This is my final SITREP for RFTW Sandbox for 2023.
This was your media crew this year, F-Stop (l), Cupcake(r) and me.
Thank you for letting us photograph you, tell your stories and document the emotional and intense days. There were moments of pain, moments of happiness, moments of fun. There was camaraderie among friends and a willingness to share it all with each other.
Friends made here are friends for life. Let’s stay in touch.
It was our honor to be there.
“There is no better exercise for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.” John Holmes
P.S. You know who you are. Thank you for what you did for our mutual friend. It was so very much appreciated. 💚💚💚
Today. Complete a RFTW route. Sandbox Route. Wall-to-Wall. Four routes, one mission. To promote healing, accountability and remembrance of all veterans.
It was another clear day and we headed to the Indiana Veterans Home. As we rode in, the driveway was lined with tall flags waving gently in the breeze. The grounds had people working and were beautiful. There was also someone hard at work building a gazebo.
My friend, Warren, steered me to a veteran who he had spoken with. Larry is a Purple Heart recipient from Vietnam. He’s now 75 years old as he just had a birthday.
Larry was in the Army and a Combat Tank Commander who initially rose from Private to Buck Sergeant in 30 days. He was in Vietnam 1971-1972. They were attacked during the night and he caught a round in the neck. They wanted to medevac him but he refused to leave because he knew the North Vietnamese Army would gain the ground.
He said he was in the South China Sea, Vietnam and all over. He zig zagged everywhere.
Larry said he’s been in the Veterans Home 3-1/2 years and he gets lots of visitors. He can walk but when he’s outside he likes to use a machine.
Santa Ed presented him with one of the Purple Heart belt buckles and we did a great group photo with so many people. I think Larry loved all the attention.
It was time for presentations in front of the Fallen Soldier Monument. The sheet metal monument was made by a local artist from Battleground and is believed to be the largest one. It was made in three parts … helmet. Boots. Gun.
The group passed the hat this am raising more than a thousand dollars. RFTW matched up to $1,000. So RC Lurch handed over $2,300 and change.
The ride continued through beautiful green cornfields with new corn about 6-8 inches tall. There are wind generator farms that go on for miles. It’s a good place for them as we had wind coming through.
Our next stop was lunch at the 33-acre American Legion Park. There are so many beautiful parks.
There’s a place where a wreath will be layed and TAPS played. At that moment there was no one else around and made for a photo before the crowd descended.
At lunch we met a Gold Star family … parents Gwen and Scott, sisters Gabbie and Gracie and grandma Karen. There were friends there as well.
Their son, Army Sgt. Jeremy Sherman was killed in a helicopter crash in 2020 during a peace keeping mission on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. He was 23 years old and had only been there a month. He had also served in Korea and Afghanistan.
They were presented with a Route Coordinator challenge coin and it was beautiful. Hopefully, knowing that we are saying his name will help this family heal.
I told Gwen we do this ride to remember and honor them. To not forget them. She said, “They do forget.”
Say their name. Tell their story.
Go Go had a scroll for people to sign. It’s been from California to D.C. and on to the MECW. Now it will go back to California to Go Go’s commandant.
He talked about the 22. He said people commit to all kinds of things. But no one commits to suicide. They fall victim to their demons and unseen wounds.
That ties in to a gentleman who spoke at the MECW after we arrived. Bill is with Nation of Patriots that has raised about $2 million. They work to prevent a veteran from being a part of the 22. They give out checks, one time only, to help with maybe a blown car engine, school supplies, a utility bill … stressful things that might push someone over the edge … and they try to do something / anything to help with the financial burden and that might change the course of history for that family.
They have a patriot tour and pass one American flag around the nation to every state. They raise funds when doing this and have done it for 14 years. The organization is run by volunteers and all the money goes to those in need. The current flag has been moving through the U.S. for two years.
He said the best thing is that sometimes down the road they receive a letter telling them someone’s story, how a life was changed and turned around.
The MECW is set along the banks of the Illinois River. Water sprayed up over the rocks making some rapids. It’s such a pretty setting for the Wall.
It was a busy place this afternoon. Riders placed their profiles, maybe a coin or a bracelet. Others that had come before us had placed a variety of items … beer, whiskey in shot glasses, flags. Even a bear wearing a Marine uniform. The list goes on. While not all are extremely emotional about being there, seeing someone you cared for on the wall can bring someone to their knees. There were a lot of hugs, shoulders clasped, stories shared. It’s healing and part of the reason for the mission.
There’s a museum on site and Bucky is the Curator of the Museum. In addition he’s a Jack of all trades, doing whatever is necessary, including moving mop buckets or signs. He used to put all the mementos at the police department but about 15 years ago they got the building.
There were some well-deserved awards and presentations and a prayer to end our day and the route.
Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened. Dr. Seuss
Northstar Polaris provided breakfast. It’s always a great day when there’s breakfast.
The sun was coming up and the sky was a light golden-orange. It was promising to be a beautiful day although later the wind kicked up.
Audrey read a poem a Gold Star member write specifically for Memorial Day. It was not about barbecues or fishing or boating. It was about the reason we have our country and our freedom.
It was about our veterans, our military, our civilians who have stood for our country. It’s about the reason we will never forget.
Last year Audrey and Jed ran ahead on the Sandbox Route to get on some of the overpasses to wave at the run as it came through. A couple stopped to find out what was going on. They explained RFTW to them. They stayed and waved. Then their son showed up. He was a veteran and also stayed. More and more people stopped and then stayed, including police.
This year we heard that that couple helped organize people and even had a fire department vehicle so there would be folks there and waving. The interest created by Jed and Audrey was amazing.
Going into Ohio Audrey, Dan and I ran ahead so they could give them yellow RFTW t-shirts and pins for creating the interest. We got to the overpass. Nothing. No one. So we went to the next exit. Nothing no one. Get along folks. Nothing to see here.
We decided to run back to the first overpass we’d gone to to see if anyone was there. Maybe they were late.
Yep we had people and a fire department vehicle. It was awesome to see that enthusiasm for the RFTW Sandbox Route.
Hunters Moon Harley-Davidson opened their building so we could have our evening meal. It was hosted by Honor Bound and The Worship Church served it. Brisket and the trimmings. You can’t go wrong.
Mount Hope Church has done so much for us. And we thank them, as well as the City of Lafayette for all they’ve done to support us. Thank you.
Tonight was awards night as tomorrow we arrive at our destination early.
The evening closed as the sun shone on all of us and we sat with full bellies and shared friendship and camaraderie.
“These fallen heroes represent the character of a nation who has a long history of patriotism and honor — and a nation who has fought many battles to keep our country free from threats of terror.” Michael N. Castle
May 28, 2023
Sitrep for Sandbox, the night before leaving
It’s the first day on the road for the Sandbox Route. Everyone gathered for the morning briefing. We had the Pledge, then the National Anthem by our very own Siren that is always a treat.
Introductions always come … Gold Star families, Blue Star families, active duty and FNGs. We show our respect for them.
Safety came next. There are always reminders each day because safety is first.
These are the things that will be done each morning. Recognition is so important for people, particularly those who have lost someone. The next leg will also be emotional as Sandbox Route goes to the Middle East Conflicts Wall, a living memorial to which b names are still sadly being added. Say their names. Tell their stories.
There was a special gift to Gunny who is the inspiration for what is RFTW.
Then it was time to go. Our first stop was gas. Disappointment. Baskin-Robbins wasn’t open. But Dunkin’ Donuts was.
We headed to the Stoystown Legion Post 157 in Pennsylvania for lunch. Old barns. Fences. Beautiful green pastures. Pretty purple flowers. Cows. Horses. And winding two-lane back roads. The hills went up and down like a roller coaster. Then we made a turn and arrived. There’s even a covered bridge included.
The Flight 93 Memorial was the next stop. It’s a beautiful area, green with lots of trees. We took a winding road to the parking lot. In the distance you could see the wall with all of the names of those who heroically went down with the aircraft in 2011.
Story boards tell about what happened that day.
There was a wreath-laying ceremony and tears flowed freely. It’s a moving place and you can spend hours there. But it was time to go.
We had a gas stop and handed out dozens of pins and stickers. Then it was time to move along to our dinner stop in St. Clairesville, OH. North Star Indian Motorcycle hosted us for dinner.
Two Gold Star families were recognized. One spoke of her son, Peter. He joined the infantry. His mom said that puts you up front, doesn’t it? He then became a dog handler, of Duke. His mom said that puts you even further up front, doesn’t it? Yes.
Peter was killed and his parents got his dog, Duke. He passed away since last year. His mom said Peter wasn’t a typical Marine. He wrestled at 112 pounds. He was infantry and they’re first in. With a dog they’re even further up front. It’s been 12 years now, but Peter was where he wanted to be. The hole is still there and the healing is constant. We thank you for helping to keep those memories alive.
Bugs and Polar Bear were recognized for their work for the Museum and their veterans.
We said thank you loudly multiple times then it was time to head to the hotels and get ready for tomorrow
“If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live” Martin Luther King, Jr.