Our Mission is Complete, but we still Continue The Mission!
This morning, at a very early hour, 30 of the Run For The Wall Riders, ten from each of the three Routes, rose and made their way to The Wall long before the crowds would show up. These Riders were chosen for one particular honor: They would be washing the Wall! I cannot tell you why I was chosen to stand amongst these great Veterans, but I will never forget that I got to touch the Wall, so that it could look it’s best as it touched us.
We arrived at the Wall, signed in after reading the SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) for the National Park Service, and attending a briefing. (We are used to morning meetings, so the Park Ranger had a pretty easy time getting our attention.) We were issued instructions on how to remove any artifacts/mementos that had been left, how to go about the cleaning process, and were then issued our mops and buckets. A few of us would set up and man the hoses, while the others reverently scrubbed any grime and debris from those 58,000 names. Not a soul who participated had a dry eye, nor were there many words spoken. For about 30 minutes, we worked almost silently to prepare the Wall for our Brothers and Sisters that would be joining us shortly.
Once the Wall was cleansed, Chaplain Duane said a few fitting remarks for us, and then had us turn and face the Wall as he said a prayer over us. With that, our duty was over, but the honor still remains. None of us will forget this experience.
At 09:00, we were already filling the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. While we waited for our group picture to be made, there were a lot of hugs and tears, chants of “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.!”, the singing of our National Anthem, and many other shows of American Patriotism. A few minutes before the photo, we were privileged to see a flag transfer and Name reading for the “Fallen Thirteen.”
And then, precisely at 09:30, and in accordance with our Park Permit, we had three minutes to get out group photo. After the hired photographer took his image, the three Route Photographers took a turn as well. I urge you all to purchase one of his photos, but in the meantime, I present to you: Run For The Wall, 2023.
We then, as one Family, walked down to that black granite Wall. Arm in arm, side by side, in little groups, and singularly, we paused at each panel looking for names that were special to us. At the apex of the Wall, our Route Coordinators laid a plaque stating what RFTW had done over the past 11 days. And with that simple act, our 2023 Mission was completed. The Riders milled around for several hours, still looking for those names of loved ones that they had not found yet. We were loathe to leave each other’s company, and in no hurry to leave this honored Wall.
Our FNGs had one more task to perform. They had been instructed to find that one special person that they really connected with during the Run. Meet them at the Wall and ask them to flip their FNG badge upside down. This little ritual symbolizes that they have made it “all the way” to the Wall, and are no longer a “Fine New Guy.” Instead, they are FAMILY!
Twelve days ago, at our Midway Route FNG Meeting in Ontario, I had asked four of our new Riders to wear a POW/MIA bracelet as we travelled. I asked them to look up the details of each of these Men. I wanted them to know who we were riding for, and what the price was that these Men had paid. We met again at the Wall, and we took a photo of these Riders, The bracelet that they had worn, and the name of that MIA as it reads on the Wall. I was brought to tears as each one of these now-former FNGs thanked me for giving them the opportunity to wear the bracelets. But I thanked THEM for doing it, and I could tell by their reactions to physically touching those names, after having read their biographies and looking up their photos, I knew that our Riders now fully understand what this wall represents. As one of the Ladies said “He didn’t have a chance to get married or have childr
en. He was just a boy!” I am not ashamed to tell you that we held each other in a long embrace, surrounded by three others that could tell our Rider needed consoling. When she could calm herself, she let us know that she felt a lighter heart now that she had experienced the Wall and it’s healing powers.
I hope that each of you reading this SITREP will be able to feel the healing powers that Run For The Wall offers. That is why we are here. Yes, we want to honor our Veterans. Yes, we want to pay tribute and offer hope to the Families of our STILL Missing In Action. Yes, we want to demand a full and accurate accounting of all of our Service Men and Women. But we also want to offer comfort and healing to ALL the people that need it.
War tears nations and people apart. For some, it is an ideological war. But for most others, it is a physical, visceral, mentally crippling battle that rips families apart until the end of time. Nothing that we can do will ever adequately heal those wounds, but we can try.
And we do.
We offer what we can to ease the burden of our Soldiers, their Families, Friends, and Supporters.
We are Run For The Wall. This is what we do.
It has been my extreme honor to once again be your Route Photographer and SITREP Author. I have tried to put into words the emotions that we are all feeling during our Mission. Sometimes I have interjected some of my own stories, but I try to relate as many of YOUR stories as I can. It is my hope that I have adequately represented you, and that these reports will bring you joy and comfort as you look back on them in years to come.
I will begin editing the thousands of photos that I took some time in the next few weeks. Please be patient as it will take a while to get through them all. I will be making another few posts in the next several months to let you know how the photos are coming, and to “wrap up” our shared experiences once we have had time to reflect on them. Until then, Thank You once again for letting me represent you. I have tried my best.
Jim “Hoofer” McCrain
Midway Route 2023
Photographer and SITREP Author
With only 100 miles to ride today, you would think that it would be an uneventful day. But you would be wrong!
We started our morning with … you guessed it, a morning meeting. It was full of the usual announcements on safety, hydration, follow the Road Guards, etc.. Nothing new, but everything different, just like every day of the Run. There was an addition to the meeting, though. Everyone knows how caring our Chaplains are, and how they protect us both physically and emotionally. Today was no exception. Our Route Coordinator has been experiencing some family medical issues that have been waying heavily on his mind. Our Chaplains presented him with two “Prayer Quilts” that they had prayed over the previous evening, and then asked all of the Riders to do so as well. So this morning, with our Chaplains laying their hands on our Route Coordinator, the entire group of Midway Route Riders bowed our heads and prayed for Jerry “Corp” Wilkins. Not just for the physical needs of his family, but for the emotional support that we so dearly want to give him. Jerry has been an incredible Leader for the Midway Route, and when the riders learned of what has been on his mind, they were even more impressed by his dedication and service. I know that I said this just yesterday, Jerry, but you did good! Thank You!
And then Vickie “Needy” Meyer read the final biography for the 2003 Run. This was slightly different from the others we have heard, as it was about two young Marines that “leaned in” during an attack on a military base several years ago. What made this biography so meaningful was not just the incredible story of what these two Men did, but their unknown connection to the Midway Route. One of the Men that they saved with their own sacrifice is the Son of our Former Route Coordinator and his Wife, Ken and Denise Dugas.
Our World is very small.
It was soon time to ride, and our first stop was at the new National Museum of the U.S. Army. This is an amazing museum and I cannot wait to go back and spend more time here. It chronicles the U.S. Army history from its inception during the Revolutionary War all the way up to today. It is a very impressive building with even nicer displays inside. Go visit it!
Inside the Museum, we were able to do a few special things. First was a ceremonial flag folding for the flag that we have been carrying across the nation for the past 10 days. (Remember that “dignified transfer” ceremony that I have written about? It was THAT flag.) This flag will be transferred one more time tomorrow morning, and then its journey with the Midway Route will be finished.
The other “fun” activity was to take a group photo of the entire Midway Route Family. I was able to start this tradition last year at the Marine Corp Museum, so it is only fitting that we took one today as well. It is the one and only time that I am able to get all of us together for one “Family Photo” as normally several of the service platoons are on the road early in the mornings and are always ahead of us. But this photo is pretty special if you look closely. You will not see a large group of yellow hats standing together, or red hats, or green hats. You will see all of the various leadership team members mixed in with all of the “regular” Riders. We ARE a Family on the Midway Route, and I think this photo represents that fact very well. So Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the 2023 Midway Route Riders of Run For The Wall!
And I am glad that we took this photo when we did, because just 20 short miles later, we arrived at our final hotel for this year. From the parking lot, people began to disperse. Some are staying here, some across the street, some still further away. Soon, in fact within a few hours, we were joined by the Southern Route, who was quickly followed by the Central Route. We are always happy to see all of our RFTW “Cousins” from the other Routes, but their arrival signals the end of the tight-knit bond that we had as our own “little” Family. This is an emotion that I have never quite been able to convey adequately. I have said that it is like a Family reunion where all of the Aunts and Uncles come to visit. They start telling stories about their adventures and we all listen eagerly and enjoy them. After all, we have stories just like them to tell. But their stories are not OUR stories, and we aren’t sure how to, or if we WANT to share ALL of our stories with them. Some things are just “private family matters” that only we would understand. And the same goes for the other Routes as well. But we love each other, we are glad that we all made the journey safely across America, and we rejoice in seeing each other again.
Personally, I look forward each year to seeing my buddy and fellow Route Photographer Jerry “F-Stop” Lanier ride in. (Jerry is with the Southern Route.) We actually greet each other out in the middle of the street! And then the new Central Route Photographer, Alan “X-Box” Steiner rolled in, and the Three Route Photographers were reunited. We are a small group that have one of the BEST “jobs” for the entire Run. We get to meet EVERY person in our Route, we get to know them, and we get to share special moments with them. It is such an honor to be amongst these great people, and I know that Jerry and Alan feel the same way.
With all of the three Routes gathered together, it was time for more hugs, more laughs, a few tears, maybe a few beers, and then off to our beds.
You see, we may be here in Arlington, Virginia. But tomorrow morning we will cross over the Potomac River and head into our Nations Capitol. Tomorrow morning, we will complete our Mission for 2023.
I will tell you all about it … tomorrow.
Jim “Hoofer’ McCrain
Midway Route Photographer and SITREP Author.
Today was a very short riding day for the Midway Route. We are within an average days ride from Washington DC, but we will make it a two-day trek. With so few miles to do today, we will just take it easy and enjoy a few last memorial stops. But first we had to get started for the day.
As you may have ben able to tell, a LOT goes on during our morning Riders meeting. These meetings are Mandatory, as we discuss any changes to our itinerary, weather issues, safety concerns, and other general announcements. Today’s meeting started, as always with one of our Chaplains leading us in a prayer for safety and of thanksgiving for our safe and successful trip across the country. We said the Pledge of Allegiance and sang the national anthem, as usual. The meeting and announcements were nothing new, until we got to the very end. The last activity of each meeting is to read a biography of one of our Nations Fallen Heroes.
Denise “High Maintenance” Dugas has been reading these biographies to us for many years. As she took to the stage this morning, she mentioned that this would be the last bio that she reads to use. Her years of Midway Route Leadership is coming to a close, and she will pass that torch on to another for next year. For her final reading, she chose to read the biography of Col Rex Meyer, a Vietnam Veteran that lost his battle with Agent-Orange related cancer a few years ago. While she was reading Col Meyers biography, several people enveloped Vickie Meyer, our own “Needy”, in a circle of hands, everyone wanting to comfort her and pay tribute to her late Husband. Denise and Vickie have been close friends for decades, so Denise could think of no better person to honor with her last reading than the Meyer Family.
So it was with tears in my eyes that we started down the highway towards are first fuel stop. Normally, there is a bit of chatter on the CB radio as the Road Guards deploy to intersections and on-ramps, and the Leadership communicates with the Platoon Leaders. Today, the radio was relatively silent. It gave us all a time to reflect on what we have done over the past 10 days. Part of that reflection for me is the close friendships that I have bound with certain people. For the past 4 years, I have ridden primarily with the Leadership Support Platoon, which is directly behind the Missing Man Formation. The riders in this Platoon have not varied much during these years. In fact, there has been a “core element” that has remained the same. Now, I knew that at least one of “my gang’ would not be coming back next year. And that made me wonder who else would not be returning.
At our first stop, I found out that several of “my gang” would not be returning, for one reason or another. It was both a sad and bittersweet morning. Sad, because I will miss riding with these patriots, my Friends, in support of our Mission. I will miss seeing their (generally) smiling faces. But I understand the need to move on. Someday, I, too, will step back and give someone else the opportunities that I have enjoyed. Until that time comes, I wonder who I will be riding with next year. Will it be another Leadership Member in a new role? Will it be someone brand new to Leadership? What will MY role be? Will I have a role? It is actually exciting to think about all of the possibilities. “My Gang” cannot be replaced in my heart, but there is room for others to join in. There MUST be, because just a few years ago, *I* was the “New Guy” and I was welcomed in.
This sort of reflection was on my mind all day. And in talking with many others, I could tell that they were having the same thoughts. I know of at least six people that will not be with us next year, from Leadership Support to Platoon Leadership to Road Guards. There will be changes in our Outreach Team and Ambassador Team. As sad as I am to know this, I am heartened to see several of this years FNG Class that I know will be stepping into leadership roles. I am not saying that I can predict the future. None of us can. But some of us “seasoned” RFTW Riders can sort of tell when an FNG “gets it” and fully understands what we are trying to do. I have seen that again this year! There are some very promising young Riders that I KNOW will be leading the Midway Route into the future. We are in for some exciting times!
We continued down the road to our lunch stop at the River Falls Park in Weldon, NC. This beautiful little park always has a special Patriotic display set up for us. This year was no exception. Imagine a large cross laid out and outlined on the grass with small American Flags. Then imagine being able to fill the interior of that outline with thousands more flags, until the park is filled with Red, White, and Blue! There are always some Christmas Trees set up in the park that we decorate with the names and photos of Fallen Heroes, POWs, those Missing in Action, and memorials of “The 22.” (On average, 22 Veterans commit suicide every day in the United States. We need to do a better job at understanding and identifying PTSD!)
Yes, the memorials are beautiful and somber, but we don’t let our emotions get the best of us. Today, we know that we are celebrating US. This park, and specifically the Weldon Mill Distillery is a great place to take group photos. I try to get every platoon, whether a service platoon or a Riders platoon, to gather together on the steps of the Mill for one final photo.
Notice that I said “try”? With everyone feeling a little “salty” from our achievements, getting them to line up for a “nice’ photo is like trying to herd cats, with a broom, while wearing roller skates, on ice. In other words, “It ain’t easy!” We were just having too much fun with each other today! But we DID get the platoon photos, both serious and fun, and we had a good time doing it. (I HOPE I got every platoon!)
After the lunch, it was just a few short miles to the Moose Lodge in Hopewell, Virginia, where we would have our “recognition awards ceremony.” This is our chance to thank all of our Leaders and volunteers for the hard work that they put into the Midway Route. We get to acknowledge the contributions and successes of each Team, and start sowing the seeds for next year. That doesn’t mean we can let up on our duties for the next two days, but we can start “seriously” recruiting some of those eager (soon to be) former FNGs!
During this awards programs, we said Thank You to Ken “Six-String” Dugas for his MANY years of service to the Midway Route. He has kind of been a “Route Coordinator Emeritus” as well as a mentor and stand-in for all things Road Guard related. He was instrumental in developing the “servant leadership” style that Midway has fostered. His time with RFTW is coming to an end, as he is focusing now on the Combat Hero Bike Build program. He isn’t going away, he is just changing his manner of supporting our Veterans. Six-String, we are going to miss you!
We got to honor many of our other leaders, but the one that deserves the most thanks this year from all of the Midway Riders is our Route Coordinator, Jerry ”Corp” Wilkins. He did an outstanding job as out Leader this year, and the success of the Run can be laid at his feet. Yes, he had help and he graciaously admits it. But it was his leadership, training, and oversight that made our journey and Mission so successful. Jerry, it has been an honor to serve with you, and I know that all of the other volunteers feel the same! You did good, Sir!
As all of the other Leaders were called up to receive a certificate and wall plaque, you could hear people joking, laughing, and even crying a few times, as we honored all achievements and heard people announce their plans for the future. This is where some of us found out who would not be returning next year and who definitely would be back. Again, it is both a sad and happy ceremony.
Finally, it was time to leave and head to our hotel for the evening. And that is why this SITREP is a little shorter than usual. We got here early. We are in a good mood. We have an early, but easy day tomorrow to get us into Arlington, Virginia. So tonight, we will laugh together, tell stories together, some may have a beer out in the parking lot, others were already playing a game of cards in the lobby. We will relax and enjoy the limited time we have left together. We will have some fun.
Tomorrow, the mood of the entire Route will change. We will wake up to the knowledge that this is the last time that we, the 2023 Midway Route Family, will be together as a singular unit. Once we arrive in Arlington and all the other Routes join us, we will never be the same. Our thoughts will be on finishing the Mission we started 10 days ago.
But that is tomorrow. Tonight, we will enjoy each others company.
Jim “Hoofer” McCrain
Midway Route Photographer and SITREP Author
When I get back home after the Run, I will start editing the photos that I have taken this year. They will be made available for you to use for free. They will be posted at www.jimmccrain.smugmug.com/Run-For-The-Wall. Just look for the 2023 Gallery.
Todays SITREP is going to be shorter than usual. Not because we did less today, but because a theme for the day presented itself as soon as our morning meeting began. I am going to let these stories tell themselves.
Story Number One: My roommate this year is a tall, thin, extremely likable fellow named Tim. We have gotten along very well, and I wish I had met him years ago. One evening after our riding was over for the day, he casually mentioned that he had beaten a cancer diagnosis. That was very good news! He credited one of our Chaplains with his recovery, by offering prayers and encouragement to him.
The next evening, he mentioned that he had his own outreach mission to perform the next day. Since he is on the Staging Crew, I assumed that his Team were all going on a special program.
This morning, one of the Chaplains casually mentioned that they (the Chaplains) had a large group of people that were going to be standing on an overpass with flags to cheer us along. Would I like to go visit with them and get some pictures? Sure! As the pack began to move out this morning, I rode up behind the Chaplain Corps, only to find myself riding next to my roommate Tim. Cool! I finally get to ride with him! But I wondered why he was there.
About an hour later we arrive at the designated overpass, and sure enough, there are a bunch of people gathered there. They happen to be from our Chaplains church. As we dismounted our bikes, our Chaplain announces to the crowd that “This is Tim! The recipient of our very first Prayer Quilt!”
The pieces of this strange puzzle fell into place. Through some strange, round-about way, I was present when a new Friend met the Church Group that prayed over him, encouraged him to keep up the fight, offered to help in any way that they could, and that covered him, literally, with prayers.
Tim credits their support and friendship with his remarkable recovery!
Story Number Two: At our morning meeting a few days ago, one of our Ambassadors told the story of visiting a Veterans Home in Tennessee. The entire Ambassador Team (all 8 of them) spent about an hour trying to visit each of the Veterans that lived there. He was heartbroken when he found a 92-yeear old highly decorated Vietnam Veteran lying in his room all alone. As our Ambassador talked with him, he discovered that this Veteran had not had a single visitor in over a year and a half! He was so grateful for the brief visit that he sat up as best he could and feebly gave a salute. Our Ambassador left in tears, and still wells up when he mentions this encounter.
Story Number Three: Our own dear Sarah took to the microphone this morning to Thank all of the Riders that visited a specific VA Hospital during our Outreach Day in Cookeville. She told of a deaf elderly Man that has no visitors other than family. After all, he is hard to communicate with. She said that he felt so special that day. His entire Family wanted to extend their Thanks to our Riders for their considerate visit. That deaf Veteran is her Uncle!
Story Number Four: You may remember that I wrote about our visit to Wilson Elementary School. The Midway Route made a small financial donation to help support these kids. Some of these kids live in homes with dirt floors. Some do not have running water. Some wear only hand-me-down clothing. Some go home hungry at night. We gave them school supplies, t-shirts, and some money.
Story Number Five: This afternoon we visited the Falcon Childrens School. This is an orphanage that houses and educates poor, neglected, and/or abandoned children, giving them love and security. The Midway Route has been a supporter of the school for five years now. Today, we gave each graduating Senior a gift certificate. For many of them, this is the largest amount of money that they have ever had all to themselves. We offer them encouragement and a pledge of support. We are extremely proud of what they have accomplished, and the attitude that they all have for their own future.
Story Number Six: While at the Falcon School, one of our own Riders (“Pockets”) told how his daughter had taken her own life a few years ago. He proceeded to tell the students in the room how much each one of them mattered. Not just to their educators, not just to their friends, not just to us, but that they mattered to our society. He then announced that he was giving scholarships to each of the graduating Seniors, in his daughters name. (There wasn’t a dry eye in the room!)
Does what we do make a difference? We honor our Veterans. We visit the sickly, the poor, the “forgotten.” We offer “small change” from our wallets. We give little gifts. We talk to strangers.
But to the people that we interact with, we bring hope. We bring understanding. We show our love and support for those that have sacrificed so much for us. We encourage young people to follow their dreams, and show them that they CAN follow those dreams. We give children the tools they need to get an education so that they can make a better life for themselves. We put new clothes on the backs of people that may not have had a new shirt in years. And we send a child home with a full belly.
Yes. What we do matters. We change lives. But don’t take my word for it. Read Story Number Seven:
This one comes directly from a former Midway Route Rider, the Daughter of our own “Big Bopper.” She writes:
Hello Midway Route! Some of you may remember me from last year. Some of you may not. I was the short, bald girl that loved signing patriotic songs.
For those that don’t know my story, six years ago I was given a stage IV breast cancer diagnosis with a life expectancy of less than a year. Apparently God had other plans for me though and I just kept on living. Then, in January of last year, four months before the 2022 ride, the cancer had spread greatly through my brain and the doctors felt that I had about a month left on my ticket. So what did my dad do…. he signed me up for a motorcycle trip that was scheduled in May… and, somehow, by the grace of God, I lived long enough to join you all as an FNG.
I can’t adequately express what this ride meant to me. I was so nervous joining. I had ridden on the back of a motorcycle for a grand total of maybe eight hours in my entire life. I knew nothing of the culture or the schedule or what to expect. But even if I had known what to expect, I wouldn’t have been prepared for what I experienced.
The love and acceptance that you all showed me from the moment I joined was beyond anything I could have imagined. You embraced me with hugs, love, prayers, chaps, neck warmers, and rain gear. You made me feel like I was truly part of what you were doing… and what you were doing was truly something spectacular!
You will never know what a difference you made in my life. That week I felt like I was part of something much bigger than myself and my problems. I forgot about the cancer for the first time since I’d been diagnosed. Life’s worries melted away as I focused on the mission. I loved every moment of the journey and every one of you that was on it.
A year has passed since that glorious ride, and now RFTW 2023 is en route. I’m not able to join you this year, but I am grateful to report that I am still alive and well. According to the University of Michigan Cancer Center, I am a “medical anomaly”. But we all know that it is so much more than that.
Thank you for loving me and accepting me. Thank you for including me on your ride and in your lives. And thank you for praying for me. I have no doubt that it is through your prayers and those of the saints and the faithful that I am still on the top side of the grass.
Until we meet again, I pray that God blesses you, keeps you, and makes His glorious face shine upon you.
P.S. I’m happy to report that my wild, curly hair finally grew back!
What I have submitted this evening is such a small sampling of what we have been doing everyday for the past nine days. These are just a few of the hundreds of stories that we hear during the Run. I wonder how many we do NOT hear? I am so proud of our Midway Riders, and all of the Riders from the other Routes as well, because I know that these things we do aren’t just a once-a-year occurrence. I see the goodness in our Riders hearts. I know of the countless hours of volunteer work that they do throughout the year. I know of the charities that they support year round. I know that they care for their Brothers and Sisters, their comrades in arms, and the Families of their Heroes. They “walk the talk” and will leave no Man behind. They make a difference in the lives of the people they touch, both their physical and emotional needs.
As “Pockets” and I were standing in the hotel lobby, getting ready to turn in for the night, I offered my condolences for his daughter. We talked a bit of different tragedies that had befallen both our Families, and how helpless we felt not preventing them. He did not know the theme of todays SITREP. But as we ended our conversation, he said with a sad smile “We do whatever we can. We make a difference.”
This is Run For The Wall. This is what we do.
Jim “Hoofer” McCrain
Midway Route Photographer and SITREP Author
The Mission Statement for Run for the Wall states that “To promote healing among ALL veterans and their families and friends, to call for an accounting of all Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action (POW/MIA), to honor the memory of those Killed in Action (KIA) from all wars, and to support our military personnel all over the world.” The healing that we speak of is an emotion, and on the Run, there are really only two emotions. We are either laughing or we are crying. Most days we do both, and today was no exception.
We started our day, as usual, with our morning Riders meeting. Gary “Chief” Burd started us off with a prayer of thanks for safety, good weather, and entering into “God’s True Country.” (He was referring to his own home state of North Carolina, but we know that Heaven is actually Texas!) We had announcements from each of our Leadership Teams, and then Denise “High Maintenance” stepped up to the microphone. We braced ourselves, because this would be the reading of another Fallen Heroes biography. We were wrong.
Instead, Denise read us a letter that was sent from a commander on a ship cruising the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War. In the letter, the Commander described as best as he could the details of the loss of one of his pilots. He told how the pilot researched and executed his mission perfectly, but at some point during the mission, his aircraft was hit. He flew the aircraft out to open water as the other pilots from the mission watched his plane catch fire and begin to fall apart. As the aircraft began to fall from the sky, our pilot ordered his Navigator to eject, saving the Airman’s life. For an unknown reason, our Pilot was not able to eject himself, and the other pilots of the flight had to watch helplessly as the aircraft nose-dived into the water, disintegrating on impact. The Commander had written this letter to the Wife of the downed Pilot, and you could tell through his words how grief-stricken he was but that he could not imagine the anguish that this young Wife must be feeling. Nor could he understand how she would tell her young son, who had yet to be born.
By now, the tears of every Rider could be seen falling to the ground. But Denise wasn’t finished reading yet. She then went on to describe how this young Son grew to be a Man, and through whose efforts, the National Gold Star Family Act was established. Again, more tears. This time sorrow was mixed with a little joy, as we learned how the Son had turned a negative experience not a positive one.
And then the tears began to roll again, as it was revealed that the young Son, now a grown Man, was standing with us and rides as one of our Ambassadors. “Pitch”, we are so proud of you for what you have done, for what you have shared, and for how you inspire all those around you. I am personally proud to call you my Friend!
After the Riders Meeting, all I could do was walk up to “Pitch”, shake his hand, give him a hug, and pat him on the shoulder. No words passed between us, but I could see in his eye that he understood the pain that WE feel for his loss, and that we will do whatever we can to support him and his Family.
And then another Friend of mine had to leave the Midway Route and head back home. Shannon Spake rode with us for a few days and quickly realized just how strong a bond we on the Midway Route share with each other. Before Shannon left us, she made arrangements for her Passenger to Continue The Mission. Jet is a little stuffed bear dressed in an Airman’s Uniform. Jet rode with me for several days, and now has been passed to another Rider who will in turn pass him to another, and another, until he makes his way back home. Jet is the surrogate representative for Lt. Commander Dennis Pike, Shannon’s Father, MIA 1972. It was hard for her to leave, and it was hard for us to see her go.
But as you know by now, our Mission must continue, and so we headed to our first stop of the day, Wilson Elementary School, in Crawford, Tennessee. This is a rather small, rural school. Again, I am not overly fond of children so I thought “Great! A whole school full of them!” I am glad it was such a small school (186 children in total) because I couldn’t have dealt with too many more.
They were incredible! They were laughing and cheering: their excited exuberance was infectious! How could I have been cynical with all this energy around? The answer is: I couldn’t! I actually enjoyed the visit! The kids almost YELLED the Pledge of Allegiance, they sang the National Anthem in every key imaginable! They were absolutely adorable!
One of the “performances” that we were given was a “roll call” of our Armed Services. As the anthem for each branch of the military was played, a young “soldier” would march across the gym floor carrying a flag twice his own size. Then came an “Airman”, followed by the Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard, each with another huge flag. And at the end, here came “Uncle Sam” dressed in red, white, and blue and wearing a hat so big that it covered his eyes and he had to keep pushing it up off his nose! He practically ran around the entire gymnasium!
The Midway Route Riders were screaming with as much enthusiasm as the kids! This was just about the best, happiest thing we have seen on our entire journey so far! It was just simply an amazingly good time!
This school has been “adopted” by the Midway Route. We provided them with some school supplies (sorely needed) and a check (even more sorely needed). The Principal was overwhelmed with gratitude to the point that we could almost see her crying. But she regained her composure and insisted that we all stay for some refreshments. (Y’all, we ARE in the South. We feed people every time we get a chance!)
After the program, a bunch of the kids were BEGGING to come out and see the bikes! Being a good Principal, she granted the kids their wish. I ended up taking class photos of each grade in front of our bikes! I really had a good time, and I KNOW our Riders did, too. I can’t wait to come back next year for another visit!
By this time, it was only about 09:00. Folk’s, that was an emotional rollercoaster way to start our day.
Oh Hey! I forgot something ELSE that happened this morning. While on the way to Wilson Elementary, I rode with the Ambassador Team. I got to stop at on of the highway overpasses and visit with the people standing underneath a giant American Flag! In fact, I stayed with them until the entire pack of Riders had passed by us. It was such an uplifting event to share with these great American Patriots!
We were given ANOTHER incredible Police Escort AGAIN today! In fact, we had escorts almost all day! And we were extremely grateful for them going into Knoxville, TN. We were escorted directly to the East Tennessee Veterans Memorial. We have a tradition here (remember how I said that we are BIG on traditions!) and our FNGs as well as seasoned Riders did not disappoint. Immediately upon dismounting our bikes, we made our way to the fountains, and promptly walked right through them!
I don’t know exactly who started this tradition, or why, but I “heard” it was RFTW Founder James “Gunny” Gregory. I think he may have just been hot and wanted to cool down. (Others say he simply needed a shower.) However it started, the Midway Route just goes with it. Our Road Guards are generally first into the water, but everyone is welcome to join them. And this year, so many did! It is fun to watch! No, I didn’t join in. Someone had to stay dry to take the pictures. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!)
It was another fun moment.
But then we walked to the actual memorial site. This is a series of grey granite slabs with the name of a military conflict at carved at the top and a list of all the veterans from the County that participated in that conflict. What makes this memorial so powerfully emotional is that it sits at the very spot where an old train terminal stood. It was from this very ground that these boys boarded a train, leaving their homeland, to go off to war. Many of them never came home. It is a sobering reminder of how world events can affect even the most remote corners of our country.
It was another dip on that roller coaster ride!
After the lunch donated by the local American Legion Post, we wound our way through the beautiful mountains of eastern Tennessee, enjoying the great weather and fantastic winding roads. Of course, we stopped for fuel and ice-cream, which just made our moods so much lighter.
And it was at this time that I got the call to participate in the dignified transfer ceremony for the American Flag that we are carrying across the country. I know that this may sound a little silly to some of you, but it is quite an honor to carry this flag. For 100 miles, I was responsible for the safety and integrity of this symbol, this representation of our Nation. It is humbling to be a part of this, and also a great burden. We do not touch this flag. We wear white gloves during the transfer. As the flag is removed from its protective case, it is held in front of the bearer, who renders a salute. In my case, as a Civilian, I put my hand across my heart, held it for a respectable time, and then slowly lowered my hand. The flag was placed gently into my possession, and then saluted again. Do NOT think that the salute was for me. It was for our flag and all it represents! To see this solemn ceremony is one thing, to participate in it is quite another experience. Thank You, “Needy”, for allowing me this great honor.
By this time, I am an emotional zombie. I don’t know if I am happy, sad, joyous, depressed, or whatever. I am on emotional auto-pilot.
But our Mission must continue, so we mount our bikes and ride.
This is one of the regions that I really enjoy visiting. The roads are perfect for motorcycles. Clean, smooth, winding, and beautiful.
And there are TUNNELS! Two hundred big V-Twin engines going through a tunnel is an awesome sight … and sound! I had set myself up to take some photos from a really good vantage point just outside the tunnels exit. I could see the look of surprise in the smiles of each Rider as they passed by, knowing that I would get a pretty cool photo for them to remember this day. (I got a fun video, too!)
Again, our Law Enforcement Escort was phenomenal! We made it safely, and with minimal traffic, to our days final destination: Harley-Davidson of Asheville. Here we had great food and conversations. (Mostly talking about how fun the roads had been today!) There were also some very pretty “Big Rigs” to view, and one fancy “wrapped” motorcycle. I can’t explain them, you will just need to see the pictures. We were Happy Happy Happy!
And then “Gunny” Gregory walked up to me. Don’t worry, I was still Happy! I got to see his lovely Wife Patti again, and also got to meet his charming brother Eric. “Gunny” is an amazingly nice, generous, and thoughtful Man. He is the Founder of Run For The Wall, and we are all grateful to him for giving us this opportunity. But instead of simply accepting OUR gratitude, he gives it right back to us, letting us know how grateful he is to US for carrying on his Mission. I have been fortunate to get to know Gunny a little bit over the past few years. He has bestowed upon me the highest honor that I could receive: He likes my SITREPS and has asked me to keep writing them. When Gunny says something like this, there is a lot of pressure involved! I told him that I would continue and do my best.
So here I am, late at night, writing down the stories of our day and reliving all of the emotions that we experienced today. There are tears on my keyboard as I type, and then I occasionally laugh out loud as I look at the pictures of those kids. My roommate probably won’t get much sleep tonight because of all this noise I am making. But he wouldn’t’ have it any other way, and neither would I, because he rode that same roller coaster with me today.
And that is why we are here: To provide AND receive the healing that is in our Mission Statement. We are here to feel all of these emotions.
Jim “Hoofer” McCrain
Midway Route Photographer and SITREP Author
I have NO idea how to describe today! But I will give it a shot.
First, Cookeville! WOW! This is the Midway Route’s “Home Away From Home.” The entire City welcomes us here each year with parades, food, hugs, cheers, speeches, waving flags, flashing lights, and true southern hospitality. These are all adjectives that I have used to describe all of our other stops this year. But in Cookeville, they all get turned up to eleven! They go overboard in greeting and taking care of us. I just can’t say enough good things about the City of Cookeville! You NEED to come experience it for yourself.
The Midway Route is trying something a little different this year for RFTW. We are having a “slow-down day” or as I prefer to call it, an “outreach day.” Let me try to explain it.
By this time of the Run, most Riders have been on the road for about 10-12 days. We NEED to do some laundry, get our bikes worked on, repack and reorganize our “stuff”, and for some of us, rest. To accomplish all of this, our Leadership Team decided to spend two nights in Cookeville instead of one. But instead of just stopping here and doing nothing, we would create several outreach opportunities for the Riders. These are all optional. If a Rider doesn’t want to go anywhere, they don’t have to. But for those that do, there are some choices.
In fact, there are THREE choices. We have outreach programs going to VA Hospitals and homes, National Cemeteries, and special monuments. To make sure that everyone gets a chance to participate, we invite all of those Rides pulling a trailer to drop them at the Host Hotel and ride without them for a day. (Trailers are rarely allowed on outreach missions, for parking logistics and pack safety.) Our service platoons, such as the Staging, Fuel, and Advance Teams are always so busy that they never get to go on an outreach program. The do today! We will have a minimal staging crew just to get us started, the Riders are on their own for fuel today, and since we aren’t moving, the Advance Team can take the day off! It is a “win/win” situation for all of the Riders AND we get to spend more time in this incredible community.
But it causes one small problem for your Photographer and SITREP Author. There are THREE outreach programs today, each of which is happening at the same time, in locations about 75 miles apart from each other. So what am I to do? How can I document each of them? How do I tell the stories that are happening? The answer is: I can’t. Fear Not! I have asked for the Riders to send me any photos that they take so that I can share them with you. I have specific people taking notes at each outreach, so that I can tell you what is happening today. We WILL get the stories published to you, but it may take a few days. So this SITREP, Day Seven, is actually Day Seven “A”. Part “B” will be posted later.
SO I am going to take the time to talk about HOW the Midway Route operates and WHO is doing what.
At the top of the list is our Route Coordinator, or RC, Jerry “Corp” Wilkins. Jerry is our Man In Charge. He makes all of the final decisions and takes responsibility for all of our actions. It is a heavy burden, but Jerry stepped up and assumed the command. He is doing an incredible job, and has earned the respect of every person associated with the Midway Route. And that is a fete that is not easily accomplished. Remember that most of our Riders are former Military personelle. They are used to taking orders from their Officers. Jerry is a Civilian! Yet he has assumed the role of Commander, and no one questions his authority. That is one of the wonders of the Run For The Wall Mission. We respect our leaders and volunteers. They have earned that respect by “stepping up” when others didn’t. Jerry Wilkins, I told you several years ago that I would help you out, and I stand by that promise. It has been an honor to work with you. You have done a great job, Sir!
Next in line is our Assistant Route Coordinator. Don “10-a-See” King. Don is the second-in-command and assumes the responsibility of leader when the RC is not available. Don is also our Tennessee State Coordinator, so he is responsible for all of the wonderful stops and activities that we are having in this great State. He shares the same level of responsibilities as the RC, and can use this year as “training.” The Assistant Route Coordinator generally becomes the RC the following year. “10-a-See”, I hope you are taking notes!
The man in charge of our safety is Leo “Rucksack” Rachmel. He is the Man IN Charge of our incredible Road Guards. The Road Guards keep us safe from traffic along our entire route. They work with local Law Enforcement Officers to control the flow of traffic around us, and also to control OUR impact on the regions we travel through. The Midway Route can stretch several miles long while rolling down the highway, and that can really make it tough for the locals to conduct their routine business. Our Road Guards are instrumental in keeping everything “rolling along.” Leo is also tasked with making sure we physically stay on our route. He has to know all of the road conditions ahead of us, keep an eye on the weather, and have contingency plans in case ANY element changes. It is a TOUGH job, and Leo is doing it admirably.
We have an entire Leadership Support Team that consists of Honor Guards, Platoon Coordinators, Hotel Coordinators, Finance Teams, Risk Management Officers, Social Media Directors, Public Affairs Officers, Promotions Teams, ASL Sign Language Interpreters, and a Photographer and SITREP Author. We have a Registration Team that keeps all of the paperwork in order for each and every Rider. (They know who you are!) We even have a Merchandise Team! (Want to buy an RFTW shirt or cap? They can sell you one!)
There is an Outreach Team that has set up all of our programs that “reach out” to the communities we pass through, providing moral support and encouragement to Veterans and MIA/POW Families. (The Outreach Team has one of the most emotionally difficult jobs of the entire Mission, as they are the ones that actually meet and get to know the very people we are trying to support.) We have an Ambassadors Tram that head out in front of the Pack to visit with people on overpasses, by the side of the road, at fuel stops, and anywhere else that they see people who are eager to support us. The Ambassadors are our “boots on the ground” Team that meet with the general public on a daily basis. (I call what they do “ambassing.” Again, not a real word, just something that I made up!)
On the “heavier” side of things, we have a Chaplain Corp. These Men and Women are here to attend to our spiritual and emotional needs. I don[t know how we would get along without them! It’s not just “religion” that they attend to, but any support that a rider may need. Feeling a little blue today? Talk to a Chaplain. Need some advise on how to deal with your daily pressures? Talk to a Chaplain. Need something that you forgot at home? Talk to a Chaplain. They will help get you sorted out! I LOVE our Chaplains. They are the kindest, most generous, and genuinely friendly people that you will ever meet!
It’s not just your soul they want to save, though. They also run our hydration and snack trailer. They keep us supplied with cool beverages and food to keep us physically going down the road. (Thank you, Mission M25, for your incredible service to our Riders!) Our Chaplains also operate our Chase Vehicles. If someone has a bike breakdown during the Run, the Chase Vehicles will stop, load the bike on a trailer, and take it to the next stop. We don’t leave anyone stranded on the side of the road!
One more thing that the Chaplains do is work directly with our Medical Corp. (Some of our Chaplains are actual Medics!) The Medics will look after any cuts, scrapes, bruises, minor illnesses, or other physical problems. They are on-call 24/7. No matter the weather, you will always find the Medics walking around with full field-trauma kits strapped to them, ready for any emergency, great or small. I hope you never have to use their services, but if you do, you will be in GREAT hands! (They are also really nice Guys and Gals to talk to. Don’t be shy. Come on up and visit them!)
I just can’t tell you how many people it takes to organize and run something an event as massive as Run For The Wall. There are over a hundred volunteers that make it all look seamless and easy. From the Advance Team to the Staging Team, to the Fuel Team and the individual Platoon Leaders, these people work around the clock so that we can accomplish our Mission. Before we even hit the road, we have a State coordinator that is in charge of everything that happens in their respective State as we pass through. And we pass through ten States! I know that I am leaving a lot of people and positions out, and I am sorry. It is a huge undertaking to make Run For The Wall happen each year, and we DO start making plans for the next year even before we are through with THIS year.
All so that we can fulfill our Mission statement, which is: “To promote healing among ALL veterans and their families and friends, to call for an accounting of all Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action (POW/MIA), to honor the memory of those Killed in Action (KIA) from all wars, and to support our military personnel all over the world.”
“We strive to maintain a safe, supportive and private atmosphere in which all participants can reflect and heal on their journey to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, and the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial in Marseilles, Illinois in the hope they can return home to a new beginning.“
Our Goals are: to guide the participants safely across America, and to educate future generations on the importance of accountability in wartime actions, emphasizing that no one should be left behind.
This evening, at a special dinner hosted by the City of Cookeville, Tennessee, the Midway Route of Run For The Wall presented Tennessee State flags to twelve Gold Star Families.
This is Run For The Wall. This is what we do.
Jim Hoofer” McCrain
Midway Route Photographer and SITREP Author
After the emotionally charged day we had yesterday, we were all looking forward to a “simple” day of riding. No real agenda other than making it to Cookeville, TN. Well, that isn’t exactly true, because today was Sunday, and that means “Church with Chaplains!” (That’s not what our church service is really called, but let’s see if we can “make it a thing.”) This morning, “Blister” and his lovely Wife offered us a worship service filled with song and scripture, and enough patriotism mixed in to make everyone happy! Our Sunday services are “non-denominational” so that they may include everyone from all religions and faiths. Over the years with RFTW, I have heard Baptist, Episcopalian, Church of Christ, Pentecostal, and several other ministers speak to our crowd. It’s funny to say, but our Preachers are never “preachy” but always talk about Gods love for us and how our faith redeems us. Today was no exception. Our Chaplains offer encouragement, enlightenment, and healing for all who need it, regardless of their background or faith. We got a GREAT start to our day!
We threw a leg over our saddles right after church and headed out on the open road. Or should I say “closed highways?” Yep, we had LEO (Law Enforcement Officer) escorts all day long. We had another presidential escort to get us through Memphis, we had the Tennessee State Troopers take us down most of the highways, and had local police in every town. They were all great and saved our own Road Guards from a lot of hard work. That doesn’t mean that they had it overly easy, though. When not under a Presidential escort (all lanes closed), there is still traffic on the roads. There is an Officer or two at the front of the pack to guide us, and one or two in the back to slow down the traffic. It is up to the Road Guards to take care of the Riders in between the two ends. They still have to block intersections, move traffic along instead of letting them sit in one position next to the bikes, and do what is called a “rolling block” so that the pack can safely change lanes. It is hard work!
But the Road Guards love doing it. I can tell you from personal experience, having been a Road Guard for a few years, that riding moderately aggressively is fun, but you had better be sharp and on your game. Dealing with traffic jams while trying to catch up and pass the pack is challenging. But they you’re your Photographer) put up with the hassle to make sure we all arrive safely at our destination. (And get pictures along the route, as well!)
One of the payoffs for this morning’s work was arriving at our lunch stop in Dickson, Tennessee. We paraded through town to thunderous applause and screaming children, all waving flags and holding up banners. We stopped at the Dickson Cumberland Presbyterian Church and had an amazing stuffed baked potato and a salad with TONS of additions like olives, bacon, pickled beets, ham, cheese, and all sorts of other good things. (Yes Kathy, I had a big salad!) We washed it all down with a big ol’ glass of sweet tea and then finished off the meal with the most decadent chocolate cake! It was so good!!!
But do you know what was even better? The people that welcomed us into their church. From the youngest little girl that handed each one of us a Gideon Bible, to the oldest Lady that served me the tea, these people were all smiles, hugs, and handshakes. They do this for us every year, and we greatly appreciate it.
There is another special group that helps out with this meal that I want to mention. I don’t know how it got started, but I am glad that it did. When we arrive, there is a group of Men standing apart from the crowds, up the slope of a little hill, just standing in the shade. They always wear a bright yellow shirt and some black and white striped pants. They are inmates from the local prison. These Men found themselves on the wrong side of society and the law and have been incarcerated. But this group has worked hard to turn their lives around and are getting ready to rejoin their community. They do “community service” work, such as lawn maintenance, setting up our chairs and tables, and cleaning up after we leave. Several of us make it a point each year to go over and talk to them. We don’t treat them any different that we do our own friends. We thank them for what they have done for the Church, ask if there are any Veterans in the group, joke about the weather, some talk about sports, … You know, just being people! Hopefully, by not ostracizing them or being “afraid” to associate with them, maybe we can help them regain their pride and they can become productive members of society again. Gentlemen, Thank You!
Then it was off to Nashville, which is always “fun.” Thankfully, we had another LEO escort which made it much safer AND quicker than if we would have had to do it ourselves. I rode well ahead of the pack so that I could get to “Uncle Pete’s” and take pictures of the entire pack arriving. I don’t know who Uncle Pete is, but this fuel stop is very popular. There are BIG parking lots, lots of fuel pumps, and extremely friendly people there to help us. There are always a group of Patriot there to greet us, chief amongst them is the local Fire Department! They bring out a couple of ladder trucks and fly a HUGE American flag that we ride directly under. It is quite a sight, and that flag makes a great backdrop for photos. I felt like a little kid in a candy store! Thanks to all the Riders that posed for me, but even more thanks for not running me over! Standing in the middle of 250 bikes, all with engines running, looking for a good photo can be a little nerve wracking. But I trust these Guys and Gals, and we enjoy “playing” at times like these.
After that last fuel stop, things get a little more intense. The road from Nashville to Cookeville is beautiful! “There are trees and hills and plants and things, and the sky is turned to blue.” But there is also a lot of traffic on these winding roads to be wary of. Especially after that big lunch and the strength-sapping heat that we have been enduring. But we soldiered on and arrived in Cookeville just in time for … ANOTHER MEAL! (I will probably gain some weight on this Mission!)
The City of Cookeville is a marvelous place, and they really treat us like royalty. We again parade through town, with hundreds of well-wishers lining the streets. They welcome us into their community with food, speeches, music, and all manner of hospitality. We like Cookeville so much, that we have decided to stay here for TWO nights this year.
But that is a story for tomorrow.
Jim “Hoofer” McCrain
Midway Route Photographer and SITREP Author.
Today, the Midway Route had two simple goals in mind. We needed to make some serious highway miles, and we needed to make a very special stop to pay honor and give respect to one extremely special Lady. Both tasks would take a lot out of our Riders, so that is all that we planned for the day. Here is how it all unfolded.
We started our day in Shawnee, Oklahoma, rested and excited for a perfect day for riding. It was going to start off a bit chilly but would end up being (almost) hot. At our morning meeting, our Assistant Route Coordinator PROMISED us that there would be no rain falling on us today. Well, he didn’t lie! Instead, we had perfectly blue skies with white puffy clouds floating lazily overhead. And it stayed that way all day! Eastern Oklahoma and Western Arkansas is a beautiful region, with long winding roads that curve and twist, rise and fall, going from wide open spaces to tunnel-like forests. Riding this area is always a joy. (I am glad that I live in north Texas, because I get to come up here several times a year!)
With perfect weather and roads, I was able to make several runs up and down the pack, getting hundreds of photos. I am pretty sure that I got at least two, and maybe three photos of each Rider as we headed east on the highway. One of the perks of being the Route Photographer is that I get to ride far ahead of the pack, looking for a good photo opportunity. And then I get to enjoy an invigorating ride back to the front of the pack, where I do the process all over again. Today, picking that perfect spot was pretty hard, because ALL of the spots looked great!
One of the things that I do during each years Run is an informal contest that the Riders don’t even know they are participating in. Two or Three times during our ride, I will look at all of the Platoons and pick the ones that I think look the best as we travel down the highway. Today was the first contest, and the winner is … well I am not going to say just yet, because I think that we are ALL winners today. No, not in the liberal “Everybody gets a participation trophy” way. But in the fact that every platoon looked sharp and in great formation. (Remember, I get to see the whole pack from overpasses and can look down the long line of over 250 bikes!) Every time I looked at them, each platoon got better and better. And Every single Rider seemed to have a smile on their face the whole day! So you see, we DID all win!
But in the spirit of this little contest, I actually DID pick a few of the best platoons (for today) and my choice was corroborated by a couple of the Road Guards. So, in Third Place for the Prettiest Formation Riding in a Contest The Didn’t Know they were Competing in” goes to … 4th Platoon! This platoon has quite a few FNGs in it, but they certainly looked like seasoned RFTW Riders. At one point I even pulled in beside the Tail Gunner just so I could watch them all “in action.” Folks, they looked sharp!
Second Place goes to … 7th Platoon! These are the big, lumbering Trikes that are hard to handle and maneuver down the road. Several of the Road Guards agreed with me that our Trike Riders are doing an INCREDIBLE job this year. They are staying in their lanes, keeping their intervals tight, keeping up with the pack, and not doing nearly as much “rubber banding” as they think they are. Congratulations Trike Riders! You crushed it today!
First Place is technically a tie for me, but I am going to award a First Place and an Honorable Mention, and I hope you will agree with my reasoning. The top two Platoons today were the Road Guards and the Missing Man Formation!
The Road Guards are extremely good Riders. They are vetted before they become Road Guards, and they have all taken Advanced Riding Courses. They practice together before the Run so that they are all of the same mindset and intense concentration. They always look good, but today they looked great! I don’t want them to get a big head or ego, though, so I will chalk it up to the great lighting that we had! 😊
And the Honorable Mention MUST go to the Missing Man Formation because it is the most honorable position that we have on this Mission. Yes, the MMF has four Riders that rarely change, so they are extremely confident and capable riding together. The big variable is the Missing Man Escort Rider that changes with each leg of the day. But in every case, in all sorts of weather and traffic, this formation ALWAYS looks fantastic!
Don’t worry, all of you other Platoons! I will have another informal contest in a few days, and you won’t know about it until it is over! I told you when we first started this journey that I would be watching you. Now you know!
Our primary Mission for today was to pay our respects to a beautiful Lady that none of us really knew very well, but who touched the heart of so many of us last year.
Our lunch stop on Day five is in Russellville, Arkansas. It is in a beautiful Veterans Memorial Park. The kindest and warmest people are their to serve us a hearty meal for our bodies, offer up hugs for our reaching arms, and fill our hearts with joy from their enthusiasm, smiles, and Patriotism. Last year, after serving us a delicious meal, Irene Lintern Taff was walking with “Needy”, our Outreach Coordinator, down a tree-lined path. They were laughing and talking and enjoying the great day. Suddenly, Ms Taff stopped, fell over, and had a massive heart attack. “Needy” immediately called for help, and “Senior”, our Chief Medic, ran the fastest 100 yard dash carrying fifty pounds of medical gear that I have ever seen. Ms Taff had the best medical care that she could get, and she had it almost instantly.
As Senior worked desperately to save her, some of our Riders created a makeshift “shield” to keep people from watching and to provide Ms Taff with some privacy. At the same time, several of us gathered in circles of prayer, asking God to hold all of our medics, friends, and Ms Irene in his hands, but to do what he needed to be done.
An ambulance arrived in short order and took Ms Taff to a hospital. We learned within an hour that she had passed.
Her last tasks on this earth were to serve Run For The Wall, so that we could continue our Mission. Some of our Riders remembered her laugh, her smile, and even some of the crazy jokes that she made that day. (Something about scraping up one more scoop of beans for our Head Chaplain!) Her last moments were spent in the company of new Friends in a lovely location. I sincerely hope that those thoughts were with her during the ordeal, and that she knew how much we were trying to keep her with us, and that we were doing the best that we could. I hope she knows how much we cared for her.
Today, one year after that fateful incident, the Midway Route Riders of Run For The Wall dedicated a small memorial plaque that reads:
Irene Lintern Taff
Sept 23, 1941
May 22, 2022
Irene’s dedication to serving
Veteran’s showed through
Her heart and Smile.
Run For The Wall 2022
This plaque rests in a beautiful spot with equal parts sunshine and shade, about 50 feet from where the incident happened. It is a fitting location for us to pay our respects, and to remember her service and friendship. Irene is missed by more than her own Family. She is missed by her Run For The Wall Family, as well.
Once we had honored Ms Taff, we gathered for a meal just like the one she had served us a year before. There was laughter, there was joy, and there was respect.
As a sign that the “magic of the Run” would continue, I just happened to be walking by a table thqt had information about a Pilot that is Missing In Action over Laos. At the same time, one of our Riders, Ms Shannon Spake, walked by the table. I introduced her to the two Gentlemen that were telling the story of their brother, James W. Herrick, Jr. Instantly, there were tears and hugs between the three of them You see, Shannon’s Father, Lt Dennis Pike, is also missing over Laos. These two Families are waiting for an answer on where their loved ones are. As they shared this special moment, I stepped away to give them some space. And at that very moment one of our FNG Riders, James Brown, stepped up to the table, looked at the posters and said “That’s the Guy that I am Riding For! I am carrying his biography! I rode the Missing Man Formation for Him!” What timing! The Herrick Brothers showed up today to keep their brother’s name alive in the hearts of our Riders, only to have two intense connections made back-to-back. All four of these wonderful people became instant friends. Again, there were hugs, tears, smiles, and hope. Our Riders were able to share their experiences with the two brothers that really needed them. And the two brothers offered hope and love to our Riders. It was truly a magical moment for all that were there.
We were loath to leave Russellville, but we had commitments in other places. We had a “leisurely” ride through Little Rock that tested the Road Guards beautiful formation riding skills. They passed with flying colors, getting us all safely to Forrest City, Arkansas. We were treated to another wonderful meal and some very good music before we headed off to our hotel rooms. Our day was filled with miles, smiles, and tears. Tomorrow will probably be the same, with the same amount of healing for everyone’s hearts.
Jim “Hoofer” McCrain
Midway Route Photographer and SITREP Author
Today, the Midway Route did something brand new, and it was the only activity that we had today. We visited the Fort Sill Field Artillery Museum. This is on an active military base, and permission like this doesn’t come along very often! Our collective hats are off to Mike “Heavy” King for making all of the arrangements.
Now you may not think that visiting a museum about big guns would be all that exciting. But you would be wrong! (By the way, I know that artillery is NOT actually called a ”big gun.” But I never served in the military, and to me, that is still the best way to describe artillery. Sorry!) The museum has full size displays that represent the Ringold “Flying Artillery” used in the 1845 Mexican War all the way up to the modern day. And it isn’t only inside the building. There is a park next to the museum that has dozens of various types of armament. It is quite impressive to see, and I hope that we will all have an opportunity to come back and spend some more time here.
But I don’t really want to talk about the museum, as good as it is. Instead, I want to tell you about two extremely emotional events that took place while we were on the base. I will talk about the second one first. (Does that make since?)
Before we had a delicious brisket and pulled pork sandwich, we were asked by the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache Veterans Group to join them at a wreath laying. We were treated to a beautiful Native American Princess singing the American National Anthem. One of the KCA Chiefs talked about how although each of the Native Nations is their own country and has their own anthems, they are also very proud Americans, and they have served our country with honor and distinction. So it was very fitting to hear not only our Nations anthem, but to have it followed up with a native language “Song of the Flag.” Without knowing the words, we could still all feel the intensity and the emotions coming from the Elders in the drum circle. Except for the drumming rhythm and chants, the entire base was silent. It felt to me as if even the birds were listening and giving their approval for both songs.
The Elders then sang a traditional “Welcome Home” song for their warriors. Not just the living, but those that have gone on before us. In this way, just as we have been “saying their names”, their ancestors are not forgotten and all are still honored. Halfway through this song, all of the RFTW Veterans were invited to come forward and shake hands with the Chiefs and other Native Nations dignitaries. It was an incredible moment to witness the bonds of brotherhood that were passed between these Heroes.
After the anthems and memorial songs were sung, it was time for a wreath laying. The Chiefs of the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache Nations were joined by a US Colonel and our own Route Coordinator Jerry “Corps” Wilkens. The five gentlemen made their way across a short field, walking amongst all of the visitors, to lay the wreath at the base of an American Flag.
It’s so very hard to explain why this simple act was so powerful. But here you had representatives of four separate Nations, all of whom had fought wars against each other in the past, coming together to honor the one country and land that they all love and respect. As one of the Chiefs had said earlier in the day: “The past is over. We remember our differences, but we move ahead. We are proud Americans!” Today, that is exactly what we did and who we are.
Before the wreath laying ceremony for the entire Midway Route, I was privileged to accompany Our Route Coordinator Jerry Wilkins and the Oklahoma State Coordinator Mike King to a sacred spot in the Native American cemetery. Three Chiefs from the Kiowa Comanche and Apache Nations, accompanied by four Native American Princesses, wanted to honor and bless the Midway Route and it’s Riders. “Chief’s Knoll” is the place where many of the Chiefs from across the past 150 years have been buried. (I recognized a lot of names from the history books that I have read on the headstones!) Standing amongst these venerated dead, the Chiefs each told the significance of the location, and how each Nation honors their ancestors as well as their living relations. This keeps the spirits alive, and the people will not forget who they are or where they have come from.
I really wish that I had recorded the exact words that they said, but I did not want to intrude on, or diminish their rituals by dishonoring them. I DID ask permission to take photos, and asked if there was any part of the ceremony that they did NOT want photographed. I was granted permission to take pictures of anything and everything! The Chiefs are proud of their heritage, and were eager to share it with us.
And so the ceremony began. We were told that tobacco has been used for centuries during meetings with both friend and foe. Before going to battle, enemies would get together and smoke, letting the teepee fill with smoke while they discussed issues. Once the discussions were over, the doors would be opened and the smoke would dissipate, as would all disagreements, arguments, and other issues. It was actually rare that the smoke did NOT “clear the air” and the Nations would then go to war. So the first part of the ceremony we witnessed today was the sharing of tobacco with the sacred Elders and Chiefs. Two of the Princesses came forward and sprinkled tobacco over one of the graves, in the fashion of their tribe. This offering was to both the ancestors and the earth, so that we could all “clear the air” and have peace.
The second offering was of water. We were told that humans were just like tobacco and grass. We grow only when watered and nurtured. Without the water, there could be no life. So to insure life and prosperity, water was sprinkled over the tobacco offering. Two other Native Princesses made the offerings, again according to their own customs.
I found the differences in the customs to be subtle, but fascinating. One Nation scattered the tobacco into the wind, while the other sprinkled the tobacco more directly onto the earth. The same held true for the water. One Nation sprinkled the water directly from the Woman’s hand, while the other poured a more liberal amount directly onto the ground. These may seem like simple differences, but it was explained to us that the reason was for religious/traditions. (Some areas had more water in abundance than others. Likewise with the tobacco.) As the Chiefs explained more of the rituals and why they were important, I found myself understanding the similarities between these three Nations and my own traditions. We all believe in the same God, maybe just under a different name. We all (or at least we SHOULD) respect our land, because it feeds us. We all remember our ancestors for their deeds that defined us and made us who we are. And we honor our Heroes, for they paid the price for our freedom.
Some of you may be wondering why this ceremony was not performed in front of the entire group of Midway Riders. The answer is two-fold: the rituals, although not private, were designed for the Leaders so that they would remember and then inspire their people. But more importantly, there is a specific amount of each element that must be offered for each of the participants/recipients. So for both Jerry and Mike and the other two dignitaries, there was a required amount of tobacco and water. (As an observer, I did not require an offering.)
After the ceremony and offering, I had a few brief moments to visit with one of the Ladies in attendance. She showed me the graves of several important and well-known Chiefs, and then took me to the graves of two of her direct ancestors. When I read the names, I had to tell her a story that I had been told as a young man. I have a three-times removed Great Uncle that went on a raid back in the late 1800’s. Their mission was to repatriate a white woman that had been taken captive by the Comanches as a child. So as I looked at the two headstones, I had a very emotional shared moment with a descendant of that same white woman and her Comanche Son. I read the names of Cynthia Ann and Quanah Parker.
Today was a day of Honor, Respect, and National Pride!
Jim “Hoofer” McCrain
Midway Route Photographer and SITREP Author
Traditions are important. They keep us grounded in the past, so that we know where we have come from. They are shared amongst us all, both old and new, to prove that there is value in what we do. They are continued, because the passing of knowledge and a common orientation will make sure that our values are available for those yet to come.
The Midway Route is definitely grounded in traditions. For a Route that is only a few years old, you wouldn’t think that we could even have traditions. But we do! All Families do! From the simplest “daily rituals” during our morning meetings, to the places that we visit each year, the supporters and friends that we look forward to seeing during each Run, to the fun little activities that we do in specific locations, we have built up quite a lot of traditions.
I have said it before, but it bears repeating. We say the Pledge of Allegiance to our Nations Flag every morning. We sing our National Anthem every morning. It is becoming a NEW tradition to also sing “Oh Canada” (The Canadian National Anthem) as we have several Canadian Patriots that ride with us each year. We welcome our FNG Riders every morning. We greet each new day with enthusiasm, checking all of our attitudes at the door. Every Day!
Today saw us continuing two “new” traditions that were first started last year. We deviated from our highway route to parade through the towns of Moriarty and Tucumcari New Mexico. The Mayors of both these beautiful cities asked how they could participate and support Run For The Wall, knowing full-well that their towns really couldn’t afford to do much, and that they were not “exactly” on our planned route. Our Leadership Team made the decision that WE would support THEM, by getting off the highway and driving through their communities, just to show a little patriotism and American pride! The Citizens of both towns seemed to enjoy or brief visit, and I know that all of the Riders did, too. I expect that next year, we will see even more people lining the streets of Moriarty and Tucumcari.
Another annual tradition is our visit to the Blue Hole in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. The Blue Hole is a natural spring-fed pond that is over 80 feet deep and maintains a constant 61 degree temperature. How do we know the temperature? We have Road Guards jump in and let us know! Actually, anyone and everyone is invited to jump in and join the fun. This particular tradition was started on our Routes very first year, when Road Guard Peter Green made the very first plunge. Every year, “Gearshift” would be followed by a host of others, but Mark ”Mazz” Massman seems to be one of the biggest proponents of “the jump.” I am not sure who came up with THIS idea, but every new “RIGIT” (Road Guard In Training” has to not only jump in, but also has to swim around the diving buoys. This year, it was Heidi “Blue”s turn!
We are fed a wonderful lunch after our swim. The Mayor of Santa Rosa is always on hand to accept our Thanks for all of the work that their volunteers do to get ready for us. During our presentation of awards, we also get an opportunity to Thank all of the Law Enforcement Officers that lead us through the State. They do a magnificent job, and we really appreciate them!
Another tradition is a stop in Glenrio, New Mexico. Not only is it a fuel stop, but they have a wonderful antique car and motorcycle collection for us to view. Oh Yeah, there is one Family that comes out every year to provide us with free ice cream! They love doing it and we love them for it! We look forward to seeing them every year, not just for the treats, but for the smiles, hugs, handshakes, and just good friendly banter.
This is a good time to talk about that dreaded word “free.” Nothing that we receive during our Mission is free. Someone has paid for it. It might not cost US anything, but it certainly cost someone else. The fuel that we don’t pay for? Someone has really paid a hefty price this year. We have teams of people that raise funds for us all year long, in dozens of different ways. But there are some individuals that want to support us financially every year. It is THEIR tradition, and we reap the benefits. We make sure to tell all of our FNG Riders that “free to us was paid for by another.” When we see a donation or tip jar, we fill it!
And then there is our arrival into Heaven. I mean Texas! (Yeah, I am a Texan, and proud of that fact!) We had another fantastic escort all the way from the New Mexico border all the way to our evening meal stop in Amarillo. And yes, they gave us a “Presidential Escort” as well. There is nothing quite like having an interstate highway shut down during rush hour, just for our safety!
Once we arrive at our evening stop, a few more traditions unfold. Actually, one tradition is to FOLD the giant American Flag that we get to ride under as we approach our parking area. You have never seen so many eager hands reaching into the sky to make sure that the flag never touches the ground. And then those same hands gently, lovingly, and appropriately fold that symbol of our Nation with reverence. The Fire Department and Sheriff’s Department don’t even have to ask us to help. We almost demand that we help! And we do it every year!
As I talk about that flag, I need to tell you how impressed that I am with all of our Veterans. Whenever they see a flag “on the move”, they salute it. Whenever there is a “posting of the colors”, they salute it. Whenever they hear the National Anthem, they salute that flag. They are taught to respect our flag, and it is a lesson that they never forget.
But our flag isn’t the only thing that they respect. They respect all of our Riders and our Mission. It is a tear-inducing site to see all of the members of our Fuel Team, Staging Team, Advance Team, and Ambassador Team saluting each rider as we enter a planned stop.This is THEIR tradition.
They line the streets and entry ways, holding flags and rendering honors to each and every Rider. These teams that I just mentioned are the hardest working people on our Route. They are the first to get up in the morning, they stand out in the sun or the rain to make sure we get to where we need to be, they risk getting run into by someone that forgot to put their highway pegs up during a fuel stop, and they need to be continuously looking over their shoulders as they stand in the middle of hundreds of moving half-ton metal beasts. Our “support” Teams are absolutely amazing, and I thank each of them for what they do for us!
Our last tradition for this day takes place at the Christian Heritage Church. After we have folded that enormous flag, we walk into an auditorium that is filled with the smell of good ole’ Texas Barbeque! We have beef ribs, grilled chicken, beef ribs, corn on the cobb, beef ribs, and apple cobbler! EVERY YEAR! The food is SO amazingly good that I am thinking of going back just to smell the place again! (And it is getting late!)
But that isn’t actually the tradition I was talking about. There is always a “Missing Man Table” set on the stage. EVERY YEAR! It represents the Men and Women that are absent from their own home table, and that will not be returning. Just like our moving Missing Man Formation, no one messes with this table! We protect it and honor it. And this year, sitting right next to it, was a Gold Star Mother. That means that she has lost a Child in defense of our Country. There is no greater sacrifice, nor anything as heartbreaking as a Parent losing a child. And yet, there she sat, staring across that somber place setting, watching as we laughed, ate, enjoyed each others company, and just generally having a good time. What must she be thinking? What memories must be racing through her mind? What pain does a gathering like this cause her?
But hopefully she knows how much we honor her, and her Soldier, and her entire Family. Not just for their sacrifice, but for their stoic attitude and fortitude. She is not going to let her Son be forgotten, and neither are we! I hope that she understands that WE care, and that WE want to help ease her pain. There really isn’t much tat we can do accept to be here and promise that we will never forget her and her son. Through all of the pain, she must understand. Because she is here with us. And she will be here again next year as we renew our promise to her.
Yeah, the Midway Route has a few traditions.
Good Night, may God Bless each of you, and may we all wake to another glorious day of honoring America.
Jim “Hoofer” McCrain
Midway Route Photographer and SITREP Author