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FNG Story – Phil “Two Stars” Epps

Name: Phil “Two Stars” Epps
E-Mail: Aceepps@sbcglobal.net
Phone: 817-965-5787
City: North Richland Hills
State: Texas
FNG Story:

This is not so much a story as it was an experience. RFTW was presented to me last year by a SR FNG from 2008. He and I had gone through the MSF Rider Coach class together and became close friends. We also share a similar experience as we are both Navy Chiefs. He is currently on Active Duty and I retired in 2001 with 34 years. He told me upon his return from the 2008 RFTW that I should experience it for myself as he could not adequately explain it to me. He knew that I would enjoy the ride but he was right about the explanation. Words just do not describe. All the new companions/friends, the fellow Vets, the Bridge Walkers/Waivers, the waivers on the side of the road, the Police Escorts, the Platoon Leaders and Tail Gunners, Chaplains, the MMF, all the workers, both in the Run and at the places we stopped, and the Route Leaders. But let us not forget the children. I have never seen such loving eyes and happy faces as on the children at the schools we visited. They made the trip for me. I visit Vets in hospitals all the time with my clubs back home but those kids grabbed my heart and again made me proud to be an American. I just wish that we could have done more for them. God Bless the Children!

The rest of the stories you can read from the other FNGs. I concur wholeheartedly with their reports.

See you next year.

Oh, yeah. I need to get me a helmet cam. Any suggestions?

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FNG Story – Fred Knipper

Name: Fred Knipper
E-Mail: fred.knipper@duke.edu
Phone: 919-498-9941
City: Sanford
State: North Carolina
FNG Story:

I can not begin to put into words the experience I had as an FNG on this year’s Run for the Wall. I retired from the Air Force in December 2004 after almost 27-years and had been feeling something was missing from my life-I found it on Wednesday, May 20, 2009. That was the evening I met up with Run for the Wall, Southern Route in Wytheville, Virginia. From the moment I stepped into Memorial Park after all the riders parked, I could see the brotherhood and friendships that had evolved-I have to admit I was afraid I was an outsider looking in and would not fit in with the group. Too Tall changed that quickly! He was the first person I ran into and as busy a man he was, he took the few minutes to point me in the right direction to the registration van, shook my hand and said “Welcome Home”! Little did I know at that moment how important those two words were and what they would mean for the remainder of the trip and my life! I quickly found the registration van and my next encounter was with Top Sarge, a woman who comes across with a tough as nails first impression but is truly caring, compassionate, lady with a heart of gold. Do it right and you are her friend, do it wrong or forget something, she will send you on your way till you get it right and then she will be your friend! After listening to her briefing, I felt more comfortable and started to experience the feeling everyone else tries to describe however, there are no words to describe it!

After a great meal at the Moose Lodge, I stood in the parking lot waiting for a hole to be made large enough to fit my bike through, listening to stories and conversations. As the FNG, I listened to every story I could to learn more about the ride, the mission, and more importantly, what not
to do!

The next morning in the park when Pied Piper called for all the FNGs that joined in Wytheville to come forward, I was unsure what was about to happen! I have to say, I never felt so honored to stand in front of a group of people so dedicated to a cause and receive the welcome that we got. THANK YOU Pied Piper you are a true leader and professional! As the children flowed in, I stood back and watched how many of the riders dropped to their knees to meet these kids face to face. They truly came down to their level and you could see in the kids eyes the love and respect this town has for Run for the Wall! I felt honored to reach my arm out and help some of the riders back to their feet after talking with the children! It was an amazing morning! When we got on the bikes and ready to head out, my heart was pounding! I did not want to make a mistake or worse yet, cause someone else to make a mistake! At that moment, I knew I had found what has been missing! From that point on, my heart swelled with pride and I got a lump in my throat every time we passed under an overpass that had someone standing on it waving a flag. I will never forget the one overpass we went under that had an older man standing at attention and saluting the riders as they passed under the bridge! That brought tears to my eyes!! As Top Sarge said the evening I met her, “if you do not feel this in your heart, you need a heart transplant!”

I thought when we got to DC on Friday and went our own ways to our hotels that, was going to be the end…was I ever wrong!!! The next morning when we met at the host hotel for the FNG ride to Arlington, you could feel the excitement. As we arrived at the gates leading into Arlington, I noticed something-you could see the pride and honor in each rider and their passengers as they sat a little taller and straighter on their bikes in respect for those who have gone before us! It was amazing how quiet it was even with two hundred plus bikes rolling into Arlington. I have been to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier a few times in the past but, it has never had the significance as it did this time; watching the honored RFTW-Southern Route leadership, Too Tall and Cowboy with the Central Route, place the wreath at the Tomb!

Our next stop was the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for the group picture! I have to admit, this was painful! With a bad back, sitting in a cramped place on stone was not the highlight of the trip! But, it was worth it! I am not sure who they were, but I owe a big thank you to the two folks behind me-if it was not for them helping me up, I might still be sitting on the steps today!

Sunday morning started early in the host parking lot as everyone began to arrive for the ride to the Pentagon for the Rolling Thunder ride. More great friends to meet, more great stories to listen to! As I listened to the experiences of others who went a lot further than I did, it made me want to go further next year! Hopefully, if everything goes well I will be able to but if it does not, Wytheville, Virginia is a great starting point! As I returned home and started telling others of the adventure and experience, many of them have already decided to make the run next year! To all the leadership from RFTW-Southern Route-I THANK YOU! You gave me an experience I will never forget! Too bad the FNG experience is a once in a life time experience! IT WAS GREAT!!!!

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FNG Story – Melba

Name: Melba
E-Mail: mak56@windstream.net
Your Phone: 270-766-9966
City: Elizabethtown
State: Kentucky
FNG Story:

There are not words to describe what I felt for the days Wed. thru Sun. We were on the run and in D.C. I kept thinking “It can’t get any better than this” and some one new would walk into my life and I would have a new friend, then we would pass another school or over pass and people would be waving Old Glory and cheering, I could go on and on. I have a wonderful friend and my sister who took great pictures and every time I look at them it brings a lump to my throat and my heart skips a beat. I LOVED being around all the guys that served. It was an honor to stand at the wall and at all the memorials with the men who gave so MUCH. I kept seeing a shirt that really hit home for me, it read ” ALL GAVE SOME AND
SOME GAVE ALL. I wanted to hug them all, really hard. I wanted them all to feel appreciated and loved. My dad was a Korean vet I thought about him the entire time we were on the run. Dad has gone on to heaven now but I would like to do that trip every year in his memory and my cousin who gave his life in Nam. I want to be in the presence of these brave men, and be with all the new friends I’ve made and so DEARLY LOVE. See Ya next year. God Bless each one.

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FNG Story – Joel West

Name: Joel West
E-Mail: joelwest@charter.net
Phone: 618-781-7064
City: Granite City
State: Illinois
FNG Story:

What an experience. I was able to ride with my friend Ranjet. We picked up the group in Wentzville, Mo. and rode “All the way.” I know to you real riders that rode from Cal. this isn’t much, however, for my first time it was great. Rainelle is without a doubt my favorite. The kids, city, parents, and the volunteers that served us were fantastic. Route 60 East was also a very cool ride from Hurricane to Lewisburg. In Lewisburg we met a terrific individual named Ken, he showed us around and took us to some
of his favorite watering holes. Many thanks to him and the folks at the Bull Frog Inn in White Sulphur Springs. A special thanks to Red 1 Tailgunner, Couch, thanks for making our trip enjoyable. Couch if you read this, email me.

Don’t know if I have the strength and stamina to go All The Way, but would like to try.

As the Ride Captain of our Legion Riders group, we do not advocate riding “Parade Style” and it was very disconcerting to be riding next to someone you didn’t know at highway speeds. I know their reasoning, but still think it is unsafe.

Hopefully I will be able to make it again next year. To everyone, “Thanks for making my FNG experience and the ride memorable and worthwhile.”

Joel West
Heavy Equipment Operator 2nd Class
Navy Seabees, MCB-11
1965 – 1969
Three tours in country
CAN-DO

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FNG Story – Webster Dalton

Name: Webster Dalton
E-Mail: webandcathie@verizon.net
Phone: 310-293-9542
City: Torrance
State: California
FNG Story:

I am 72 years old and a Navy vet. Nothing I have ever done has brought me closer to my love for my country than this ride.Thank You to all who made it happen! The Run was the greatest motorcycle experience I have ever had in my life. I started riding in 1949 and love it with a passion. But NOTHING ever came close to that ride and the meaning behind it. God willing I’ll be back next year. Thank You All My Brothers!

Web Dalton

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FNG Story – Diann “Mojo” McKee

Name: Diann “Mojo” McKee
E-Mail: mojorftw@att.net
Phone: 432-368-1822
City: Odessa
State: Texas
FNG Story:

To the FNGs – both current & future!

As I read the recent FNG stories, it makes me remember my own FNG year, 2003, and that same awesome feeling I had after participating in such an emotionally charged event. I, too, was hooked on RFTW by the time I made it to DC. Even though I rode that year in honor of some Nam vet friends, the friendships I made & my observations of the run’s riders & their healing journeys impacted me greatly. Doesn’t it affect all of us, though? And that is why I was more than eager to work in whatever capacity I could for RFTW that very next year. Long story short, I’ve been state coordinator for part of Texas for the past 6 years. I’ve also worked on the Advanced Team in the past, back when it was still in the concept stage, and am currently a platoon leader.

As in all organizations, it takes people with various gifts & talents to make “the whole” complete & efficient. RFTW is no different. I surely don’t have to list all the duties—the FNGs saw the work done every day. Some of the workers, though, (and there are over a hundred each year that help make this run happen), have an extra special gift, whether they were on the fuel team, chase team or in merchandising. I’ve seen it year after year. And that extra gift is their ability to make the FNGs feel comfortable in showing their feelings or in sharing their stories. Somehow, despite their hectic, busy duties, these workers stop long enough to help in whatever way they can, seeing that window of opportunity. It could be by lending an ear for even 5 minutes, or to follow up on how the rider is doing later that day. I admire these people that give so much on the run.

What I hope to convey to the FNGs is this—some of us are better at the “mechanics” of the run than with the helping of the riders & the emotional healing side. This is not to say that we don’t care—because we do! I feel that I am a “mechanic.” I take very seriously my job of making sure the stops in my area of TX run smoothly, yet are ones that the riders will remember with fond & healing memories. Likewise, I work to make the platoon an enjoyable and safe one. When we platoon leaders have to get stern with the group or individuals about an issue, please know that it is for the safety of not only that person but also for the whole group. At other times, I know that I am running around crazily trying to get things done, not having time to stop & chat.

During my FNG year, I could not tell you anything about the platoon leaders that helped lead us along the way. But that doesn’t mean that they didn’t do their job, which was to help get us from Point A to Point B. I definitely remember the Road Guards, and I gained an immense respect for these men who put themselves on the line to keep us safe. I remember Papa Smurf, the route coordinator. And I remember making friends with the riders, and seeing that I had found a new family. It didn’t matter that I was civilian—I was accepted. What I’m saying is that even though not all us workers are able to help relieve shoulders of burdens, we are there working because we want you to find that healing
like we did. We care, because we remember how much our first run helped us, whether or not we remember who worked it. Many of us want to return that gift. We want you to return home with healing in your hearts & minds, and with a sense of pride and accomplishment of your journey. But most of all, that you have, indeed, found a new family.

Diann “Mojo” McKee

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FNG Story – Don “Bullet” Pierce

Name: Don Pierce “Bullet”
E-Mail: harleyca@aol.com
Phone: 541-580-6006
City: Roseburg
State: Oregon
FNG Story:

Sort of an FNG, been since 95 since my last Run, so here goes… Russ’s wife asked that I do an after action and try to compare this RFTW to the first one and any suggestions I have/had. So here goes.

RFTW has had the same effect on me over the years, it is cleansing, emotional, fun, dangerous and I have gotten to meet the most incredible people ever. It was the same in 89 as it was this year. So, the Mission has remained the same and I am happy that it has.

I was fortunate enough to be accepted as a Road Guard and we get to see the Run in a far different perspective and I have to tell you that it was ALL GOOD!

You folks have fine tuned this to a well oiled machine stocked and staffed with some incredible people and it shows every step of the way. People like Russ, Gunny, Ross, Spanky(Sparky) Santa and a wealth of others, The Fuel Crew was amazing and vastly under thanked, The Advanced Road Guards performed well and the leaders are fantastic! Talk about fast thinkers, things changing every second and Ross and Sparky took it (sort of) in stride and made things work. Talk about thinking on your feet!!! And they all have it in their heads, the entire route, fuel stops, exits, on ramps and it goes on and on. I listened in awe to them talking about last years problems and how to deal with them this year and it was all off the tops of their heads.

I want to thank Gunny for letting me be a Road Guard and keeping track of me while I learned how you do it now, talk about different! And it worked, over and over and over. He even sprang for the arm bands himself. How fortunate you are to have him.

The state coordinators did amazing things. Come on, an Apache Helicopter!, Navaho Code talkers and dancers?? A Huey?!?! Police escorts? Free Food, Free fuel! These folks all did an amazing job and with little thanks in proportion to the work they did. Wow, You people have it TOGETHER!

The Chaplain’s, amazing and I was very happy to see them there, that is a NO-BRAINER and a major plus to the RUN, I thank them all. The Staging Crews there every stop, putting it all in order until the next stop, flexible Registration people and the Missing Man Coordinator, all important jobs done by great people whose only interest is making it work!

So, differences? In some areas a lot, others none, all of it positive. There was nothing I would have done different and certainly nothing I could have done better.

Change? Only one and only because I have not heard the most recent arguments against it.

I like the NUMBER 1 (Hammer Lane), it’s worked before and worked well despite the Law Enforcement folks not liking it, lots less danger and lets the traffic flow free for passing and for off ramps. Like I said, I have not heard the latest against, but obviously it was visited over and over and found it to be lacking.

What I really liked is the adaptability of all those involved, free thinkers, get it done, not many things carved in granite, changes and decisions made on the fly when needed and made at the level needed, by who was there at the time. And it worked over and over and over.

So, thanks for everything everybody did, water crews, fuel, staging, Road Guards, Chaplains, Platoon Leaders, Tail Gunners, et al. and ad nauseam. Another memorable ride, as usual.

Don Pierce

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FNG Story – Ron & Frances Wrenn

Name: Ron & Frances Wrenn
E-Mail: retnaltd@excite.com
Phone: 575-808-0392
City: Ruidoso
State: New Mexico
FNG Story:

ALL THE PEOPLE WE MET WERE EXTREMELY NICE EVEN WITH ALL THE WRONG PLACES I PUT MY BIKE PLATOON 7. WE HAD A GREAT TIME AND ALL. I WAS TOLD SEVERAL TIMES TO KEEP CLOSER, I HAVE DRIVEN 4.5 MILLION MILES IN A SEMI AND I KEEP A 2-3 SECOND SAFETY MARGIN AND PULLING A TRAILER YOU SHOULD KEEP THE SAME NOT BE 20 FT BEHIND THE ONE IN FRONT OF YOU. OVER I MET GREAT PEOPLE AND HAD A GOOD TIME BUT SAFETY SHOULD BE A MORE CONCERN PULLING TRAILERS LOOK FORWARD TO NEXT YEAR. THANKS

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FNG Story – Andy Stierwalt

Name: Andy Stierwalt
E-Mail: beardedone@rock.com
Phone: 785-823-1019
City: Salina
State: Kansas
FNG Story:

Two years ago, with my bike ready to go and money in my pocket for Run for the Wall, I sprang an oil leak which put me in the shop instead. I thought I would never have another opportunity. RFTW 2009 briefly came through Salina on Sunday… I didn’t get to serve you breakfast at 4am… and Missed seeing you come and go in Junction City. On Wednesday afternoon I packed my bike and sailed to West Virginia by 9:30 the next night and 1100 miles. I appreciated being able to ride into DC with you. I appreciated being able to sit on the Lincoln Memorial and speak with a few of you fellow brothers and vets. I may not be able to ride with you again, but, know that as I stand to at every vet’s funeral in Kansas, I
will think of you and the honor you do all of us.

Respectfully,
Kansas Patriot Guard Member, Andy Stierwalt

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FNG Story – J. Lee Gorman

Name: J. Lee Gorman
E-Mail: irish2@satelephone.com
Phone: 785-230-4456
City: Scranton
State: Kansas
FNG Story:

I’m a veteran that served from June 1971 to June 1974, so yeah I knew guys that went to RVN. I heard a co-worker (Monty) talking about doing the Run For The Wall in November of 2008 and after talking it over with the wife said I would ride along as well. I called my little brother (Patrick) and asked if he wanted to ride along and he said, “sure!” so we were set. We started planning and buying stuff for our trip in January 2009. Monty and his wife (Fay) had their hotel reservations set by the first week in
February. Pat and I decided we would camp along the way so I borrowed my older brother’s bike trailer (necessitating buying a trailer hitch and wiring). Pat and I worked out the camping stuff by April and started packing the trailer. By May we were set for the trip.

Junction City Kansas is where we met RFTW 2009 and got our FNG buttons and ride packets. We attended the morning meeting and climbed onboard around 8AM. I was in Platoon 7 (Trailer Trash) and Pat and Monty were in Platoon 6. We started the ride with high expectations and much enthusiasm. For the next 5 days we got great weather, super-slab highways and nerve wracking riding. This is not a bad thing, but if you aren’t used to close order formation riding, you’ll be frazzled pretty quick. You have to develop a level of trust for the rider in front and behind you that makes you believe you aren’t going to get creamed if you go prompt stupid for 3 seconds. Your throttle lock or cruise control is only decoration because you aren’t going to get to use them, you’ll have to be constantly making adjustments to your speed, rowing the gear box, off-throttle, on-throttle, clutch, and STAY OFF THE BRAKES. It’s the most I’ve ever worked on a motorcycle in 35 years of riding, period. Through it all safety of your fellow riders is paramount.

Then you remember, this is a mission, not a ride to eat, not a Sunday breakfast call, not a poker run, not a joy ride. It’s a mission to honor those that went before and those that didn’t return. So a little discomfort is OK, a little work is in order because that’s what says you really care. Riding with 700 other people working just as hard as you are says you want to be there, doing what you are doing, which makes those crowds on the streets, the banners hung from the over-passes and the flag wavings from the kids that much sweeter, that much more meaningful. Until you know the sacrifice and pain of this
ride, you can’t appreciate the out-pouring of support you’re being given. The free gas, the free meals, the free camping, the hugs by burly bikers saying, “welcome home,” wouldn’t mean as much without your effort to be there.

During the ride we stopped at Veteran Hospitals to meet brave souls, Vietnam Memorials to pay respect, met the Governor of West Virginia, and eventually got to Washington DC and the National Vietnam Memorial. All the aches and pains of this trip, the right hand cramps, the lack of sleep, the blur of the road, the heat and sweat, all disappeared as we walked to the Wall, mission accomplished. We were home.