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CR: Mission Complete

This SitRep Writer is not a morning person. In truth, I can sleep till 10:00 or 11:00 on a Saturday and not even once regret the morning hours I missed. With that in mind, I must tell you that I was up at 5:00 am this morning eager for the day to start. Today marks the end of our mission and something very special was to take place at 6:15 am that I was determined not to miss. At 6:15 am, a Park Ranger met a number of Run For The Wall volunteers to provide materials and instructions on how to wash The Wall.

Until I heard that some of our number were going to wash The Wall I had no idea how it is maintained. What an incredible honor to be able to care for the names and to preserve The Wall for generations to come. The Park Ranger explained to me that The Wall is washed every other week. He manages thousands of requests from both nonprofit and for-profit organizations seeking to clean The Wall. His policy is to select enough organizations to allow each group two opportunities to serve. This means not everyone who requests to wash The Wall is accepted to do so. The goal of each washing is to remove bird droppings, oils left from visitors who touch The Wall, and to remove any pencil residue from the name-rubbing process. The Wall was not scheduled to be washed until tomorrow morning, but seeing everyone ready to complete that task today, the Ranger left and returned with supplies so our team could get started.

After a short briefing on how to properly wash The Wall, our volunteers headed out to get it done. First, any items left at The Wall overnight or in the early hours before our arrival were carefully moved from The Wall to the grass opposite where the items were left. Then, the wall was sprayed down, and a soft soapy solution was applied with brushes. Following an additional rinse, squeegees and soft cloths were applied to remove water giving The Wall a very nice reflective clean surface.  The entire process took about a half-hour inclusive of returning the items moved from the base of The Wall. I asked one gentleman, who I know from the Central Route, if he washed the names of those he served with. He responded ‘yes’. I cannot think of a more respectful and caring act of love for those whose names are forever engraved there, than to wash the panel of names on which reside those you served with and lost during the conflict. I asked a Central Route FNG how he felt cleaning The Wall. I know him to be a recent retiree from the Marine Corps. He did not serve in Vietnam, nor are any of those he served with inscribed there. He said, “With every swipe, I’m thinking about who they were and about their families. It is very humbling.” I took several photos of The Wall washing. I hope they convey how powerful this was to everyone.

Starting around 9:00, riders from all four routes gathered at the Lincoln Memorial for a group photo. Gunny Gregory, Founder of the Run For The Wall, lead the riders in chants of “USA”, “USA”, “USA!” and the singing of each branch’s service songs. A short but poignant ceremony transferred a flag and bios of the 13 who perished during the abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan from the routes that traveled East to the Sandbox who will carry them to the Middle East Conflicts Wall. At the appointed time, photos were taken and the entirety of the riders moved to the Vietnam Wall.

The Wall is solemn ground. It is a place where respect is given for the lost who died fighting for their brothers. The four Route Coordinators approached the apex arm-in-arm as one group in complete unity. They were respectful of those who were there before them giving the other visitors a moment to complete their visit prior to reading and laying a plaque from the Run For The Wall at the apex. I have a video of the reading of the plaque attached at the bottom of this post. Once the plaque was placed, riders went about their individual missions to take rubbings and to leave items carried to The Wall on behalf of families, friends, and others who have entrusted a mission to each rider.

FNG’s conducted their business at The Wall and then sought out someone to flip their FNG buttons upside-down to permanently reflect that they too have completed the mission. I took all this in, including flipping the FNG button of my former “right arm”, John Jimenez, and felt gratitude for those who started and have since fostered the fire that is Run For The Wall. This time at The Wall is priceless. It is life-changing. It is healing, and it completes the bonding together of riders from the Run For The Wall who started this mission together. We now have carried each other’s burdens across the country and collectively left them at The Wall. We’ll be back, but we won’t come back the same. This involvement in something bigger than ourselves has been life-changing and we are all different for having experienced it together.

There are a few images below taken from the back of The Wall. The granite is exposed in a much thinner line than it actually is wide. There are also names of the planners, designer, and installation folks on the back at the apex. This is something I didn’t know until today.  It has been an honor fulfilling the role of Central Route SitRep this year. I hope you have enjoyed reading my posts as much or more than I have experienced in their creation.

Daniel “Redleg” Slocum
CPT, FA, USAR Ret. (1985 -2006)

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