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Day 7, Wentzville to Corydon: Speak their names

For a number of us headed as a Breakout to Missouri’s National Memorial, also known by many as the Perryville Wall, the morning started with an early breakfast provided at the Wentzville VFW Post 5327.  It was so early that the sun rose right about the time I finished eating. For those in the main pack, the morning started a little less early, but it wasn’t void of something to do. Let me break this down for you.

A breakout group (people and machines that go to another destination apart from the main pack) of about 15 bikes left at 6:00 AM for Missouri’s National Veterans Memorial. I was among that number. It was incredible and sobering.  Arriving in the early hours on a Tuesday meant there were no crowds to navigate. The Wall stood in the distance with dignity and strength beckoning us to come, remember, read the names. I briefly took in the well-appointed museum and then answered that call. I walked there alone with only my thoughts and the names of 53,318 who lost their lives in Vietnam. Honestly, this experience overwhelmed me more than my previous visits to the Wall on the National Mall.  I believe it was because I was alone. There were no tourists and the RFTW Family I traveled with to get there had not yet made their way across the field to the memorial. I stood there reading the names of men I never knew while my fuzzy reflection was projected back to me. Just as my likeness was reflected not as it is in a mirror but altered and changed, the experience changed me. It was as if they in turn spoke my name and recognized what I carry having served from 1985 – 2006 but never having been deployed to a combat zone even though I was trained as an Arabic Linguist. I left active duty as a 1LT and then for several years, I held positions in the 104th Division Institutional Training. During that time and even beforehand on active duty at Fort Lewis, I trained ROTC Cadets in Field Artillery, Hand Grenades, Rifle Marksmanship, and Automatic Weapons. How many of those cadets who later earned their commissions never came home from Iraq and Afghanistan?  I will never know.  Just as I was processing this, feeling its full weight, a brother was there for me. Joining us in Gallup was my Command Team partner. Now CSM (Ret) John Jimenez, then 1SG Jimenez, we were the Command Team for A Company 3rd of the 414th, 104th Div IT.  John listened, I shared, and he then did what all great NCO’s do. He gave me something constructive to do. Together we found the name of Harry G. Cramer on panel 1E. Harry Cramer is the father of LTC Cramer who is part of the 104th Div IT. Harry Cramer was added after petition to the Wall and his name is not presented in chronological order. It is an interesting story that I suggest you look up using your favorite internet search engine.

After my encounter with the Wall, I was with others of our group awaiting an informal ceremony where the Central Route ARC presented a donation to Missouri’s National Veterans Memorial. On hand to receive it was Jim Eddleman, the primary donor, and visionary whose promise to his comrades made in Vietnam was fulfilled to make this memorial a reality.  While awaiting the ceremony, I approached a kind-looking gentleman and introduced myself. To my surprise, the gentleman was Jim Eddleman himself. We spoke for a few minutes about why he needed to create this memorial. Jim described carrying wounded, then dead to waiting helicopters after Vietnam’s Tet Offensive. His promise to do something for his comrades was born in that moment of great emotion and tragedy. For many years Jim didn’t know how his promise was to be fulfilled, but then financial provision came through by way of sound investments which yielded a large sum of money. That money along with grants and input from others was used to create Missouri’s National Veterans Memorial. It is a remarkable story, especially when told by Jim himself.

The site is expanding to include a Huey helicopter, which is currently undergoing the process of becoming a museum piece. The memorial is also adding a Jeep section to its museum. Presently a Jeep is being restored by the Career and Technology Center of Perryville. And lastly, in my notes I have that a sculpture has been commissioned to be added near the site’s courtyard. It is “The Old Guard”.

While the breakout group traveled to Perryville, the remainder of the Central Route visited the 1st Vietnam Memorial erected in the US. The site is a very short distance from the VFW and makes a great place to start Day 7.  This visit is an annual occurrence and is generally the same.  As I was not there, I cannot give you specifics, but it is with great care and due respect that a wreath is laid, the colors are posted, and rifle volleys and Taps are played. In years past the High School Band has been present and a good number of families turn out from the community. The Central Route values this portion of the Run from California to DC. Thank you, Wentzville, and all who work to make our stop in your town a success.

At our gas stop just prior to lunch the Breakout returns to the main pack and all move as one to lunch at the Mount Vernon Airport. The organizers here were on their “A game” this year streamlining the food distribution and simplifying the way that riders interact with those who come to support the RFTW. We all appreciate the effort it takes to prepare some of the very best fried chicken in the world and then get it quickly into the hands of 400+ RFTW participants. Your volunteer students are also amazing. We wanted for nothing as they all worked up the courage to approach us multiple times to ask if we needed anything or if they could take our trash. Not every time we were asked did we need something, but when we did have a need, the students rushed to quickly fulfill that need. Y’all are doing things well in Mt. Vernon. Your students are respectful, hardworking, and kind.  After a great meal and wonderful hospitality, Central Route moved out for Corydon, our overnight stop.

The gas stop between Mt. Vernon and Corydon is like none other on our journey across the country. Here, tents are set up offering food, prayer, and sundries and a color guard awaits us at the entrance to the station. Many of us look forward to a hot dog even though our stomachs are still full from lunch. This is so because the hot dogs are really good. Yes, reaallly good. Thank you to those who come out.

Dinner in Corydon is fried catfish. If fish isn’t your thing or if you are hesitant to eat catfish because it is a bottom feeder, toss that all out and get in there and try the Corydon fish fry. No other seafood compares. Thank you, Corydon. We all look forward to your hospitality and the great Catfish fry. We know it is an incredible amount of work. Thank you for the many hours it took to make that meal a reality for us.

There were so many great people present at each of our stops. Some are leaders of Foundations or Veterans Service organizations. All turn out to give back to those who have served. One such person is Jim Beasley. Jim is a WWII veteran having served in Occupied Germany. Jim is the chairman of the Veterans Tribute Committee. Among other initiatives, the committee maintains an installment at Kaskaskia College in Centralia Illinois where any veteran’s name can be engraved to never be forgotten. Jim passionately told me that he feels that engraving a veteran’s name on his headstone should not be the only place that name is recorded. Thus, the Veterans Tribute at Kaskaskia College. You can use this link to submit names to the project or to support it financially.

Today, I’ve probably said a bit too much about myself. These SitReps are to tell the story of the day’s events as they occur for all of our riders. I hope that by revealing some of my own story it helps you as you process your own. We all carry something and shouldn’t diminish our story because our brother’s seem more tragic. Wounds are wounds no matter how deep. They need healing. Turn to your brother or sister on this run and share that load or better yet set it down forever. This is your time to begin the rest of your life without past burdens. Don’t wait, your quality of life and freedom are at stake. We are all here for you.

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