Midway Route – Day 11 – Arlington, VA
May 25, 2019. 0 miles.
“Just once in their life, every American Citizen should walk through Arlington National Cemetery. Or any other National Cemetery. Because once you have done that, you begin to realize that for every war, conflict, or police action, there is a terrible price that has been paid.”
We started our day, Day number 11 of Run For The Wall, with all three Routes united as a Family. We escorted our new Brothers and Sisters to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, where they witnessed the solemnity and dignity with which we honor our Fallen Comrades. They stood shoulder to shoulder with the “seasoned” Riders in absolute silence during the Changing of the Guards. As four of our own Riders descended the steps of the “Old Guard” barracks, and onto the marble platform that houses the Tomb, even the wind stopped whispering. The only sounds to be heard where the clicking of the Guards heals, and the sniffles from everyone trying not to cry. Our four Riders represented RFTW beautifully, and we could not have been more proud of them.
“As I walked through the endless rows of stark-white headstones in Arlington National Cemetery, the words to several pop-culture songs came to my mind. “Find the cost of Freedom, buried in the ground.” “Brave Young Soldiers lying row by row. Boys dressed proudly in their Fathers clothes. Sheets, tags, plastic bags. Return the rest and find the next young Dreamer.”
We left ANC and made our way to the Lincoln Memorial, where we gathered en-mass for our final All-Family photo. There was no distinction made between the three routes. Midway sat mingled in with both Southern and Central. Today, it did not matter which Route you had ridden. We were all reunited for the final, last act of our Mission. After a quick (?) group photo, we stood together and began the last 100 yard walk to “The Wall.”
The walk slowed to a shuffle, as we descended into the base of the memorial. Chatter was at a minimum. And then, wafting on the air from a distance, the sounds of TAPS could be heard. ALL sound ceased, all movements stopped abruptly, and then those 26 individual notes, played by a lone and unknown bugler, landed in our hearts. This was not a planned moment. It just happened.
Several of our MIA Family members had made their way to the Wall to spend a few private moments with their loved ones. It is heart-breaking to see these Men and Women touch the name of their Father, knowing that this is their only physical connection. Other Riders stopped at a name, and silently touched the name of a friend and Brother in Arms. No one bothered them, but I saw many of our Riders walk up to a total stranger, put their arms around them, and weep together. As our Midway Chaplain said “We are better together. We are Stronger together. We will Heal together.” Today, I saw that happen.
I had been asked to participate in several private remembrance ceremonies. There were flags that had been carried to the Wall for people that could not make it there themselves. There were Men that had not been to the Wall before, that just couldn’t make it up to see a name on their own. And then there were those MIA Family members, that wanted a remembrance of this day. Although I photographed each of these precious moments, most will never be seen by the general public. These were private moments that shall remain private. But the SPIRIT in which they were all committed is very much public. And it MUST be, because without a public display of grief, without a public outcry demanding a full accounting for all of our service personnel, without the awareness that war hurts everyone, there will be no end to armed conflict.
Emotionally drained, I started to make my way away from the Wall. And then, like a bolt of lightning had hit me, I realized that I had been so worried about helping my new Family, that I had almost neglected my own sworn duty to myself and SSG Stephen Geist. I made my way to Panel 27E, Line 15, and touched the name of Geist and his pilot Lynn Huddleston. Missing in Action for 50 years now, they are not forgotten. As I looked up at their names, someone must have bumped the camera that was hanging by my side. That is the only way I can explain it, because I do not remember taking this picture. But here it is, a perfect remembrance for Geist, Huddleston, and all of the other boys that never came home.
“When you speak my name, know that I am not dead. I live in your memory.”
And THIS is why we Ride!
It has been my privilege and absolute honor to write these Sit-Reps, and to be your Route Photographer. I have tried to capture the Midway Route Run For The Wall as it happened, and to relay the stories as I experienced them. Thank You, for letting me stand in the presence of all you brave Men and Women, Heroes ALL!
Jim “Hoofer” McCrain
Please visit www.jimmccrain.smugmug.com/Run-For-The-Wall to see more pictures from our journey across this great country. All of these photos are free to download. Enjoy! “Hoofer”