I don’t think I’m going to find the most appropriate words to describe today’s events to you, but I’m going to give it my best. The morning started in Williams Arizona on historic Route 66 where breakfast and snacks for the road were provided by very generous supporters of the RFTW. The effort it takes to procure, prepare, and serve what is so graciously given to the riders is significant. Thank you for honoring us with your sacrifice of service and resources.
One of the routine events in a rider’s day is the morning meeting. Every morning we kick things off with raffles, 50-50 drawings, military branch challenge donation collections, and auctions. Each of these are fundraisers that culminate in a donation to the Rainelle Elementary School on our 9th day of the Run. I’ll write more about Rainelle in a future SitRep. Following the fundraising, we pledge allegiance to the US Flag, the lead Chaplain prays for the day ahead, then we honor Gold Star families, Silver Star families, POW/MIA families, FNG’s, and several KIA’s. For the KIAs a bio is read and an FNG selected to carry that bio to the Wall. Each one, remembered, honored by the riders of the Run, but more specifically by the individual tasked with the honor of carrying that KIA’s memory to the Wall.
Today’s route saw us travel from Williams AZ to Gallup NM. We stopped for fuel in Winslow after parading through town, then rolled on to Holbrook for lunch. As we entered town we were lead in a parade past every school, and I mean every school where every student lined the street holding flags, waving signs, clapping, waving, and yelling, “thank you”. The honor these students and their teachers showed to complete strangers, veterans, riders, was overwhelming. I wear foam lined glasses when riding so wind, rain, and sand don’t get in my eyes. I had to lift them off my face to let the “rain” run down my cheeks instead of pooling in my glasses. Thank you Holbrook for raising the next generation to honor others. It is an enormous testimony to the character of your people.
One of the most important ways we honor others is through the Missing Man Formation. Every mile of every day we ride for a missing man at the front of our line of riders. The formation consists of two riders followed by just one who is in turn followed by two. The space next to the one rider in the middle is left for the “missing man” and the person riding next to the missing man is the missing man escort. Every leg, we ride for someone different. I’d like to tell you about one of the riders who rode as an escort today. Tom is an FNG from Washington State. He rode in honor of his father, Sheldon Grover, Field Musician First Class USMC, who served as an antiaircraft gunner onboard a ship during the campaign for Okinawa. I am unsure of what Tom was feeling before he started his missing man escort, but looking at him I could see he was experiencing many emotions and thoughts and that his ride might not be easy. When his escort was completed I asked him how it went. Part of his response was, that “it became easier the closer we rode to its completion.” Riding as the missing man escort can be quite difficult. Thank you to those who have and will fulfill this role during our run to DC. We honor you and are all behind you, literally, spurring you on to the completion of your mission.
I’d like to take a moment to honor Tom and any veteran like him who felt shamed upon returning from war. Tom is a Vietnam Veteran who gave me permission to relate this portion of his personal story. After successfully fulfilling his honorable duty in Vietnam he returned home. Upon landing, the reception he felt in the airport left him feeling so ashamed that he went into a bathroom, changed into civilian clothes out of his dress uniform, and left it behind. Tom, the days of shame are long past. We honor your service. You and your brothers had your well-deserved parade today in Holbrook and will have several more before our mission is complete.
Lunch in Holbrook was wonderful. The American Legion Navajo Post 37 hosted us with as much enthusiasm as was shown by the students who welcomed us into town. While we ate, we were treated to several different Native dances. I am uncertain of their ages, but most were rather young compared to their audience. One in particular was quite young and stole the hearts of those I was sitting with (sadly I only captured blurry photos). The National Anthem was performed by Isabella Moyte who was met with a roar of approval from the room when she finished. Each of these performances were gifts of honor to the riders. The Native dances all have significant meaning, and the National Anthem was sung in Honor of our nation.
We left Holbrook bound for Gallup, NM where I greatly anticipated our time at Red Rock Park and the three mile’ish parade we ride through town. While not the throng of people we usually encounter on the parade through town, we were met with a good number of patriots who waved flags and cheered our arrival. This is significant. Gallup, NM and the Navajo people were especially impacted by COVID. To see the city rebounding and people starting to get back to a generally normal way of life is very encouraging. The culmination of our parade through town was our arrival at Red Rock Park. The street was lined was flags on both sides ushering us through the history of warriors past who sacrificed for our great nation into a ceremony of honor presented by representatives of several First Nations (Navajo, Comanche, Osage, Cheyenne, and descendants of the Modoc tribe from NE California).
Arrival at Red Rock Park
The Head Singer (Paul Bemore), drummers, and other singers along with the Head Gourd Dancer (Travis King) lead our riders and members of their tribes in several songs/dances. The one that I found to be most significant was the song/dance that brought in the flags. The Master of Ceremony (Ramona Yazzie) said that First Nations have over 500 flags. A combined color guard of sorts was created by having a number of people from all of the groups represented carry in a large number of flags. The flag ceremony and the song that went with it honors RFTW veterans as warriors. Let that sink in. People rich in heritage, who now live and fight under the flag of the United States yet remember their own sovereign history, choose to honor our veterans as highly as they honor their own warriors. This moment is not just an extremely memorable stop on the Run For The Wall, it is an exchange of kindred spirit olive branches that renews each time these songs are sung and the ceremony is completed.
As the ceremony started I approached a gentleman in what I probably am ignorantly calling “costume”. [edit: a reader tells me this is called regalia.] I fear that completely under represents the significance of what he was wearing. I do know the feathers and other adornments have deep meaning, so I apologize for my lack of knowing the correct terminology. I introduced myself and asked for basic information such as what does this ceremony represent, who organized it, what Nations are represented here today, and so on. T.J. Anderson introduced himself, answered my questions, and then introduced me to several of the elders who were present. Thank you T.J. I was honored that you’d take the time to introduce me to the elders who were present.
I’d like to leave you with an additional image, provided I can paint it with words well enough to convey its importance. One of the elders had spent the previous night in the hospital. He’d been released just that morning yet he was present at the event in a motorized chair. When the flags were presented during the flag ceremony, he found the strength of will to stand. While so many wish to degrade the notion of sovereignty and the flags that represent individual nations, this man fought through his difficulty to stand and give honor to the US Flag and the other flags flying with her.
I’ve entitled this post “Honor” and I’ve used the term many times. My hope is that I have conveyed that we daily receive and can choose to give honor to others while on the Run. It is part of what makes experiencing and participating in this mission so special. My prayer for each of you reading this is that you’d fully receive the honor given to you. You are worthy of it. If you are a veteran, we honor your sacrifice, please reach out if you need help. If you are a supporter, we honor you as well. Thank you for supporting the Run For The Wall. If you fall into a different category, we’d like to honor you as well. Come join the RFTW family by finding a way to support the mission.