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Day 9: Small Towns and Large Hearts

Morning began under grey skies and rain in Nitro, WV where the huge hearts of this small town once again hosted us. Breakfast was served at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church where volunteers, including the Mayor, served biscuits and gravy alongside Tim Horton’s donuts. Lance, our Raffle Rouser got the morning going with our final fundraising efforts by essentially hosting a fire sale. Most everything he had to sell sold. Well done Lance!

As is done every morning Tom, our Route Coordinator, lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance and a Chaplain prayed for safety and clear skies. Platoons split out for safety briefings and then we were off to the West Virginia State Capitol. The circular drive in the center of the campus is opened each year allowing the RFTW to park at the steps of the Capitol building amongst the other buildings, monuments, and memorials. In years past, the Governor would speak to us and we’d take a group photo on the capitol steps. However, a local staffer told me the Governor has been out recently for Lyme Disease treatment. Instead, a brief ceremony was held near the combined WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam war memorials. The Chaplain’s prayer was answered and the rain stopped while we were at the Capitol allowing us a much safer ride to Rainelle.

As I mentioned in a previous SitRep, we ride a Missing Man formation on every leg of our journey. Today’s Missing Man on our leg from the Capitol in Charleston to the Rainelle Middle School is an RFTW family member. Ronnie Stone rode as a leader with the RFTW a number of times, most of them serving as a Tailgunner for 1st Platoon. In fact, Ronnie was one of my Tailgunners my FNG year in 2016. It was at this very Capitol in 2021 where I last saw Ronnie’s smile and felt his gentleness. Ronnie will be missed by many. Today we rode for Ronnie, just as he rode for the FNGs and the mission of the RFTW for so many years.

The route from Charleston to Rainelle is a wonderful twisty mountain ride along a river with scenic waterfalls (nope, we didn’t have time to stop) and verdant forest. The route isn’t as famous as The Tail of the Dragon, but the road is one of a few named roads in the US. Riders, if you didn’t know, you do now. You’ve just ridden The Talon. While riding The Talon is great, joyriding is not our mission. We ride for those who can’t and we stop in Rainelle because the first group of riders from whom the RFTW has grown stopped here on their first journey from San Diego to Washington DC. Passing over this stretch of highway is a means to an end.

The small town of Rainelle is an incredible patriotic town. When we arrive it is fully decked out in red, white, and blue for Memorial Day and the Fire Department flies massive USA and POW/MIA flags at the peak of their ladder truck’s extension. But the town is not what, or who, we’ve come to see. All of the fundraising in the form of platoon challenges, military branch of service challenges, raffles, and auctions are to raise money for Rainelle Middle School. The school utilizes the funds we provide for field trips, computers, and anything else that can help the children but isn’t available in the local budget. This year, the riders donated a total exceeding $25,500. When we arrived, townsfolk were out waving flags as we paraded through town and then went around a block to put our 400’ish bikes in line to stop right in front of the Middle School. As we passed the kids we heard them chanting “USA! USA! USA!” over the roar of our engines. What a great sound! Once we were parked on the street in front of the school, the melee began. Throngs of children interacted with riders to obtain autographs in booklets prepared especially for today. Riders knew this was coming so they prepared by securing gifts in the form of stickers, pens, pencils, snap bracelets, frisbees, little ducks, pop sockets, and all sorts of other things to leave behind as mementos of our visit. Once all of our gifts are handed out and we finish signing booklets the school provides a lunch. Today, it was Italian-themed and held in the school cafeteria. It was great seeing riders some many decades removed from a Middle School lunchroom sitting at the tables enjoying the moment.

There are many moments of patriotism on display each day that cause riders to well up with emotion. For this SitRep Writer, there were several. One was upon entry to the State Capitol when a US Marine Sergeant held his salute for all of us as we rode in but that isn’t all, a young man, who has been coming out to see us since he was a toddler was also there doing the same. That young man, if I have my notes straight, is now 19 years old. Thank you both for showing us such honor. The second was as we were passing along our route to Rainelle. There were countless people out waving flags or recording videos of us as we rode by. It was one of these groups all dressed in yellow shirts lined up perfectly spaced and one holding a US flag while all the others (I’m estimating them to be about 20 strong in number) were saluting. It was obvious they represented a local military-affiliated service organization but we were moving too fast for me to identify which one. There is a photo in the image gallery below of the group just after they stopped saluting. Maybe you’ll recognize yourselves or someone you know. The last moment was at the school with the students. The Principal, Kim Tincher, had her students lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance and then one of the classes sang the National Anthem. Hearing the wonderful voices of this school pledging allegiance to the flag in unison with the veterans, many of them combat veterans, who fought for the freedoms to make this day possible, had me welling with pride for our nation and the future of our children so much that I was hardly able to mumble out the words.

Before I wrap up this SitRep, I’d like to tell you a bit more about the Ambassador Team and circle back to the miracles I mentioned a day or two ago. The RFTW Ambassador Team rides out in front of the pack visiting people on overpasses and people who’ve stationed themselves along the sides of the roads we travel. We want to let those people know that we greatly appreciate them coming out to encourage us on our mission. But that isn’t all the Ambassadors do. They also visit schools and make donations on behalf of the Run For The Wall. Today, the team did just that. They visited two small schools on our route to Rainelle and conducted a flag folding ceremony at each. This ceremony is where the meaning of each fold of the flag is explained while two people fold a flag. The team also left a donation at each of the schools.

Now let me leave you with one of the many miracles we’ve seen. One of our riders had his bike loaded onto a chase truck due to a mechanical issue. He was rummaging in his saddlebags and gear before stepping off the trailer to get into the cab of the truck. What he didn’t realize until they stopped some 100 miles later after traveling through severe wind gusts was that he left his helmet sitting on the seat. I’ve personally set a helmet down on a seat in the smallest of breezes and had it blown off. Amazingly, the helmet was still on the seat when they stopped. Let me run that by you again. The helmet, which is round, was left sitting on a seat that also isn’t really flat, was still on the seat surviving centrifugal forces from the normal cornering and braking of the truck, and high wind gusts. It is by the grace of God that we travel safely across the country. It is not a coincidence that we have a group of chaplains all on their own motorcycles riding with us.

Rainelle Middle School Singing the National Anthem

Rainelle MS Ceremony

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