Between my retirement In February and the beginning of the world’s longest
organized motorcycle ride I worked part time as an accountant and full time as an
organizer. As a Company Gunny and biker leader I had put together dozens of
events involving hundreds of folks but this was different. There was no email, no
cell phones and long-distance calls costs a small fortune. Mailing flyers and
coordinating phone calls was my daily chore. My so-called partner showed up once
to complain then left but another Vietnam Vet and his wife stepped up to help. Sam
and Margo volunteered to sell merchandise and help with mailing. We had to raise
some funds. Easy Rider Magazine gave us free advertising space for our first item, a
black and yellow patch that read “Jane Fonda, America Traitor Bitch”. Some money
began to flow into the treasury but not nearly enough. My savings was down to zero,
think goodness my Marine retirement paid most of the mortgage. Volunteers began
to return calls from across the US with the first from “Greasy” in Kentucky and
another from Dick in Kansas, then ABATE organizations, VFWs and HOG chapters.
The first money donated was a $100 from UMF of America or just plain Uglies.
Wherever someone volunteered food or gas I connected lines across the US. A
route and schedule were cemented. A Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant who ran the
print shop at MCRD ran off 10,000 flyers one weekend. Smiling with a Semper Fi on
his lips he filled the back of my pickup truck with boxes of paper one Sunday
The beginnings of biker events in Southern California are the Laughlin River Run
and the Yuma Prison Run, both in April. I packed the Wide Glide with camping gear
and flyers and attend both events wondering if anyone paid attention to my pleas to
remember our POW/MIAs and could you join me in a cross-country motorcycle ride?
Are you crazy? A ride across country? With Nam vets on medications riding
chopper bikes and junker Harleys? You have got to be kidding me!
Also, in April, I flew to DC to meet the leaders of Rolling Thunder Ray Manzo and I
clicked immediately. Both of us are Marine Nam vets, we walked and talked the
same language. We are still the best of friends today. Top Holland was our
coordinator for permits and contacts with Washington police, Pentagon, Park
Service and political hacks. Col Earl Hopper, whose son was Missing In Action and I
shared a hotel room. He was suspicious of bikers but he was all in when we created
such a noise the next month. While at breakfast, the news reported the killing of Col
Nick Rowe in the Philippines. Col Rowe escaped as a POW from the North
Vietnamese with them promising to get revenge. Another Communist group
murdered him while he worked for the American Embassy. Top Holland told us
stories of he and Nick working together “back in the day”.
With less than a month remaining, the pace picked up. Riders arrived at my home to
camp on my lawn the day before the Run began. A pickup truck and trailer were
loaded with t-shirts and patches. Jon from Hawaii parked his bike and trailer in front
of my house then complained about the rain during the evening. The “rain” was my
sprinklers which came on covering his camp site. What a start of a long ride.
Marion Shelton gave me a photo of Charles with his Harley and three of their
children. She schooled me on POW issues and came to several events to raise
awareness. And then for the start of Run For The Wall, she was there waving us on.
Her words, “What can you do?” rang in my ears when we left San Diego that
morning of Friday, May 19th .
FRIDAY, SAN DIEGO TO LAS VEGAS
Forming in front of The Landing Zone, home of the Vietnam Veterans of San Diego in
downtown we had 200 bikes or so lined up and ready to ride. The police said to get
in the far-left lane and follow them. I-15 wasn’t completed yet but with police escort
we hauled butt to the Truck Stops of America in Ontario. Leading the pack on the
left, my partner, Bill, on the right and several local riders behind me who I knew well,
we clicked along at about 70 MPH. Bill lost his camping gear and blew his motor
before we reached Ontario so Pete came up to fill the gap. To our huge surprise,
Ontario was full of folks from various biker and veteran organizations. Someone had
read the flyers, listened to my pleas, had me crying. Mike and Linda Little, Tony
Diamond and so many others were there to see us on our quest. The first donated
food and support were here in Ontario. Several news organizations had arrived.
Later I learned we looked pretty good on local TV.
Up the steep Cajon Summit on I-15 to the fuel stop in Barstow was unique. Riders
bought their own gas and a news journalist from Marine Corps Base Barstow took
our photos and took interviews. At the Nevada line we stopped at Big Nose Kate’s
for cold air conditioning and wait for some riders from Las Vegas. We then rode to
the KOA campground for our evening stop. The VFW donated a spaghetti dinner
with fresh pies from the local ladies. One of these women was my cousin who was
the first Marine Corps woman officer from Tennessee who served in the Pacific
during WW 2. What an honor.
SATURDAY, LAS VEGAS TO GREEN RIVER UT
After a donated breakfast at the VFW, most of the riders returned to California but a
core group of us, maybe 30, continued the mission. Up I-15 through the Virgin
Canyon to St George UT for lunch where Al Spay caught up with us after a long
morning in Vegas. Jim from ABATE of Utah met us at the border, informing us that I-
70 was being paved with long lines of construction traffic and that we should ride
around. This we did, past Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon and through Capitol
Reef. When stopped in Fruita at a gas stop, an elderly lady hurried out with her
Kodak Instamatic to interview and take photos of the pack. She published an article
in the local weekly paper and made us famous in northern Utah.
In Green River, ABATE and other organizations had a camp site and dinner waiting.
While most of us pitched tents, our two Vietnam veteran doctors were checking into
the local motel. They heard a young girl screaming while running downstairs into
the parking lot in her night gown. The two ran upstairs to an open door and found an
older gentleman laying on his back not breathing. One doctor gave mouth to mouth
while the other did chest compressions. At this moment, a Highway Patrol Officer
with gun drawn, saw two bikers beating a man and ordered them off the man and
stop the assault. Between breaths, they explained they were trying to save the
man’s life. Unfortunately, the victim died. The girl was never found and the cop
apologized. All of this while the rest of us enjoyed a meal and good night’s rest.
SUNDAY, GREEN RIVER TO DENVER CO
Riding east through the Utah high dessert in an early morning sun rise is a beautiful
thing. I found I was looking in my rearview mirror as much as the windshield when
suddenly…… A quick look backwards and I confirmed that only a couple of bikes
were behind me with a big cloud of dust in the background. We few U-turned on I-70
riding back west along the shoulder. We found the pack parked along the highway
with a pickup truck on its side in a cattle pasture. The old truck pulling a trailer had
broken its right axle as the pack passed. The truck and two male passengers rolled
through a fence line with the men’s two wives and family following in an old auto.
The Run For The Wall members were busy collecting “stuff” from the truck, the
doctors were helping the two men who rolled with the truck and tractor trailer trucks
were contacted via CB radio to call the cops. Who should arrive? The same State
Trooper from last night. At least this time he didn’t draw his weapon.
Back again riding east on the interstate we passed the Colorado state line with many
members of Vietnam Veterans of America waving flags and welcoming us to their
state. We stopped in Grand Junction for fuel and interviews. A pattern was forming.
I would be interviewed by local press with barley enough time to use the bathroom.
Someone would push my bike to the fuel pumps and fill me up. The RFTW team was
coming together. Each rider helping wherever he or she could.
Climbing into the Rockies we crossed the 11,158-foot Eisenhower Pass through the
1.69-mile Johnson Tunnel. None of us were prepared for the snow and cold. After
photos and more clothes added at a rest area, we rode downhill to the KOA of
Denver east of town. What a welcome we received from several Sons of God and
Christian Motorcycle Association members with dinner served in a Quonset hut and
ice cream cups for dessert.
MONDAY, DENVER TO SALINA KS
Big Bill was going to ride just to Denver then told me he had a brother in Kansas so
bought new clothes at a Walmart and kept riding…. all the way to DC. Marc and
Melissa were on their honeymoon and were also only going to Denver but ended in
DC when Melissa presented Marc with extra money. Gary had a cracked gas tank
and Timmy was riding a Sportster with ape hanger handlebars. Neither could ride
more than 80 miles at a time so pulled out of the pack and caught up at the next
stop. Russ, being Gary’s brother, hung in there with them. Jerry was a retired
firefighter on his first motorcycle cross country and ended up being one of the
leaders. Later in life he rode dozens of times across country and started the club
Wind and Fire. Al became our Road Captain and Don, a former cop, our only road
guard. Don is still a road guard with RFTW 32 years later as of this date. Stewart
was riding an old police bike with flames. He wasn’t a veteran but cared. Phil or
Beemer was our only BMW rider. Not until after we were in DC did he confide to me
that he was going blind and that this was his last chance to ride. Country was from
Oregon riding on an old Kawasaki that Pete fixed nightly. Cord didn’t have her own
bike so hitched rides with others. She made it all the way. Jon from Hawaii pulled a
trailer. Scotty, a WW 2 Marine sniper, and his wife Nina were on a Volkswagen trike.
He loved to do wheelies. At the KOA in Denver-Strausburg we met a family moving
east who joined our little Band of Brothers riding in an old Corvette. Tom and Joe
rode in the pickup with a bike trailer. Ralph and Lois became the unofficial all the
The high plains are beautiful but boring. Wheat field after wheat field were the norm.
We kept moving east. At the Kansas border a large crowd of veterans met us with a
plane pulling a Run For The Wall banner following along on I-70. The full-service
town of Colby welcomed us with discount fuel, food, oil change and a high school
band. Dick was in charge of this stop and did a superb job.
After a filling lunch we kept riding, picking up riders at each stop. We were now up
to a hundred. After a long day, we pulled into a public park where the Vietnam
Veterans Motorcycle Club had bar-b-que and live music waiting. After a meeting
with the club officers, it was decided that their pack would ride ten minutes behind
the main pack to help with traffic congestion. They had maybe fifty riders so our
numbers kept growing. We were also beginning to receive more police escorts, a
TUESDAY, SALINA TO WENTZVILLE MO
With the help of local and state police and many volunteers the ever-increasing pack
rode to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Junction City. This is the home of the
Army’s 1 st Infantry Division and major supporter of RFTW. Flags were unfurled,
speeches were given, rifles were fired and taps played. Back on the road again we
passed Topeka and rode on the Kansas Turnpike. Here, ABATE of Kansas had
worked with the authorities to give RFTW its own “special” lane passing the toll
booths and kept the pack moving.
In Kansas City, Denise and United Auto Workers provided lunch and more support.
Across Missouri to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Wentzville we rode. Built in
1967, this is one of the oldest memorials to Vietnam Veterans in America. The men
responsible for this were there to greet us and welcome us to this very patriotic
WEDNESDAY, WENTZVILLE TO OWENSBORO KY
After camping in a local park and breakfast in a café, the pack rolled into the big city
of St Louis. With help from local police and fire fighters, we rode down to the
Mississippi River in front of the Gateway Arch. Flooding had occurred that week so
the fire trucks hosed off the muddy roads in front of us. We took photos in front of
the Gateway Arch, gave speeches and spoke with the local supporters. Escorted
over the Mississippi River, we crossed into Illinois traveling on I-64.
Lunch was donated by the Big Wheeler truck stop in Mt Vernon. We continued east
then south into Evansville IN then across the Ohio River to Owensboro KY, home of
Col Charles Shelton and our stop for the night. George and Joni did an outstanding
job of setting up our camp site, dinner, military displays and inviting Col Shelton’s
friends and family to join with us in remembering America’s last Vietnam POW. It
was a wonderful homecoming for the riders and supporters.
THURSDAY, OWENSBORO TO MT STERLING KY
The town came out the next morning lining the roads to see us off to our next stop in
Louisville, KY. We met more supporters in a local park and were given a flag to
leave at The Wall. Greasy and his group led us to the most magnificent Vietnam
Veterans Memorial in Frankfort, the state capitol. To quote the Memorial’s web site,
“Each Veteran’s name is precisely engraved on the blue-gray granite so the shadow
of the sundial pointer touches their name on the anniversary of their death. Thus,
each individual is honored with a personal tribute.” Outstanding memorial and a
must see. That evening we camped in a donated field, ate a donated meal and
listened to music from a band who donated their talents. Thank you to one and all.
FRIDAY, MT STERLING TO NATURAL BRIDGE VA
In Kentucky, Gary Wetzel – Medal of Honor Recipient – and Cowboy from Texas and
his daughter, Donna joined our group. Rain began to fall as we entered the
mountains of West Virginia. At a rest stop near Charleston, I spoke with a WV Dept
of Transportation official who told me each bike must stop at every toll booth and
pay. I argued that in Kansas we paid after the pack rolled through, a much safer and
quicker method. Having each rider remove rain gear, gloves and getting money at
each booth was unacceptable to me. Gary and I looked at a paper map and saw a
road around the toll booths, US Highway 60. A local rider said he would call the
union coal truck drivers to take a lunch break giving us a clear path along the curvy,
mountainous right of way.
Highway 60 or Midland Trail follows a beautiful easterly path along the Kanawha
River. The sun came out so we stopped in Glen Ferris for a “family” photo at an old
two-story hotel along the New River. Continuing mostly flat for a few miles, the road
suddenly begins to climb and twists to Hawk’s Nest. Then more twisty curves and
more mountains. Alone, this would be a great ride. Leading 250 motorcycles – not
so fun. Where in the world is the road going? At a hill crest a cop car suddenly
darted in front of the pack. Gary and I looked down and saw hundreds of folks in the
road. What’s going on? What is this town? Rainelle WV? Never heard of it but they
have heard of us.
It seems the local police chief and a radio station have publicized our coming for a
couple of hours so the school kids and town folk have come out to welcome us to
the most amazing town in the US. We are surrounded by well-wishers. Many in the
pack buy ice cream at the Dairy Queen. We are astonished, shocked and amazed.
Most of these hard-core veteran bikers have never heard the words “Thank you” or
“Welcome Home” and here a whole town is doing just that. Little children want to
hug us, call us heroes and please come back. Come back we did and still do today.
We ride out to a park just outside of town to take a breather and talk about what just
happened. Tears flow freely as we mount up for a fairly flat ride back to Sam Black
Church and I-64. The interstate flows quickly down a long downhill slide into
Virginia. We take some backroads to a campground along the James River where
my mother and brothers are waiting. What is supposed to be a nice grassy area is a
cow pasture that is full of crap and has not been cut. It’s disappointing but will do.
Several of the riders share rooms at a local motel as the rain falls again.
SATURDAY, NATURAL BRIDGE TO WASHINGTON DC
Interstate 81 is never an easy road but in the rain with a long line of motorcycles it’s
even harder. Truckers throw water in our faces and autos jump in and out of the
pack much too fast giving us finger jesters because we are slowing them down in
their fast pace world. In Front Royal, a veteran’s group, Americans Supporting
America’s Veterans, has set up a campground with welcome food and fuel.
The sun comes out but the traffic is heavy as we take I-66 the last 65 miles into
Arlington and the Marine Corps Iwo Jima War Memorial. Photos are taken, many
photos. The core group has ridden 3000 miles across country. For most, this is the
longest ride they have ever taken.
Now we cross the Arlington Memorial Bridge, pass the Lincoln Memorial to our
reserved parking area. I give a talk about the importance of this time, this moment
and thank the riders. It is a somber walk to our destination, The Vietnam Veterans
Memorial – The Wall. Some riders need help, most cry openly and all are amazed by
this black granite stone with the 57,939 names of our friends, family and comrades.
343 more names have since been added. We spend the rest of the afternoon in our
thoughts and prayers. From here, each rider goes their own way on their on time.
Most return to Front Royal to the campground. I elect to share a room with my
brother BB in DC. The first Run For The Wall has ended. The first, the only, the
longest organized motorcycle ride across America has ended in a huge success.
That evening I enjoy the company of fellow veterans on The Mall listening to Britt
Small and Festival play patriotic music. Speeches are given then Gary Wetzel orders
me on stage. I see in the audience one of our riders – 18-year-old Donna from Texas.
I explain to the large crowd that this young woman has just ridden her own Harley
with her father and hundreds of other veterans to be here with them tonight. Later, I
will lean that she barely made her high school graduation a few days later.
SUNDAY, ROLLING THUNDER 2 – WASHINGTON DC
I awoke early, getting to the Pentagon parking lot by 6 AM to meet our merchandise
trailer. We must sell products to pay the many bills RFTW has accumulated the past
few months. Upon arrival, no trailer. I wait, still no trailer. I jump on the Harley and
haul butt back to the campground in Front Royal. Along the way, I see George and
Joni along the shoulder on the other side of the highway. I U-turn, find they have a
flat tire so with Joni in the passenger seat, return to Front Royal. While she gets her
truck and trailer to go get George, I hunt for the merchandise trailer. Everyone is still
asleep after celebrating too late the night before. Get up we have to move.
Again, I race back to the Pentagon and finally at 10 the merchandise arrives. The
riders help distribute patches and t-shirts. Some money is raised but not nearly
enough. Just before Rolling Thunder begins, Gary Wetzel asks Ray Manzo, Greasy,
myself and others to place the Medal of Honor around his neck. At 12 noon RFTW
helps lead RT II four bikes abreast over the bridge into DC and pass the Capitol and
White House. My friend Pete is in charge of the Air Force honor guard. He has
received permission from Arlington National Cemetery to allow us to lay a wreath at
the Tomb of the Unknow Soldier. With Gary in the lead, this we do. So many
volunteers, so many folks to thank for all of this to come together. I could never
remember them all – but to all ya’ll – THANK YOU!
THE AFTERMATH OR NOW WHAT?
After all the running back and forth to Front Royal, I run out of gas during Rolling
Thunder. I borrow a drink cup from a bystander, pour gas from one bike into my
tank and make it to a gas station. What an ending to an epic ride. My support
vehicle has left without me. I am all alone after thousands of miles with multiple
motorcycles in my ears. I ride up to Luray Caverns to enjoy the solitude. Here I find
Scotty and Nina riding back to Arizona. We speak for awhile then go our separate
ways. I ride the scenic and peaceful Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway to my
parent’s mountain cabin in Hendersonville NC. After a couple of days, it is time to
move on westward. I borrow some money from Dad, pack up and head out. What a
difference ridding alone. I camp along the highway, sometimes on picnic tables in
rest areas. Up early in Albuquerque, I make the final 800-mile push to San Diego in
I have tried to compile a list of those riders who rode “all the way” in 1989. After 32
years, my memory isn’t great but here goes. If I left anyone out, please let me know
via email at: Bikergunny@msn.com
James “Gunny” Gregory and Bill Evans
Sam and Margo Van Alstyne
Mark and Melissa Recker
Ralph and Lois Meyer
Don “Bullet” Pierce and Al Spay
Jerry “Evo Red” Eibert and Jon “Hawaii” Gossett
Phil “Beemer” Swartz and Stewart “Flames” Pressman
Bill “Big Bill” Sallee and Timmy “Sportster” Murphy
Gary and Russ Benedict – Booze Brothers
Ed “County” Sheppard and Pete “Mate” Eunice
Scotty and Nina Scott
Pete “Firefighter” Boyle and Cord
Russ “Doc” Adcock and Doctor Bob
Ken and Nick and Roy “Roy Boy” Sandidge
Tom Johnson and Joe
What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been