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Day 5: Generations

Today was the longest day so far for the Central Route. Breakfast and Raffle Rousing started early at 5:30 am and dinner hosted at the Eagles in Junction City, Kansas didn’t get rolling until about 7:30 pm. Your riders and this SitRep Writer are tired and dreams of tomorrow and memories of today are fighting for the attention of minds that long for sleep.

I’ve entitled this post Generations not out of any real creative means for a writing prompt but to rather simply speak to the number of families with whom I’m traveling and one amazing family with whom several of us riders became enamored during our lunch stop in Oakley. My family is represented by three generations fulfilling the RFTW mission and several other families have grandparents traveling with grandchildren or siblings traveling with their kids (aunts, uncles, and nieces). Still, more families will grow in representation as we move East. The Gilman’s come to mind. They ride as a family for Frederick Gilman, KIA 16 March 1970. But the family who stirred my mind to think about the flesh and bone families on the run is the Kuhlman family.

The Kuhlman family lives on the street opposite Memorial Park where the great town of Oakley hosted us for lunch with the help of several service organizations. It was my lucky day as it was my bike that blocked their driveway making the Kuhlman’s walk part of the way home from church. After dismounting my bike, I struck up a conversation and discovered that three Veterans reside there and four generations of the family were there to greet us. One of those veterans was 97-year-old Mildred Kuhlman, a WWII Nurse. I’m told she rarely comes outside, and she wasn’t when we arrived. But, with a bit of coaxing her son was able to bring her out to meet many of us right there in her driveway. Mildred has a twinkle in her eye that not only draws you in but also communicates that she knows full well what our mission is about. I didn’t ask her about her service for we know that The Greatest Generation sacrificed much and at 97 she deserves to be free from reliving those horrors. It was an honor to sit next to Mildred and speak for a few minutes. She allowed a few of us to give her a hug and we pressed ride coins into several of the family’s hands. I’m grateful for the generations of Kuhlman’s and families like them across our great nation that are sowing seeds that mature into generations of patriots.

Pictured from the Kuhlman family are Mildred Kuhlman, Ron Kuhlman, Raye Kuhlman (both Ron and Ray are Veterans), Braxton, Becky, and Bowen Stramel, grandchildren to Ron and Raye, and great-grandchildren to Mildred. Not pictured was Ron and Raye’s daughter whose name I didn’t capture.  Rounding out the photo is a father-son duo who are completing the run and myself.

One of the things I love the most about the Run For The Wall is that we really do think of each other as family. That family is comprised of brothers and sisters with a common history of military service or deep respect and support of veterans. While completing the mission together our hearts are knit together and our family grows beyond the traditional nuclear family with whom we came to the run. By giving of ourselves to join in something that is much bigger than anything we could achieve or become on our own, we become part of the current generation of the Run For The Wall who will shepherd it for generations to come.

None of this could be possible without the support of hundreds of people who donate fuel, feed us, and support the mission. Today we started in Limon Colorado and finished our day in Junction City Kansas. As mentioned above we stopped in Oakley Kansas for lunch. Volunteers in Limon were up at 3:30 am to prepare us a biscuits and gravy breakfast. In Oakley, we were given bbq beef sandwiches, and in Junction City, we were served Chicken Fried Steak. Thank you to everyone who prepared and served food or set up chairs, or did any number of other supporting tasks to make it possible for us to continue the mission.

When thinking of generations, we always remember those who’ve gone before us. Today, the RFTW visited three memorials. In Oakley, we lunched in Memorial Park, which was recently renamed from Clark Park. While there, a new installation to the park’s memorials was unveiled. Braden Gormley took a bit more than a year to design the new memorial and then poured one month of labor into its creation. A subset of the Central Route did a breakout (left the main pack for a side destination) to a memorial in Wakeeney where they found a peaceful, serene, memorial to the five branches of service. And, in Junction City, the entirety of the Central Route visited the Kansas Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Heritage Park where a ceremony was held, which honored the RFTW as well as many who were in attendance.

We speak to the new generation (FNGs) joining the run about the countless supporters that line overpasses to spur us on as we cross the country. Today there were too many overpasses with patriots waving to count. People with banners, flags, and signs all showing their support for the riders and our nation. And as a fitting closing chapter to the day-long support of people at gas stations, people on overpasses, and people on the city streets across which we traveled is the 300 or more people lining the street with US flags as we approach and enter Heritage Park. There is nothing quite like it. It leaves my throat lumpy, my eyes watery, and my skin goose bumpy even remembering it. Thank you to all who have welcomed home the generations of our RFTW family.

Not to be missed today was that every one of our gas stops was donated. Amazing. Thank you so much. Also, very much worth noting is that we paraded through Russell Kansas in honor of the late Bob Dole, US Senator, Presidential Candidate, and US Army Captain who served during WWII until he was severely wounded.

Pictured in the gallery below are the memorials in Wakeeney and Junction City as well as various photos captured throughout the day.

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