
We joined the Run in Rancho Cucamonga, CA and I proudly pinned my FNG button on my vest. The next ten days were emotionally turbulent, to say the least. I left every Run stop either ahead of the pack (preferably), or way behind it so as not to get fouled in the following traffic. Consequently, I missed a lot of the experience of the Run that year. I swore I would never “cage it” again. Two crucial parts of my experience were great, however. We camped nearly the entire trip, and I made several friends! And Rick “Dragger” Behymer proudly carried me into Arlington on his passenger seat.
After physical therapy, I realized riding my motorcycle worked out the same muscles, and I embarked on a personal mission to avoid having to do those nasty exercises again. As a result, I was able to ride further than ever before. I made plans to redo my FNG experience on two wheels in 2015 with a Navy sister, who would be going for her FNG Run. We were so excited! We rolled out half a day behind schedule, headed for Ontario, CA. That last day of travel was brutal! We rolled for nearly 18 hours, from Gallup to Ontario. Finally, we arrived just in time for a few hours’ sleep Tuesday morning.
My friend was on a trike, so she was in a different platoon than I was. Electing for a staggered platoon, Eamon “Boomer” Tansey put me in Platoon 7 under Brush’s capable leadership. I would learn later that all my friends from 2014 were in Platoon 8. Day Six from Wentzville, MO to Corydon, IN, I tapped out because I was too sleepy to safely ride with others. Leaving the ramp in Evansville, IN, I was trailing the pack when we rolled past a trike flipped into the median. Don’t Stop! Keep rolling, get out of the way! I spent the next 82 miles praying it wasn’t my friend, and that whoever it was would be ok.
When I got to Corydon, IN, I had a voicemail from my friend’s husband that it had been her, and that she was in the hospital and he was on his way there. The chaplains mobbed me the second I got off the phone, and my camping friends (especially “Bounce”) took it from there. I put on my best military bearing, ate my dinner as quickly as I could, and set up camp. The next morning, it hit me hard. I was a basket case. Everybody says they have problems with “darned allergies” on the Run; not me. I was crying my eyes out inside my helmet at 65mph. Again, not safe for others to ride with, so I trailed the Pack again.
When Platoon 7 (consisting mostly of HD’s) went 2 up, and decided to become a side-by-side platoon, my little Honda Shadow 750 couldn’t quite manage it due to the difference in gearing, so I transferred to Platoon 8, the “Crazy 8’s” with my camping friends. What a difference! 7 was good to me, but 8 was like family! Thanks to Brush’s daily instruction, I had no problems at all keeping my intervals in a group of mostly metric bikes. We rode proudly into DC at a 2 foot interval, shifting like mad several times per minute! I learned the hard way not to ever again buy gloves that had a seam across the thumb pad.
When we got to the host hotel, one of the bartenders kindly let me bury my left hand in an ice pan.
I’m glad I went in the sedan in 2014, since it taught me what to expect, but I probably won’t cage it again, if I can help it. I much prefer being part of the Pack! By the end of the 2015 Run I was living on 5 hour energy shots and Black Black caffeine gum, but it was glorious agony. I came home and slept for a week. It took another week to get most of the feeling back in my hands!
My brother has described the Run as a pilgrimage, and that’s exactly what it is: it is sacrificing the comfort of normal life, enduring sometimes harsh weather, and jumping out into The Unknown. It is also a Mission: learning to trust yourself and your machine, covering the flank of the rider next to you against traffic, and trusting the riders around you to do the same.
When it all comes together, seeing your platoon stretching out in front of you, sweeping through curves in that one gloriously perfect moment of synchronized harmony. It is a sight that will imprint itself directly on your heart. It will also put the biggest grin on your face to remember it when you get home, show up in sweatpants around other motorcyclists, and get asked, “Do you ride?”
For those of you who have never experienced the loss a spouse due to suicide, all I can say is that you are very fortunate. My loss came May 20, 2011. Six years after her retirement from teaching Seventh Grade Math for thirty years and tutoring three and four nights a week afterwards, My wife took her life in the woods a half mile behind our house. It took four days before volunteers found her; without a doubt, the worst four days of my life. I could never explain the feelings and emotions I experienced during that period. She left a two page letter telling me how much she loved me and that her actions were not my fault but due to her continued failing health. She asked for me not to have any memorial or even obituary. She only wanted cremation and nothing else. No directions as to where her ashes were to be placed. It was my decision to scatter her ashes from a helicopter over a beautiful peaceful area in
the Appalachian Mountains; an area we had toured many times on my motorcycle. I no longer have my riding partner; it’s like I’m missing part of my bike.
The tragedy of losing my wife now supersedes the other continuing tragedy that I have experienced in life. Using the word “continuing” is due to the fact that as a Platoon Sergeant, the bodies of three of my Marines lost in the last combat action of the Viet Nam War, May 15, 1975, have
never been recovered. The pain, horrors and extreme miseries I experienced for four days searching for my wife somewhat ended when she was recovered and put to rest. The families of PFC. Gary L.Hall, LCpl.
Joseph N. Hargrove and Pvt. Danny G. Marshall have had to endure the like for over 39 years now never having had the opportunity to experience closure by laying their sons to rest. Their loss has weighed heavily on my mind for years and has now been elevated as I relate my own experience to what their families must be going through. Fighting depression is one hell of a battle experienced by many vets, (and civilians). Tough times never last, tough people do; Many times I have to ask myself, “Why?”
Monday May 19, 2014, (the day before the third anniversary of losing my wife) I rode my 2003 Harley-Davidson Ultra motorcycle from my home in central Alabama to Meridian, MS. to meet up with 350+ other military vets on their bikes at the Meridian Agriculture Center. The group had started their trip several days before in California as the Southern Route of the “Run For The Wall” on their annual journey to Washington, D.C. to honor those who never made it home. I read somewhere that some crazy Marine had started this RFTW thing back in 1989 so I thought this would be the ride I belong on. Maybe it would ease some of the painful memories of those four days in May 2011. Besides the Southern Route there is a Central Route and a Midway Route all starting in California, and all finishing in Washington D.C. on Memorial Day. The theme for the ride is always, “We ride for those who no longer can.”
Spent that night in Meridian on the ground in a small tent outside the Agri. Center as several others did who opted not to pay for a room. In the morning my body was telling me to remember my age and in the future to shell out the money for a room. My plan was to ride with the group all day on the 20th, spend the night in Chattanooga then back home the next day.
After departing Meridian we stopped at a VA Hospital in Tuscaloosa, AL. and visited other Vets for lunch; always a pleasure to hear stories from some of the older vets and thank them for their service, and our freedom. Next stop Asheville, AL. for fuel and a break, then on to Chattanooga for the night.
First time I had been on a road trip since I lost Cindy. Riding the roads we had been on so many times before was getting to me and the thought of riding through an area the next day not far from where I had spread her ashes was something I did not think I could handle and convinced myself that going home would be the best idea now that May 20th was coming to a close.
We had supper at and donated by Thunder Creek Harley-Davidson, then after a short period of socializing everyone departed to various hotels nearby.
Not having reservations and not really wanting to socialize anymore I opted to search for a room a little further away from where everyone else was staying; actually about 10 miles away.
After checking into a Hampton Inn I made preparations to head home in the morning (not caring if I actually made it or not). Removed my wristband and tape on my bike identifying me as a registered biker with the “Run For The Wall” and started to settle in for the night. Heard what I recognized as a Harley pull in nearby and wondered if it was someone with the RFTW group since as far as I knew I was the only biker there.
Around 10:30 that night I walked outside (was on first floor) and towards the lobby to get some ice. About five doors down I noticed another Harley-Davidson similar to mine; had a USMC Gunnery Sergeant sticker, a Drill Instructor Association sticker, plus one that really stood out, “Mayaguez Recovery,” which was the last combat action of the Viet Nam War.
WHO THE HELL WAS THIS PERSON?
There were only a little over 200 of us that were on the operation, May 15, 1975. Looked for lights on in nearby rooms and saw none so I left a note on the bike for him to contact me in room 151 before leaving in the morning, as I was heading home at daylight.
At 0530 (5:30 am) there’s a knock on my door… it had been 39 years since the operation so we had to announce our names and immediately hugged each other. We really did not know each other while in the unit, but the fact we were there together is all it took to be Brothers (besides being Marines).
I knew that it was a Marine who started the “Run For The Wall” in 1989 from California and was in awe when I found out that the crazy Marine was standing in front of me; Retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant James Gregory, aka Gunny. Told him to go outside and look at my bike which was covered. When I removed the cover I’m sure if you looked close enough you would have seen tears in both of our eyes.
Sign on front of my bike:
HALL HARGROVE MARSHALL
BRING THEM HOME!
Those three Marines were the main reason he started the “Run” and for all the other guys who never made it back…… We were riding for all of them.
He and his wife, Patti just got in town to join the run the night before. They had been at the Annual Mayaguez Reunion in Branson, MO. I was going to go but had some mental and emotional issues relating to May 20th that made me cancel a few days before.
We were the only ones associated with the “Run” at that Hampton Inn, which was several miles from the main group. Gunny said for me to come down to his room as he wanted to show me something. Not knowing Patti was in the room, off I went barefooted and only a pair of gym shorts. Went a few doors down, met his wife and was shown pictures on his laptop of the Mayaguez Reunion they had attended the day before.
James told me they choose the Hampton Inn away from the main group to ensure they would get a full night’s sleep since once they’re around their “family” all night socializing is too hard to resist and they were already worn out from being on the road for several days.
Informed them I would have breakfast with them and then head back south. Well, like a true Marine, he informed me that I would be going to D.C. with them and not home (and riding along side of them)… sooo, after breakfast, off we went.
Believe it was somewhere around Bristol, TN, that Gunny suggested we peel off from the main group and take a more scenic route through the mountains to Wytheville, VA, where we were to spend the night.
To say the least, it was scenic alright. Confident I was following someone who was familiar with the area, the ride was very enjoyable, (even though some of the roads did not seem to be traveled often). My comfort soon turned to concern when Gunny’s GPS directed us to turn left up ahead into what was actually a farmer’s driveway. Was it time for me to turn on my GPS since Gunny’s Piece of S___ was leading us astray? Without hesitation though Gunny was up and running in a new direction… while I was praying he may have relatives in them there hills to help us out. Soon we were back on a well-traveled highway, (one which I swear we had been on earlier). Eventually we did arrive in Wytheville a little behind the main group. Laughing about our adventure, Gunny stated his mind drifted off to how we met up in Chattanooga and he wasn’t paying attention to where we were.
They introduced me to some very interesting Viet Nam and Middle East Vets; Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. They also had their own personal stories worthy of more recognition than they will ever receive. Many supportive people also made the ride wearing patches on their vests stating, “Maybe we weren’t there, but WE DO CARE. Their support as true Americans can only be described as invaluable and sincerely appreciated. All welcomed me to join their family.
I felt like the Honored Guest of the man who started this run after he got on stage and told the story of our meeting in Chattanooga. Literally everyone there knew â€œThe Gunnyâ€ and had high respect for his
There were several former and retired Marines riding with the Run For The Wall but James and I were the only ones with customized helmets; Mine on left, his on the right.
To this day, we are still scratching our heads as to how in the world did two Retired Marines, the only two, (as far as we know) end up staying at the same Hampton Inn just a few rooms apart.
The only two associated with The Run For The Wall, whose main group were in hotels several miles away.
Two Marines who had not seen each other in 39 years and shared experiences of the last combat action in Viet Nam.
Two Marines who have been haunted for years by the loss of three fellow Marines 39 years ago.
Two Marines proud enough to mount the Marine Corps emblem on the front of their helmets long before seeing each other again in 2014. Both of us being Ex-Drill Instructors… and that’s just some of the things Ex-DIs do.
And two Marines riding Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic motorcycles (but only one without his partner).
As Patti stated at breakfast, “Our meeting in Chattanooga was meant to be.”
One of the true heroes, a WWII Vet welcomed us to Lynchburg, VA. I had the honor to meet and thank this man for our freedom that he fought for on Omaha Beach during WWII.
James and Patti had to leave early heading back home to Charleston, SC, so I ended up touring DC pretty much on my own. (Democrats must have laid out those streets.)
Actually I wanted to be alone anyway when I visited “The Wall” for the first time to find the names of Hall, Hargrove and Marshall. “Mission Accomplished”
Spent the night in Arlington, Virginia then headed back home 721 miles with three 30 minute nap-stops. Rode back by myself with “years to come of fantastic memories,” and something to finally look forward to next year.
Thanks Patti and James (Gunny); meeting both of you made May 20th bearable.
Being a Viet nam vet, to join the Run for the Wall in Las Cruces, New Mexico. However, I had to take a job in Athens Georgia and move. Well finally in 2010, I was able to break free from work and join the ride. I had to join the group in Tennessee.
It was worth the wait. Although somewhat of a stressful ride, with riders you have never ridden with, it was about the coolest ride I have ever done. The people who we met along the way opened their arms and hearts. Gave me faith again in American people.
This was my first trip to the wall. A friend asked me to place an article for him at the wall. When I made it to the wall, I placed the article at the wall and stood up to see the names of two of my high school friends names. It really set me back. It hit me so hard.
I wanted to ride again this year, but due to a Nam injury, I must have eye surgery. I am currently blind in my right eye and to do the ride, you need all of the eye sight you can get. It would be unsafe for those around me for me to try to go.
I with you all a safe ride and hope to be able to go next year.