This morning, at a very early hour, 30 of the Run For The Wall Riders, ten from each of the three Routes, rose and made their way to The Wall long before the crowds would show up. These Riders were chosen for one particular honor: They would be washing the Wall! I cannot tell you why I was chosen to stand amongst these great Veterans, but I will never forget that I got to touch the Wall, so that it could look it’s best as it touched us.
We arrived at the Wall, signed in after reading the SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) for the National Park Service, and attending a briefing. (We are used to morning meetings, so the Park Ranger had a pretty easy time getting our attention.) We were issued instructions on how to remove any artifacts/mementos that had been left, how to go about the cleaning process, and were then issued our mops and buckets. A few of us would set up and man the hoses, while the others reverently scrubbed any grime and debris from those 58,000 names. Not a soul who participated had a dry eye, nor were there many words spoken. For about 30 minutes, we worked almost silently to prepare the Wall for our Brothers and Sisters that would be joining us shortly.
Once the Wall was cleansed, Chaplain Duane said a few fitting remarks for us, and then had us turn and face the Wall as he said a prayer over us. With that, our duty was over, but the honor still remains. None of us will forget this experience.
At 09:00, we were already filling the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. While we waited for our group picture to be made, there were a lot of hugs and tears, chants of “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.!”, the singing of our National Anthem, and many other shows of American Patriotism. A few minutes before the photo, we were privileged to see a flag transfer and Name reading for the “Fallen Thirteen.”
And then, precisely at 09:30, and in accordance with our Park Permit, we had three minutes to get out group photo. After the hired photographer took his image, the three Route Photographers took a turn as well. I urge you all to purchase one of his photos, but in the meantime, I present to you: Run For The Wall, 2023.
We then, as one Family, walked down to that black granite Wall. Arm in arm, side by side, in little groups, and singularly, we paused at each panel looking for names that were special to us. At the apex of the Wall, our Route Coordinators laid a plaque stating what RFTW had done over the past 11 days. And with that simple act, our 2023 Mission was completed. The Riders milled around for several hours, still looking for those names of loved ones that they had not found yet. We were loathe to leave each other’s company, and in no hurry to leave this honored Wall.
Our FNGs had one more task to perform. They had been instructed to find that one special person that they really connected with during the Run. Meet them at the Wall and ask them to flip their FNG badge upside down. This little ritual symbolizes that they have made it “all the way” to the Wall, and are no longer a “Fine New Guy.” Instead, they are FAMILY!
Twelve days ago, at our Midway Route FNG Meeting in Ontario, I had asked four of our new Riders to wear a POW/MIA bracelet as we travelled. I asked them to look up the details of each of these Men. I wanted them to know who we were riding for, and what the price was that these Men had paid. We met again at the Wall, and we took a photo of these Riders, The bracelet that they had worn, and the name of that MIA as it reads on the Wall. I was brought to tears as each one of these now-former FNGs thanked me for giving them the opportunity to wear the bracelets. But I thanked THEM for doing it, and I could tell by their reactions to physically touching those names, after having read their biographies and looking up their photos, I knew that our Riders now fully understand what this wall represents. As one of the Ladies said “He didn’t have a chance to get married or have childr
en. He was just a boy!” I am not ashamed to tell you that we held each other in a long embrace, surrounded by three others that could tell our Rider needed consoling. When she could calm herself, she let us know that she felt a lighter heart now that she had experienced the Wall and it’s healing powers.
I hope that each of you reading this SITREP will be able to feel the healing powers that Run For The Wall offers. That is why we are here. Yes, we want to honor our Veterans. Yes, we want to pay tribute and offer hope to the Families of our STILL Missing In Action. Yes, we want to demand a full and accurate accounting of all of our Service Men and Women. But we also want to offer comfort and healing to ALL the people that need it.
War tears nations and people apart. For some, it is an ideological war. But for most others, it is a physical, visceral, mentally crippling battle that rips families apart until the end of time. Nothing that we can do will ever adequately heal those wounds, but we can try.
And we do.
We offer what we can to ease the burden of our Soldiers, their Families, Friends, and Supporters.
We are Run For The Wall. This is what we do.
It has been my extreme honor to once again be your Route Photographer and SITREP Author. I have tried to put into words the emotions that we are all feeling during our Mission. Sometimes I have interjected some of my own stories, but I try to relate as many of YOUR stories as I can. It is my hope that I have adequately represented you, and that these reports will bring you joy and comfort as you look back on them in years to come.
I will begin editing the thousands of photos that I took some time in the next few weeks. Please be patient as it will take a while to get through them all. I will be making another few posts in the next several months to let you know how the photos are coming, and to “wrap up” our shared experiences once we have had time to reflect on them. Until then, Thank You once again for letting me represent you. I have tried my best.