To promote healing among ALL veterans and their families and friends, to call for an accounting of all Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action (POW/MIA), to honor the memory of those Killed in Action (KIA) from all wars, and to support our military personnel all over the world.
We strive to maintain a safe, supportive and private atmosphere in which all participants can reflect and heal on their journey to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, and the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial in Marseilles, Illinois in the hope they can return home to a new beginning.
- To guide the participants across America.
- To educate future generations on the importance of accountability in wartime actions, emphasizing that no one should be left behind.
History of RUN FOR THE WALL
By James “Gunny” Gregory
In 1986, I rode my Wide Glide in the Los Angeles “Welcome Home” parade for Vietnam Veterans. I was the only biker, an active-duty Marine Corps Drill Instructor, and a Combat Vet. I met my Vietnam Fire Team Leader, Carl Rice, and visited the “moving wall” for the first time. Carl told me about live POWs left behind in Nam. I couldn’t believe what he said, but he convinced me. He invited me to a breakfast Sunday morning to hear families talk about POW /MIAs. One of those speakers was Marion Shelton, the wife of Col. Charles Shelton … the last official Prisoner of War of the Vietnam War. That morning Marion enlisted several others and me into her army of POW/MIA supporters. She and Carl asked, “Can you help? What can the bikers do?”
Carl then walked from Los Angeles to Port Angeles, WA, (his home) along interstate highways carrying the POW/MIA flag. At that time, I was the Chairman of the Board of ABATE of California, President of San Diego ABATE, life member of HOG, AMA, VFW, American Legion, WA and knew veterans and bikers all over the world. It was a time for action, but I had to retire from the Marine Corps first. About the same time, ABATE received a letter from a Marine Vietnam veteran planning a rally on Memorial Day weekend of 1988, using veteran bikers as their voice to the government. They called the rally ROLLING THUNDER, named after the B-52 strikes that rolled through Vietnam. Another Vietnam Vet, Bill Evans, came to my home and asked for help planning and conducting a motorcycle run to Washington, DC. I told him I had begun the planning already, so we agreed to “do it” together. Bill named this pilgrimage RUN FOR THE WALL! Another Nam Vet, Sam, and his wife, Margo, also joined our core group. We made up a black and yellow “Jane Fonda, American Traitor Bitch” patch, sold them through Easyriders magazine and started raising funds.
I flew to DC to meet with Ray Manzo and Col. Earl Hopper, a POW family member, and Top Holland, our local point of contact. We had a successful meeting and firmed up plans for Rolling Thunder II. At breakfast, we learned that Philippine Communist guerrillas murdered Col. Nick Rowe, a former POW and Special Forces Officer. Top served with Col. Rowe and knew him well. In 1988, I was the S-4 and Safety Officer for 2nd Bn, RTR, MCRD, in San Diego. That meant I had to attend safety school at Indiana University, Bloomington, IN. I took my leave and travel time to recon the routes for Run For The Wall. I rode my bike eastbound on the southern route and returned via the middle route. Then a miracle happened.
Strangers and volunteers started calling and donating time, energy, food, and gas for these routes. Several vet groups, churches, and Motorcycle Rights Organizations were (and still are) the backbone of Run For The Wall.
In May 1989, Marion Shelton saw the first Run leave from San Diego with a local police escort. Bill and I were in the lead. However, before we reached Ontario, Bill lost some of his gear, blew a tire, and then blew his motor. He spent the rest of The Run in the back of a pick-up. Pete then came up and helped with the pack and mechanical needs. This was the first time anyone had ever tried to lead a pack of motorcycles across country. Everyone said we were crazy. About 115 bikes left San Diego the first year. Most turned back in Las Vegas, but about 15 went all the way.
In Kansas, veterans and bikers paid our way through the toll booths on the turnpike, causing us to take our own “special” route around pay stations. In Charleston, WV, I tried to explain to an official of the WV DOT how this worked, but he would not listen. Therefore, I made the decision along with Gary Wetzel, MOH, to take Hwy 60 through the mountains. This fateful decision introduced us to Rainelle, WV, one of the most patriotic communities in America and now one of the major highlights of Run For The Wall Central Route.
On Friday, May 26th, 1989, Run For The Wall accomplished it Mission, arriving in Washington, DC, and walking to The Wall. The next day, Saturday, we laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. On Sunday, we helped lead Rolling Thunder with Gary Wetzel, Bill on Pete’s bike, and myself leading the pack. This was one of the proudest moments of my life.
Thank you to everyone who has made Run For The Wall the Success it has become.
FREEDOM ISN’T FREE
James “Gunny” Gregory
RUN FOR THE WALL® — From Then Until Now
Since that first ride across our nation, Run For The Wall® has experienced phenomenal success and growth, carrying out our Mission each May from 1989 to the present. *
In 1998, Run For the Wall® incorporated as a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization and established a Board of Directors to formalize policies and guide the execution of our mission. At that time, one of the most pressing issues facing RFTW was the growth of our ridership. Registration numbers had reached the point where they presented very real safety concerns, and the Board of Directors was faced with two choices… either limit the number of participants, or establish a second, simultaneous Run. Not wanting to exclude anyone from this healing experience, the Board chose the latter option, and Southern Route was born. A “Recon” of the new route, led by Phil Wright, was conducted in 2000, with the inaugural full-scale Southern Route Run taking place in 2001. The original Run For The Wall® group was rechristened Central Route because its course took them through the central portion of the United States.
Run For The Wall® remained “Two Routes, One Mission” until 2013, when once again, the safety of our riders was threatened by the growth in our numbers. The Board of Directors authorized creation of a third route, Midway, so named because it took a path between those of the two existing routes. The 2013 Midway “Recon” was a blend of riders from both Central and Southern Routes, led jointly by John “Slammer” Gebhards and Dave “Trunks” Gladwill. The full-scale inaugural Run took place the following year. With the addition of Midway Route, RFTW became “Three Routes, One Mission.”
Although the Run For The Wall® Mission emphasizes healing for all veterans, and accounting for those killed or missing in action from all wars, our focus to this point had been primarily on the Vietnam war, and the majority of our ridership reflected service from that era. With many of our riders beginning to “age out” from participation in such a strenuous event, RFTW began exploring ways to attract younger veterans and active-duty riders to whom the torch would eventually pass. The Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial, a monument located in Marseilles, Illinois, commemorates the servicemen and women who gave their lives in any of the Middle East conflicts since 1967. Incorporating this memorial into the RFTW mission seemed a natural bridge between the “Old Guard” and our younger veterans. In 2018, planning began for a fourth route to take riders to this memorial. The usual “Recon” of this route took place in 2019, under the leadership of Marcel “Senior” Miller. Unlike the other routes that travel the width and breadth of the country simultaneously, “Sandbox Route” is designed to pick up where the other routes leave off. Once the Memorial Day weekend RFTW ceremonies in Washington, D.C. are complete, Sandbox Route departs on its three-day journey to Marseilles, IL, for a separate tribute to those who served and sacrificed in our country’s current conflicts. This “WALL 2 WALL” concept embodies the best of all our routes and gives a fuller meaning to our current status as “Four Routes, One Mission.”
Throughout all these changes, our mission and philosophy have remained constant and unwavering. We promote healing among ALL veterans, and their families and friends; we call for an accounting of all Prisoners of War and those Missing In Action (POW/MIA); we honor the memory of all those killed in action from all wars; and we support our military personnel all over the world. We strive to maintain a safe, supportive, and private atmosphere in which all participants can reflect and heal on their journeys to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., and the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial in Marseilles, IL, in the hope that they can return home to a new beginning.
*RFTW’s unbroken streak of annual rides sadly came to an end in 2020, and again in 2021, when we were forced to cancel these Runs due to widespread restrictions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. But make no mistake… once those restrictions are lifted, Run For The Wall® will be back, stronger than ever.