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Day 7: Stars

On a dark night far from the light pollution of cities, one can see a sky filled with an uncountable number of stars. These stars are beautiful to behold yet the light we see is not reality. It is from a past that influences our present. My day was about a different kind of star, the Gold Star of a family who has lost a loved one in battle. That past also influences the present as each Gold Star family will always remember their loss, and so shall we. We ride for those who can’t. We remember our Gold Star families.

The day was filled with ceremony and generosity spread across three communities. I’ll speak to those events to a degree but what I want to communicate to you today is the purpose of our Outreach Team, who I’ve taken to calling the “Green Sleeves”. The team wears the color green as it is representative of “hope”. The Green Sleeves ride out ahead of the pack with the charter to visit Gold Star families who live along our route. Their mission is vitally important and often emotional. The team, when possible, visits two families at one time. This is to build a connection between them so the families can support each other after the team has gone. When the team visits the family they do a couple of things. They present the family with a letter from the Run For The Wall, which states the following:

On behalf of the Run For The Wall riders, we would like to express sincere condolences for your loss and appreciation for your loved one’s service to their country. Lost but not forgotten. We consider it a great privilege to ride across our nation in support of all veterans and their families. Many of our riders are not veterans but choose to ride to show their patriotism and support those who have served and are now serving our country.

The Outreach Team also takes the time to listen to the Gold Star Family’s story, and they leave them with several mementos including a special RFTW Outreach pin, a Gold Star Family pin, a unique Hope bracelet made by an RFTW supporter, a ride pin, and this year also a PGR Pin as the current leader is a PGR State Captain. While today’s ride with the Outreach Team had no visits, they can sometimes be very busy. Even though we had no family visits, the ride had me thinking about the immense sacrifice each Gold Star Family has unwillingly made for our nation. It is a feeling those who haven’t walked in their shoes cannot understand so we do the one thing we can.. we honor them, respect, them, listen to them, and ride for their loved ones.  Upon my arrival in Corydon, the lessons of my afternoon with the Green Sleeves were immediately tested as I encountered two Gold Star moms at the fairground’s dining area. The lessons of the afternoon caused me to not just notice them and be silent, they prompted me to acknowledge each mom with gratitude and honor. I’ve used the words “me”, and “I”, a lot in those last few sentences but the lesson and why we ride isn’t about me. It is about the Gold Star families we ride for, and their loved ones who cannot ride.

Our morning started in Wentzville Missouri, where the pack attended a brief ceremony at the first Vietnam Memorial in the US, which was followed by the dedication of a new mural placed on a nearby building. The Fire Department Color Guard presented the Colors and the Wentzville Holt High School band played the National Anthem. I spoke to the band director who said they have been coming out to play at this event since at least the year 2000 and maybe longer. He pinpointed the year 2000 because that is when he first started coming to the ceremony himself when he was eight years old!

We departed Wentzville for Mount Vernon where we were received by an overflight of a medivac helicopter, a throng of children holding flags, and a town that turned out en masse to welcome us home. At our gas stop, children with backpacks filled with water and bags filled with lollipops walked among our bikes offering us quick refreshment. We were doing what we call a “gas and go”. We were at the gas station and staging area just long enough for every bike to fill up. Thus we were tethered to our bikes knowing the pack would leave at any moment. Thank you for coming to us to bring us water and a wee bit of sugar. After the gas and go the fire department escorted us to the local airport where we were fed an abundance of fried chicken as students passed among us carrying water, soda, and even refills of some of the side dishes. The service was amazing.  I asked one adult volunteer if she could pinpoint the number of volunteers they had helping host us. She put the number as “exceeding 200”. Wow! That is a huge turnout. Thank you so much for investing in us as we fulfill our mission. After the meal, there was a brief ceremony and a large sendoff featuring a Huey helicopter flying a massive flag.

With full bellies and full hearts, the riders departed for Corydon Indiana knowing dinner would be fried catfish. Corydon never disappoints with amazing hospitality and fried catfish that is worth waiting for in a line of riders of any length. I understand the volunteers who provided the meal arrived at 10:00 am that morning to make it a reality. Thank you for a long day of service. On a personal note, my wife and son registered here as FNGs!

I’m going to leave you with one last item. It is a story somewhat related to the Outreach Team (Green Sleeves, if I say it enough, maybe it will stick) and their mission to recognize Gold Star families. The story comes to us from Dan Koster, who was the SitRep Writer my FNG year. The Green Sleeves conducted a special presentation during our ride to Williams to the family of Trenton Rhea and Dan Koster met with Travis Rhea, Trenton’s brother the evening of the first day of the Run. Dan sent this to me via text message about the experience: WHAT AN INCREDIBLE YOUNG MAN!  [Kay and I] met with Tavis Rhea. Travis’s twin brother Trenton was KIA in Afghanistan in 2013. We have become good friends with Trenton and Travis’s father Marshall Rhae from Oakley KS. Marshall called me about a month ago to tell me Travis lives close to Williams, AZ.  We made arrangements to meet him at the American Legion, which always serves the RFTW riders an incredible barbeque dinner. After meeting with Travis for more than two hours we came away with not only a real understanding of what a hero his twin brother Trenton was but what an incredible young man Travis is. Travis told us that Trenton wanted to be a soldier from the time they were five years old. We came away with deep gratitude for their family values and great love of the United States of America.