Name: Farrell D. Maichel
City: St. George
The little bike that will soon make its fourth run is up in the shed. Next week I’ll get her out and start getting ready for the 2010 run. I signed up again this a.m. and read through some of the e-mails. Some of the words blurred a little. Must be the dust. I’ll have to pre-register next week.
I have a few things to say that have taken an awful long time for me to be able to do this. It’s time.
Forty years ago Peter Fonda made a little movie called “Easy Rider” with Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper. Golden Gate park was the hottest place in the world to be, and everyone moved around in a VW van. The Beach Boys stopped wearing striped shirts, and the Beatles grew moustaches and got into the ether world. Living was good in the U.S. of A. as the framework of our society was torn apart.
Somehow I missed all of that. I was other places, doing other things. Forty years have come and gone since my last combat tour with the 101st Airborne Division. A lot of water goes under the bridge in forty years and I have done well. Thirty-six of those years were pretty well spent in a cocoon of numbness. You see, I went on and made the Army a career. Maybe just my way of hiding something in plain sight or my way of not having to face something I didn’t want to face. I got along O.K., but
depression and sadness were things that I put up with every day of my life. I retired in ’87 and started another career. In ’96 I hit one of those rough periods of life in my second career as an employee of the state of Kansas. I hung onto a job but I was banished to Wichita. I somehow found a group of guys who got together once a week to share experiences at around the vet center. That began a process that helped a bit. Still the depression got worse, along with the feelings of sadness and loneliness. I was the most successful, depressed person that I knew. I remember feeling that I was somehow totally unique in feeling bad.
A few years later, a friend named Larry asked me to ride along on the Run. A kidney stone attack a 100 miles from home can wreck your plans. But I came back the next year and I come back every year.
I was in Salina, KS a few years ago, having jumped ahead of the pack, and watched Run participants roll in to the park off of the highway. All sizes, shapes, descriptions, and manner of riders. Sort of like the makeup of the combat infantry battalions that I loved so well. Irreverent, proud, noble, independent, warriors who really give no ground, take no insults, and give living meaning to the word honor! The only thing that had changed was some of us looked a little older and we moved a little slower.
Last year I sat on an overpass near Abilene, KS and watched the Run participants stream down I-70 headed into Junction City and then I was back with the tailend rolling into J.C. Just seeing those flags displayed on the overpasses down the route somehow helps every time it happens. Rather I am watching from a distance, reading the e-mails, or riding in the middle of the pack, I can always feel those hard knots of being alone and being sad continue to slowly wash away out of my soul. It took a long time for those to develop and it may take the rest of my life to conquer them, but Run for the Wall helps.
So this year I’ll put my vest on again and hang the old dog tags around my neck; the same ones that were there in the A Shau, the Elephant Valley, the Street without Joy, and other scenic places I’ve been. Seems funny that I never wore those tags after 1970 until I started riding with RFTW. For a few brief, precious days I will again display the 101st shoulder patch, my combat infantrymans badge, and my jump wings in the company of my brothers in arms.
I’ll ride down the highway, two abreast, knowing there may be safer ways to do this. At the same time, the feeling will be just like riding into the A Shau on a UH-1 out of B Co, 101st Aviation Battalion with my legs hanging over the side, just enough danger to keep my adrenalin level pumping high and my nervous system at high port. As I ride down the highways of our route, the physical part of my being will be right there with you. But the memories will be of another time.
I’ll see a Marine and mentally thank the good Lord for having marine artillery at the Rock Crusher in III Corps. Those guys could put a battery six into a buschel basket when the Infantry needed it. I’ll see an Air Force vet and feel the after effects of a pilot hitting the gas after dropping flaming hell on my flanks. I can almost smell the jet fuel fumes of the four Marine four aircraft that circled a “basketball” in the A Shau, broke through the clouds and fog, and came to our help in the worst possible of circumstances in the worst possible type of weather. I’ll see a Navy emblem and remember the feel of the deck of the battleship New Jersey as she steamed through the Panama Canal en route to the Gulf of Tonkin. I’ll remember the Seabees and the Red Horse battalions bringing working facilities and defensive perimeters out of swamps and hills.
Tonight I may recall the odor of the South China Sea coming in at full tide as I sat on a helmet during the night, back to back with another infantryman sitting on his helmet, both in water past our hips. Around daybreak, I will probably conjure up old memories of an airborne trooper, a south Georgia boy (CPT Bill Phillips) whose name is on the Wall. Bill went down with the 173d Airborne Brigade. I’ll remember the nurses and medical personnel at the 85th Evac hospital in Phu Bai. A few years ago I couldn’t even watch an episode of “China Beach.” Now I can remember and appreciate the magnificent efforts of those wonderful people surging to a Medevac bird in a dead run, without going into a cold sweat.
These and a thousand other memories of my time in the Nam will run through my head out there on the highway, riding with others just exactly like me. And it is sweet to know, after all of this time, that I will not be alone, I will not be by myself, and that we do this for honor, for brethren and, in the process, for ourselves.
This year, my son rides with me. We’ll probably meet RFTW at Goodland and catch the beautiful scenery of Kansas going east. By the first of June, with the support of your presence, I will have reclaimed a little more of my soul back from the abyss. I’ll have a few more funny stories and a few more scary stories, but most of all I’ll have a little more of my innocence and trust restored.
So American Legion Riders, Patriot Guard riders, Run for the Wall riders when you look in the mirror tomorrow, stand a little taller and throw your shoulders back a little farther. We still have burdens to bear and duty to discharge. You are, each and every one, just like the boonie rats back in the ‘Nam – absolutely magnificent.
See you out there.