Posted on Leave a comment

Day 7 – Tuesday May 24, 2022 Southern Route

Day 7 – Tuesday May 24, 2022 Southern Route

 

Today we went from Meridian, MS to Chattanooga, TN. We started at the Agriculture Pavilion in Meridian.  Of course, we were fed good stuff.  Always lots of food but it’s all so good and appreciated.  Everyone seems to enjoy taking care of us as we journey across the country.  We always have a big Thank You for all these great people and truly appreciate the number of people coming out to support us.  The laundry was ready for pickup!  An amazing service.  The big news of the day was the rain.  We were rained on for a couple of hours all together but it was a fairly warm rain.  We all had our rain gear on so it wasn’t a big deal.  It slowed us a little but we went through and got to where we needed to be.  We had some fuel stops, we left Mississippi, went through Alabama and a small part of Georgia to end up in Tennessee.  A total of 317 miles.  We had LEO escort in Alabama but not in Tennessee.  Going through Chattanooga there was quite a bit of traffic but we all made it through without incidence.  It’s hard to describe but if you’re a rider, and you’re with a friend or two, you can make it through the traffic areas without too much trouble but when you have a group as large as ours, it becomes a challenge and that’s where our Road Guards do a fabulous job of getting us through these difficult areas without an incident.  The reality is you have different skill levels with riders that don’t know each other’s driving habits real well.  The size of the group is so large, even broken up into platoons, it’s a challenge because we’re trying to stay together yet some cars are trying to squeeze into our group to make an exit and it can become a challenge.  Most of us are experienced enough to know when to let people through and when not to so with the guidance of Road Guards and Tail Gunners, we did well.  Thanks Guys and Gals.  Dinner was at the White Lightening Harley Davidson Dealer.  Great pulled pork sandwiches and goodies.  Then onto the hotels.  I had some other details I wanted to pass on but my sources haven’t forwarded details yet, hopefully I can update later tonight or tomorrow.  Till next time – Boots out.

R “Boots”
USAF ’72 – ’75

“Accept the challenges so that you can
feel the exhilaration of victory.”
General George Patton Jr.

Below are some words from a gentleman, Frank L. Vance, that read to us during one of our fuel stops.  It was very touching.

People like my Father and all Soldiers make me very proud to be AMERICAN. My wife’s father was  in the Navy during WWII. My father graduated Glider Pilot flight school from South Plains Air Field. He served in the European Theater. His name was Frank L. Vance  III. They have a Silent Wings Museum in Lubbock , Texas  at South Plains Air Field that Honors all Gliders Pilots. There was a picture of his 306th TCS in the museum, the same picture we have at his house.
My father passed on Dec.30th, 2013.He was a WWII Glider Pilot. He was in the Army/Aircorp 9th Corp,442nd TCG,306th TCS. He flew CG-4A  Gliders and C-47’s in Holland, France, Belgium and Germany. His main mission was Operation Market Garden. Many British and American men died in that battle. He received the Air Combat Metal for his Service. He was my HERO and my BEST FRIEND. He always said the HERO’S were the ones that gave their lives during the war. He said he was not a HERO. I always thought he and all men like him were HERO’S. I’d like to share a poem I wrote a few weeks after he died. It’s called “Soldiers Pain” Thanks, Frank L. Vance IV, Dedicated to Frank L. Vance III and all soldiers:

Soldier’s Pain

He is my eternal flame,
Many have come before and after,
but they are all the same

Young girls and boys protecting the world
and always taking the blame.

They didn’t ask to be in this
situation, but do their job
because they love their nation.

They never have time to cry
or be afraid, something we
take for granted every day.

I owe a great amount of appreciation
because my father was part of
the Greatest Generation.

There’s a place in my heart for all the
families that are mentally and physically
so far apart.

Many lose their life and some
come home to their husband and wife.

The ones that are sane settle
back in society and sustain,
but the ones that gave and
saw pain will never be the same.

If they make it back sane
I think they wonder why we all complain.

So, if you see a soldier
give them a hand shake and
a hug because freedom is
not free and they sacrifice
everything for you and me.

We will never know a
Soldiers Pain because they
risk and give their lives for our gain.

By: Frank L. Vance IV      January 2014

Most of the laundry bags are already picked up.

After dinner relax at the Chattanooga White Lightening Harley Davidson Dealer.

Relaxing after dinner at the White Lightening Harley Davidson Dealer.

Dinner at White Lightening Harley Davidson Dealer.

Bikes parked at the White Lightening Harley Davidson Dealer. This is a pano you can zoom in on.

Bikes parked at White Lightening Harley Davidson Dealer.

The afternoon gas stop with a reading of what it means to be a warrior. This gentleman’s own words.

The afternoon gas stop with a reading of what it means to be a warrior. This gentleman’s own words.

The Tuscaloosa (T-Town) Harley Davidson shop where they fed us a good lunch.

Conversations

One of today’s Missing Man.

Morning in Meridian where we started putting the rain gear on.

Morning briefing in Meridian.

Leadership getting ready for morning briefing.

Meridian staged bikes ready for depart.

Ready to go.

Reckless talking with one of the ladies involved in processing out laundry.

Posted on Leave a comment

Day 7: Stars

On a dark night far from the light pollution of cities, one can see a sky filled with an uncountable number of stars. These stars are beautiful to behold yet the light we see is not reality. It is from a past that influences our present. My day was about a different kind of star, the Gold Star of a family who has lost a loved one in battle. That past also influences the present as each Gold Star family will always remember their loss, and so shall we. We ride for those who can’t. We remember our Gold Star families.

The day was filled with ceremony and generosity spread across three communities. I’ll speak to those events to a degree but what I want to communicate to you today is the purpose of our Outreach Team, who I’ve taken to calling the “Green Sleeves”. The team wears the color green as it is representative of “hope”. The Green Sleeves ride out ahead of the pack with the charter to visit Gold Star families who live along our route. Their mission is vitally important and often emotional. The team, when possible, visits two families at one time. This is to build a connection between them so the families can support each other after the team has gone. When the team visits the family they do a couple of things. They present the family with a letter from the Run For The Wall, which states the following:

On behalf of the Run For The Wall riders, we would like to express sincere condolences for your loss and appreciation for your loved one’s service to their country. Lost but not forgotten. We consider it a great privilege to ride across our nation in support of all veterans and their families. Many of our riders are not veterans but choose to ride to show their patriotism and support those who have served and are now serving our country.

The Outreach Team also takes the time to listen to the Gold Star Family’s story, and they leave them with several mementos including a special RFTW Outreach pin, a Gold Star Family pin, a unique Hope bracelet made by an RFTW supporter a ride pin, and this year also a PGR Pin as the current leader is a PGR State Captain. While today’s ride with the Outreach Team had no visits, they can sometimes be very busy. Even though we had no family visits, the ride had me thinking about the immense sacrifice each Gold Star Family has unwillingly made for our nation. It is a feeling those who haven’t walked in their shoes cannot understand so we do the one thing we can.. we honor them, respect, them, listen to them, and ride for their loved ones.  Upon my arrival in Corydon, the lessons of my afternoon with the Green Sleeves were immediately tested as I encountered two Gold Star moms at the fairgrounds dinning area. The lessons of the afternoon caused me to not just notice them and be silent, they prompted me to acknowledge each mom with gratitude and honor. I’ve used the words “me”, and “I”, a lot in those last few sentences but the lesson and why we ride isn’t about me. It is about the Gold Star families we ride for, and their loved ones who cannot ride.

Our morning started in Wentzville Missouri, where the pack attended a brief ceremony at the first Vietnam Memorial in the US, which was followed by the dedication of a new mural placed on a nearby building. The Fire Department Color Guard presented the Colors and the Wentzville Holt High School band played the National Anthem. I spoke to the band director who said they have been coming out to play at this event since at least the year 2000 and maybe longer. He pinpointed the year 2000 because that is when he first started coming to the ceremony himself when he was eight years old!

We departed Wentzville for Mount Vernon where we were received by an overflight of a medivac helicopter, a throng of children holding flags, and a town that turned out en masse to welcome us home. At our gas stop, children with backpacks filled with water and bags filled with lollipops walked among our bikes offering us quick refreshment. We were doing what we call a “gas and go”. We were at the gas station and staging area just long enough for every bike to fill up. Thus we were tethered to our bikes knowing the pack would leave at any moment. Thank you for coming to us to bring us water and a wee bit of sugar. After the gas and go the fire department escorted us to the local airport where we were fed an abundance of fried chicken as students passed among us carrying water, soda, and even refills of some of the side dishes. The service was amazing.  I asked one adult volunteer if she could pinpoint the number of volunteers they had helping host us. She put the number as “exceeding 200”. Wow! That is a huge turnout. Thank you so much for investing in us as we fulfill our mission. After the meal, there was a brief ceremony and a large sendoff featuring a Huey helicopter flying a massive flag.

With full bellies and full hearts, the riders departed for Corydon Indiana knowing dinner would be fried catfish. Corydon never disappoints with amazing hospitality and fried catfish that is worth waiting for in a line of riders of any length. I understand the volunteers who provided the meal arrived at 10:00 am that morning to make it a reality. Thank you for a long day of service. On a personal note, my wife and son registered here as FNG’s!

I’m going to leave you with one last item. It is a story somewhat related to the Outreach Team (Green Sleeves, if I say it enough, maybe it will stick) and their mission to recognize Gold Star families. The story comes to us from Dan Koster, who was the SitRep Writer my FNG year. The Green Sleeves conducted a special presentation during our ride to Williams to the family of Trenton Rhea and Dan Koster met with Travis Rhea, Trenton’s brother the evening of the first day of the Run. Dan sent this to me via text message about the experience: WHAT AN INCREDIBLE YOUNG MAN!  [Kay and I] met with Tavis Rhea. Travis’s twin brother Trenton was KIA in Afghanistan in 2013. We have become good friends with Trenton and Travis’s father Marshall Rhae from Oakley KS. Marshall called me about a month ago to tell me Travis lives close to Williams, AZ.  We made arrangements to meet him at the American Legion, which always serves the RFTW riders an incredible barbeque dinner. After meeting with Travis for more than two hours we came away with not only a real understanding of what a hero his twin brother Trenton was but what an incredible young man Travis is. Travis told us that Trenton wanted to be a soldier from the time they were five years old. We came away with deep gratitude for their family values and great love of the United States of America.

Posted on Leave a comment

Day 7.  Tuesday May 24, 2022.  Cookeville, TN to Asheville, NC.  “Family Time

Family.

It’s not just who you are related too by birth.  It is who you choose.  It is who you associate with.  It is who you would die for.  It is who you would kill for.  It is who you have shed your blood with.  It is RFTW.

Today, my Midway RFTW Family really started to draw closer together.  I attribute this to several factors, chief amongst them is that our Mission is starting to be forefront in our minds, even when we are having fun.  From the very start of our day, with “Snax” and “Curly” singing and signing our National Anthem and with “Pin-Up” leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance, I noticed a palpable change from just yesterday.

I saw people hugging each other just a little tighter and a little longer.  I saw people holding hands in a prayer circle.  I overheard whispered conversations about lost Brothers in Arms, and saw the speaker get enveloped in a crowd to protect him and offer him support.  I saw a Chaplain walk up to a Rider that was near tears, and saw that same Rider about 10 minutes later with a wonderful smile on his face.  I saw a recently widowed 2019 Midway Route Rider bring her young Son out to our lunch spot, just to get him used to being around motorcycles, and also to remember the good times she and her Husband had on their own Mission.  She and her Son are Midway Route Family!

But let me start from the beginning of our day.  As I mentioned, we started, as usual, with the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem.  Have you noticed that I mention this every day?  Are you getting tired of it?  I can PROMISE you that our RIDERS aren’t tired of it!  In fact, today the singing was a little louder, and the pledge was almost boisterous.  The deep-seated emotions connected with these words are immense, and the commitment of our Riders to honor those words gets stronger and stronger every day.

As we rode down the highway, sometimes under LEO escort again, I noticed something.  The pack looked a little tighter.  The Riders were sitting a little taller in the saddle.  As we passed under bridges that were covered in Supporters, the Riders started honking their horns AND waving, just a little bit more.  When we got to out stop in Knoxville, at the Veterans Memorial Park, MANY more Riders participated in the tradition of walking through the fountain.  Peter Green (an AUSTRALIAN PATRIOT!) always leads the way.  He says it symbolizes (to Him) the Brothers that march off to war together, and also those that come out on the other side.  I don’t take this walk with them, as I am not a Veteran.  But I have been asked to join them.  Now THAT is Brotherhood!

At this park there is a series of granite walls that has the name of every Tennessee Boy that went off to War inscribed on them.  The significance of this location is that it is where the old railroad terminal used to stand.  For 80 percent of the names on these markers, this is the last place that they stood on Tennessee soil.  It is a solemn location, and as our Riders walked through it, a hush fell over them all.  It wasn’t planned: it just happened.  They were visiting with their un-known Brothers.  And when they exited the memorial, the conversations started again.

As with all Families, we came together over meals.  (Okay, one of these “meals” was at an ice-cream stop, But it still counts!)  While noshing on a “salted caramel and butterscotch” cone, I saw someone put down a $20 bill and say “This is for my Sister.”  And She did the same for the next person in line.  And when a very tired Rider walked in looking like he REALLY needed to cool down, he was offered a place at the front of the line, where someone paid for HIS ice-cream!

At our actual dinner, people that really wouldn’t have much in common with each other “back home” were sitting beside each other, talking about their lives and experiences.  They told funny stories that we laughed at even though we didn’t know the person they were talking about.  But they told the story as if we DID, and now, we kind of DO!

Bikers are all Brothers and Sisters.  We kid each other about the type of bikes that they ride.  (“Let me guess: Black Harley?”)  We give them a hard time when their engine makes such a cute little “WHEEEeeee” sound instead of a deep-throated roar!  But we don’t leave another Biker on the side of the road.  We take care of each other.  We help each other.  The “Midway 2022 TRIBE” (Indian Motorcycle Riders) even took a picture of “the BEST” bikes in front of the Harley Davidson Dealer in Asheville, NC, as a way to say Thank You for supporting the Midway Route for the past seven years.  We may not ride a Harley, but we support YOU the way you support US!

Our Family grew today when we arrived for dinner.  The people that served us were so gracious and loving that we just had to hug them!  We had three “FNG” Motorcycle Law Enforcement Officers that helped escort us into town for the first time.  They were given an official “FNG” badge, and added to our Family.  There was a 102 year-old Veteran sitting at a table, but not alone.  When it was announced that he was one of the FIRST Soldiers to cross Utah Beach during WWII, he got a standing ovation from HIS new Family of RFTW Riders.

The whole day was like this.  I saw people drawing closer together than they were just a day before.  I saw “friendships” grow and become a bond of Brotherhood.  I said that the change was palpable.  That isn’t really the right word, though.  We didn’t “feel” the change.  WE LIVED the change.

And our bonds will only grow stronger over the next few days.  We may only have three days left on our journey, but our Family Time has just begun.

Cheers!

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain

Posted on Leave a comment

Day 6. Monday May 23, 2022. Forrest city, AR to Cookeville, TN. “CELEBRATION!”

There’s a party going on right here
A celebration to last throughout the years
So bring your good times and your laughter too
We’re gonna celebrate your party with you!

Today we are heading to COOKEVILLE!!!  This is our “key” stop along our entire route.  Up to this point, we have been getting to know each other, learning each others stories, finding out about our shared pasts, and becoming Family.  Today we laughed and cried together.  The laughter was from the heart, but so where the tears.  And here is why:

At our morning meeting, one of our BRAND NEW FNGs asked if she could do something for our Riders.  She hadn’t met many of us yet, but she still had a gift for us all.  “Curly” got up on the stage, and in front of 250 strangers, she SIGNED the words to “Proud to be an American!”    We couldn’t believe it!  She was so passionate in her signing that we were all singing and clapping along with her!  She is going to fit right in with our little group!

Right after that, we had one of our Active Duty Personnel lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance.  I have never heard it lead with such gusto and determination.  It was a fantastic start to our day, and definitely put us all in the mood to start our Celebration!

We were a little concerned about the weather this morning.  It was raining ahead of us AND behind us.  But being the Midway Route, we were right in between the storms.  We are the “Goldilocks” route: We are “just right!”  AND we made it through the entire day without getting wet.  ANOTHER reason to Celebrate.

Two Platoons of our Trike Riders got to go on a breakout Mission this morning to the Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery in Parker Crossroads.  These People are always in the back of the Pack, so they don’t get chosen for a lot of programs.  Well not on the Midway Route!  It was my honor to get to accompany them, especially since I was on two wheels.  We participated in a wreath laying ceremony which was followed by “Echo Taps” and a rifle salute.  The Flag we were standing under was HUGE!  And the wind was blowing it hard enough to make it look like the Flag was at attention.  It was a great Outreach!

We just barely returned from THAT outreach when it was time to head out on another one.  This time, two different platoons went to Lebanon, Tennessee to visit the Veterans Museum.  This is a very unique museum, as it has displays primarily about the uniforms and arms for each branch of the Military, for the past 200 years.  They have a “wall of Honor” where they feature a local veteran from each branch of the Service, with a picture and a short biography.  Today, we MET William Seay, standing next to his own photo.  “Welcome Home, Sergeant!”  It is a really interesting place to visit, and I look forward to coming back when I can spend more time.  We performed a wreath laying ceremony here, as well.  And I must mention something else: As a Texan, I know that BBQ is BEEF.  But that pulled pork sandwich really deserves this Texans “Seal of Approval!”  I would ride back up here just for that sandwich!

Did I mention that we had LEO Escorts through all of the major cities AGAIN today?  Folks, let me tell you, it is an amazing site to see an entire FREEWAY shut down just so we can ride through!  It wasn’t easy to get, but I DID take a photo that shows a little bit of what this looks like from OUR perspective.

And then we rolled into Cookeville!  This place is phenomenal!  They cheer us as we roll down main street.  The wave flags WITH us when we arrive.  They hug us all, over and over and over.  Then they FEED us!  AND they provide some musical entertainment!  AND they auctioned off a super-delicious cheese-cake made by Sarah Winfrey.  How do I know it was delicious?  Right before the auction started, I ran to the front of the room to get some photos.  I just happened to grab an empty chair, and then that table bid on the cheesecake.  WE WON!!!  WooHoo!

So you see, Cookeville is a Celebration for us.  Yes, we had a lot of fun today, but we also participated in several very meaningful outreach programs.  (We have another one first thing in the morning!)  Cookeville is sort of a “turning point” in our Mission.  We have had a LOT of fun along the way and experienced some amazing emotions.  But today was Day Six, and that means we are more than half-way to our destination.  Every day from now on, as we draw closer to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in DC, our emotions are going to get a little more raw.  The joy will still be there, but it is going to be tempered with the solemnity of our Mission.

So today we partied and celebrated our Family.  Tomorrow, it all becomes more serious.

There’s a party going on right here
A dedication to last throughout the years
So bring your good times and your laughter too
We’re gonna celebrate your party with you!

Cheers!

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain

Posted on Leave a comment

Day 6: Flag Day

Today was another great day on the RFTW. We rode in front of a storm the entire day, keeping dry and out of harm’s way. This is but one of the many miracles that happen on the Run. I’ll tell you of a couple more that have happened in the days to come.

I rode out with our Ambassador Team to visit folks on overpasses supporting our riders. It was a new perspective for me to see how these great men and women become the face of the RFTW by greeting and acknowledging the time and effort so many people put into setting up flags and banners, then waiting for us to pass by. They sometimes spend an hour or more in miserable weather all for a few minutes of supporting us. What those supporters may not realize is that what they do gives us more drive and commitment to complete the mission. Ambassador’s range out about 30 minutes ahead of the main pack. When they see a bridge lined with supporters they “drop off” a couple of their team to the bridge to thank the supporters and hand them ride pins. Sonia, one of the Ambassador team leads told me that one of the people she spoke to earlier on this Run was so grateful that she stopped. He had been coming out to cheer on our riders for more than a decade and in that period not one person had stoped. This is also why we ride. We acknowledge those who sacrifice to support us, just as our servicemen and women sacrificed to make it possible.

For lunch we went into Concordia, MO where Lori Wilson and her team welcomed us with open arms. Lunch was, as always amazing. As we enjoyed our food, kids from the community gave us care packages. Each package contained a button made by the children along with a preaddressed envelope for us to use upon our return home. Their hope is to receive a number of these envelopes stuffed with details about the riders, their RFTW experience, and where they are from. The older kids organized groups to clean up the park where we met, volunteered to move tables and helped with clean up as well. After acknowledgements of those who contributed to make lunch a reality, one of the most amazing moments of the day occurred. Lori invited everyone to join in singing the Star Spangled Banner. Wow, so many voices, so many patriots putting their heart into our National Anthem.

Our final stop was in Wentzville, the home of the first Vietnam Memorial in the US. The massive US Flag that we ride under is astounding and brings me to tears every time I see it. The local service organizations put on a fantastic ceremony where we honor both riders and local heroes such as Lance Corporal Schmitz, who was lost in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan during the abrupt withdrawal in August of 2021. Dinner was steak and potatoes with all the trimmings. Thank you, Wentzville for another great visit.

Special thanks to Mama G for helping with today’s SitRep. I was absent for the stop in Concordia.

Posted on Leave a comment

Day 6 – Monday May 23, 2022 Southern Route

Day 6 – May 23, 2022 Monday – Southern Route

This morning we started in Monroe Louisiana and ended up in Meridian Mississippi.  Another good day for traveling.  We had a little bit of rain drizzle for about 15 minutes and that was it.  It was refreshing and did not get those of us very wet that have fairings.  It was a total of 225 miles.  We started with a full tank and made 2 fuel stops.  We started at Sam’s Club parking lot with MacDonalds sausage and biscuit sandwiches along with some fruits and other goodies.  The first ride was very short as we went to the Monroe City Hall to have a wreath laying ceremony at the Veterans Memorial that is there in front.  It’s a nice memorial for locals that had given all for WWII, The Korean War and the Vietnam War.  I was pleased to see it etched in stone that it was the Vietnam War and not the Vietnam Conflict like they pushed in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s trying to avoid the idea we were at war and war was never declared!  We headed towards Jackson MS.  We had LEO escort the remainder of Louisiana and all the way through Mississippi.  Before leaving the Sam’s Club parking lot, we had a couple of the Motor Police do a little show for us on their Harley’s.  Very talented riders.  I’ll put a link to a movie to try and show case the riding.  I mentioned having their escort.  They basically shut the highway down not allowing vehicles to get on the highway in front of us and keeping them off until the entire pack had passed.  They were doing a bump and go where the police would block the entrance with their lights going, a RFTW Road Guard would stop and take his place, then the LEO would continue on to the next entrance with a few of his buddies doing the same thing with other entrances further up.  I was lucky enough to be close to the front of the pack and could see the actions which included 16 to 18 Motor Police riding side by side with all of them flashing their blue lights.  It looked like a moving island of flashing blue lights, then there was a bunch of Road Guards right behind them with their yellow and white lights flashing, it was a colorful morning and very impressive.  And, almost all the over passes had people waving at us with American Flags displayed.  There were quite a few of the smaller towns that had their firetrucks out there on the over pass with lights flashing and often big American Flags hanging off the ladder trucks.  We all felt pretty special.  It was a huge welcome from the State of Mississippi.  We crossed the Mississippi River, very large and continued on to the first fuel stop.  The escort took us off and back on claiming the highway to be ours again.  It was a fun time.  In Jackson, MS, we stopped for lunch at the Jackson Harley Dealer.  It started with a ceremony where the Quarter Master announced the celebrity military hero’s that graced us with the presence.  To mention a few, there was a Baatan Death March Survivor, a Tuskegee Airman, 32nd Fighter Group, an Iwo Jima Survivor, a Prisoner of War survivor and last but not least, Michael Thornton, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.  Lt Thornton has quite a list of achievements as a Navy Seal and if you’d like to read a bit more, a link to an informative web page is: https://achievement.org/achiever/lt-michael-e-thornton-usn/

I was able to get a picture of Lt Thornton, myself and Flat Stanley in front of the dealership, it is below.  Most everyone on the ride is familiar with Flat Stanley but he’s a character from a beginning reader book series and the Montvale Elementary School in Virginia asked one of us to carry Stanley on the ride with us.  I was honored to do so.  Flat Stanley is a character that children will make in school, mail him to friends and family around the world and they will have pictures sent back of Flat Stanley having adventures.  Kids seem to really like the stories and anything to encourage reading is a good thing.  He’s easily Googled if you want to learn more.

From Jackson, we went to our final stop of the day in Meridian MS.  We were escorted to the Ag Center where they had a great meal laid out for us.  Smoked meats, veggies and potatoes with a long table of homemade deserts.  I have some pictures of the Smoker below.  They converted an old fire truck into a drivable smoker with a very large drum to smoke the meats.  Pretty impressive if you like smokers.  Another wonderful service is also offered here in Meridian.  Here we are on day 6 and we all have some dirty laundry.  There is a group that comes up from Florida and gives us plastic bags with our names on them to fill with our dirty clothes.  Tomorrow morning, the bags will be available for pickup, all nicely folded and clean.  Amazing people.  I understand they have a large truck that is outfitted with washer / dryer equipment, and they travel to disaster spots to help people that are without these services.  An exciting day.  Tomorrow, we head towards Chattanooga, TN.  PS – sorry I don’t know how to format these pages very well.  Being new at this role, I didn’t have much time to learn the nuances of formatting.

 

The Ag Center in Meridian MS

 

IMG_5132  <—— Link to movie of LEO on bike.

 

Ag Center – Meridian MS

Two new FNG’s that joined us this morning in Monroe. They rode in from Shreveport area early.

The Smoker, up close

The Smoker in Meridian

Lt Thornton, Flat Stanley and me

Quarter Master announcing special people

Monroe MS Veterans Memorial

Monroe MS Veterans Memorial

Monroe MS Veterans Memorial

Monroe MS Veterans Memorial and the wreath

Sam’s Club parking lot. good people

The first Missing man of the day

 

 

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Day 5: Generations

Today was the longest day so far for the Central Route. Breakfast and Raffle Rousing started early at 5:30am and dinner hosted at the Eagles in Junction City, Kansas didn’t get rolling until about 7:30pm. Your riders and this SitRep Writer are tired and dreams of tomorrow and memories of today are fighting for the attention of minds that long for sleep.

I’ve entitled this post Generations not out of any real creative means for a writing prompt but to rather simply speak to the number of families with whom I’m traveling and one amazing family with whom several of us riders became enamored during our lunch stop in Oakley. My family is represented by three generations fulfilling the RFTW mission and several other families have grandparents traveling with grandchildren or siblings traveling with their kids (aunts, uncles, and nieces). Still more families will grow in representation as we move East. The Gilman’s come to mind. They ride as a family for Frederick Gilman, KIA 16 March, 1970. But the family who stirred my mind to thinking about the flesh and bone families on the run is the Kuhlman family.

The Kuhlman family live on the street opposite Memorial Park where the great town of Oakley hosted us for lunch with the help of several service organizations. It was my lucky day as it was my bike that blocked their driveway making the Kuhlman’s walk part of the way home from church. After dismounting my bike, I struck up a conversation and discovered that three Veterans reside there and four generations of family were there to greet us. One of those veterans was 97 year-old Mildred Kuhlman, a WWII Nurse. I’m told she rarely comes outside, and she wasn’t when we arrived. But, with a bit of coaxing her son was able to bring her out to meet many of us right there in her driveway. Mildred has a twinkle in her eye that not only draws you in but also communicates that she knows full well what our mission is about. I didn’t ask her about her service for we know that The Greatest Generation sacrificed much and at 97 she deserves to be free from reliving those horrors. It was an honor to sit next to Mildred and speak for a few minutes. She allowed a few of us to give her a hug and we pressed ride coins into several of the families hands. I’m grateful for the generations of Kuhlman’s and families like them across our great nation that are sewing seeds that mature into generations of patriots.

Pictured from the Kuhlman family are Mildred Kuhlman, Ron Kuhlman, Raye Kuhlman (both Ron and Ray are Veterans), Braxton, Becky, and Bowen Stramel, grand children to Ron and Raye and great-grandchildren to Mildred. Not pictured was Ron and Raye’s daughter who’s name I didn’t capture.  Rounding out the photo are a father son duo who are completing the run and myself.

One of the things I love the most about the Run For The Wall is that we really do think of each other as family. That family is comprised of brothers and sisters with a common history of military service or deep respect and support of veterans. While completing the mission together our hearts are knit together and our family grows beyond the traditional nuclear family with whom we came to the run. By giving of ourselves to join in something that is much bigger than anything we could achieve or become on our own, we become part of the current generation of the Run For The Wall who will shepherd it for generations to come.

None of this could be possible without the support of hundreds of people who donate fuel, feed us, and support the mission. Today we started in Limon Colorado and finished our day in Junction City Kansas. As mentioned above we stopped in Oakley Kansas for lunch. Volunteers in Limon were up at 3:30am to prepare us a biscuits and gravy breakfast. In Oakley we were given bbq beef sandwiches, and in Junction City, we were served Chicken Fried Steak. Thank you to everyone who prepared and served food or set up chairs, or did any number of other supporting tasks to make it possible for us to continue the mission.

When thinking of generations, we always remember those who’ve gone before us. Today, the RFTW visited three memorials. In Oakley we lunched in Memorial Park, which was recently renamed from Clark Park. While there, a new installation to the park’s memorials was unveiled. Braden Gormley took a bit more than a year to design the new memorial and then poured one month of labor into its creation. A subset of the Central Route did a breakout (left the main pack for a side destination) to a memorial in Wakeeney where they found a peaceful, serene, memorial to the five branches of service. And, in Junction City the entirety of the Central Route visited the Kansas Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Heritage Park where a ceremony was held, which honored the RFTW as well as many who were in attendance.

We speak to the new generation (FNG’s) joining the run about the countless supporters that line overpasses to spur us on as we cross the country. Today there were too many overpasses with patriots waving to count. People with banners, flags, and signs all showing their support for the riders and our nation. And as a fitting closing chapter to the day long support of people at gas stations, people on over passes, and people on the city streets across which we traveled is the 300 or more people lining the street with US flags as we approach and enter Heritage Park. There is nothing quite like it. It leaves my throat lumpy, my eyes watery, and my skin goose bumpy even remembering it. Thank you to all who have welcomed home the generations of our RFTW family.

Not to be missed today was that every one of our gas stops was donated. Amazing. Thank you so much. Also, very much worth noting is that we paraded through Russell Kansas in honor of the late Bob Dole, US Senator, Presidential Candidate, and US Army Captain who served during WWII until he was severely wounded.

Pictured in the gallery below are the memorials in Wakeeney and Junction City as well as various photos taken throughout the day.

Posted on Leave a comment

Day 5, May 22, 2022 – Southern Route

Day 5 – May 22, 2022 Sunday – Southern Route

A great day where we avoided being rained on.  It looked threatening at times and after pulling into the hotel after dinner, it did indeed start raining a bit.  So, we were blessed with good weather for our riding today.  We started in Grand Prairie Texas and ended the day in Monroe Louisiana.  We had breakfast provided by a MacDonalds in the Grand Prairie Super Walmart parking lot where we staged for leaving.  There were 3 fuel stops with lunch at the Longview Texas Fairgrounds in Longview.  At the Fairgrounds is a large building that we take up a big chunk of as they feed us and entertain us.  Good sandwiches, lots of baked goodies with very warm greetings.  There’s a gentleman that sings to us with karaoke tracks running and it’s good entertainment.  We surely get that “appreciated” feeling along this route and today was another day to get that feeling.  Some of the troops went on an outreach this morning to the Texas Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Fair Park.  There are some pictures of that below with a wreath laying by members of our ride volunteering to be the honor guard.  After lunch we headed towards Monroe, LA.  Once we hit the Louisiana border, we had State Motorcycle Police escort us with them blocking the highway entrances to not have traffic coming into our long procession of motorcycles.  With the traffic stopped, one of our road guards would take that spot and the State Police Officer would head down to the next area that needed blocking and it continued all the way to our destination.  Those officers came to dinner with us at the Monroe Shriners Hall where we were all treated to really good Catfish, Pork or Chicken along with Coleslaw and Hushpuppies that had a bit of a spice byte to them – great stuff. Oh, then the long tables filled with baked goods.  We’re not going hungry this trip.  We rode 323 miles.  One of the fuel stops in the morning needs to be acknowledged is the town of Terrell Texas.  It’s a large store parking lot where after filling up with fuel, the local folks gather to greet us, give us drinks and snacks.  Along with the RFTW State Coordinator and her connections with the Daughters of the American Revolution, things were put together to make this stop a reality again.  With Covid over the last couple of years, it almost slipped the minds of important players but it did come together with the Mayor and City Council also proclaiming May 22, 2022 to become the official Run For The Wall day.  At the Longview lunch, they also declared that in the City of Terrell, May 22, 2022 is also going to be Run For The Wall Day.  Now we just have to work on the rest of the country!

 

The picture of a Bio in a sleeve in the parking lot needs a bit of explanation.  The Missing Man is an important part of Run For The Wall.  As we travel along on our mission, FNG’s have the opportunity to ride up front with the Missing Man platoon and ride for someone with a personal connection to them or choose one of the Missing Men that’s on a list, longer than we like.  Each leg of the journey (between fuel stops) is another opportunity for an FNG to participate in this honor to remember the Missing loved ones.  The formation is set up where the Route coordinator and the Assistant Route Coordinator are side by side, then the FNG is immediately behind the Route Coordinator with an empty spot next to the FNG representing the Missing Man.  After the FNG and the empty spot is the Missing Man Coordinator Judy “Not Airborne” Wormmeester and the Missing Man Chaplin Bo Pearson, also riding side by side.  We are riding to remember those that have been lost.  Tomorrow we go to Meridian Mississippi as we get closer to Washington DC.

R “Boots”
USAF ’72 – ’75

 

Flat Stanley assisting the platoon.

Terrell Texas – good folks coming out to greet us and give us a warm welcome.

Missing Man Memorial that rides with RFTW

Posted on Leave a comment

Day 5 – Sunday May 22, 2022. Shawnee, OK to Forrest City, AR. 393 miles. “Scars, Hope, and Healing”

Today was quite an amazing day.  I can’t tell you everything that happened because there just isn’t time.  You had to be here to experience it all!  But I am going to tell you what *I* think were the highlights.  I will do a quick run through of what we did, but then I want to talk about the thoughts that went through my mind during the day.

Of course, we began our day “as usual.”  You know, with the Pledge of Allegiance, then announcements from our Route Coordinator, Road Guard Captain, the reading of an MIA biography, a 50/50 raffle, and other “general” announcements.  I won’t “bore” you with the details of this every day, because they are all very much the same, but with enough differences to make each morning unique and poignant.  It may be hard to imagine, but I actually look forward to these morning Riders Meetings!

We soon took off and headed east on the highway.  It was cool but not cold, breezy but not windy, humid but not damp, … okay you get the picture.  It was a FINE day for riding, and we did a lot of it.  Our Road Guards did get quite a workout (again) keeping us safe with all of the construction zones and traffic.  These guys really do work hard, and I am so thankful that we have them!

At noon, we arrived in Russellville, AR for our “picnic lunch.”  It wasn’t much of a picnic.  It was a full-blown, delicious MEAL!  We even had some homemade cookies!  (Yes, I at my cookies first!)  THEN I followed it up with some wonderful BBQ chicken, green beans, cole slaw, and hominy.  (“Hominy” do you think I had?)  But before we could have this scrumptious fare, we had to walk a gauntlet of Patriot Guard Riders “standing the Flag Line.”  As a PGR Rider myself, I can tell you that it is quite an honor to “stand the Flag line.”  But to be the recipient of said line is amazing!  These Patriots WANT to honor us, and they always do it with grace and style.  Thank You, Russellville PGR for such a warm and heart-felt Welcome!

All too soon, it was time to leave and get back out on the highway.  We hugged our new Russellville  friends and promised to return again next year!

Another hundred miles and we were in Forrest City, AR, where the Ridgewood Baptist Church served us an equally fine dinner.  The food was great, but the Fellowship and comradery was even better.  They always do this for us, they feed our bodies AND our souls.  We are all a little better off for having visited here.

But now I want to jump back in time, to the very beginning of our day.  First, today is Sunday, and for Run For The Wall that means EARLY morning church services with our Chaplains.  (Attendance is not mandatory, but it is always amazing to see almost all of our Riders gather on Sunday morning.)  What you need to know about our Chaplains is that they are here for EVERYBODY, so the services are non-denominational.  In fact, they aren’t “preachy” at all.  This morning, Chaplain Steve “Cherokee” Dow spoke a quick message of inspiration and hope that really set the mood for me today.  He spoke about having scars: Scars that were caused by both physical and mental adversities.  He explained how our scars, and we ALL have them, don’t define who we are or what we went through, but more the fact that we DID get through the ordeals.  And this got me to thinking about a recent event in my life.  Please bear with me as I “think” this will all make sense.

I have a couple of puppies at home.  Two Boston Terrier Bulldog siblings, a little girl, Raia, and my little boy, Winston.  We have had them for about two years and I love them both equally.  We do a lot of playing every day, we go on walks, we sneak a few snacks when Kathy isn’t watching, and just have a lot of fun.  But I have been traveling a lot lately, and it seems to be bothering Winston.  As I was packing up to leave for RFTW, He wouldn’t play with me, or lick my hand, or do any of the hundreds of little things that we do together.  In fact, he just laid in his bed and ignored me.  (Raia, the little girl, was just as happy as ever and didn’t seem to mind that I was leaving.)

A couple of days later, Kathy told me that he was still acting lethargic and basically moping around the house.  He was depressed.  She sent me a picture, and I could immediately tell that he was sad.  Kathy put me on speaker phone so that I could talk to him, and he immediately perked up when he heard my voice.  But after the call was over, he went back to being sad.  In order to make him feel better, Kathy gave him one of my old t-shirts to cuddle up on, and that is where he is spending his days right now.

And then I got a call that simply broke my heart.  Winston heard a motorcycle in the neighborhood and immediately started barking and prancing around and acting like his same old happy self.  But when the garage didn’t open and I didn’t walk through that door, he immediately started sulking again.  And now, every time a motorcycle goes by, he perks up his ears and waits.  But each time, it is a little less enthusiastic.  He is missing me and he is sad.

I am not telling you this to make YOU sad.  On the contrary, I hope it will make you happy, and here is why: Winston has an emotional “scar” because we are not together.  He doesn’t understand why I am not there.  But every time a bike goes by, he has Hope that I will return.  As this cycle repeats, his “scars” will deepen and his hope will diminish.  (Go ahead, cry just a little.  But the happy part is coming!)  Soon, I WILL be home, and I will spend days just holding him, playing with him, and re-assuring him that all is well and that I still love him.  The “emotional scars” may remain for a while, but as we all know, scars fade with time.  The HOPE he has for my return will once again fill his heart, and the happiness we share together will HEAL the hurt.  All will be Happy again!

So now WHY did I just tell you that story?  Because if a little puppy that doesn’t understand what is going on around him can have a scar or wound, find hope for the future, and then be healed of the hurt, think just how much better can life be for our Veterans and for their Families!

We can talk to our Veterans.  We can Listen to our Veterans.  We can reassure them that we love and honor them.  We can show them Respect.  And they will understand!  The Riders of Run For The Wall do this every day of their lives.  We are always there to lend a hand, offer a shoulder to cry on, listen to those that want to talk, or just sit there quietly so that our Veterans know that they aren’t alone.  We offer a little bit of emotional security in a very tough world.

So what did we do today?  We rode a lot of miles.  We had fellowship and fun.  We paid honor and respect to those that need and deserve it.  We laughed together, cried together, and consoled each other.  We saw the “scars” and offered “hope” for “healing.”

And we did it with the thoughts that Chaplain “Cherokee” put in our minds this morning.  From the book of Lamentations 3:19-24:

I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness,
the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed.
I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—
the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there’s one other thing I remember,
and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:

God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He’s all I’ve got left.

This is Why We Ride!

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain (and Winston!)

Posted on Leave a comment

Day 4, May 21, 2022 Southern Route

Day 4 – May 21, 2022 Sunday – Southern Route

 

Greetings – Day 4 was another day of long riding with some impressive memorials to visit.  We spent the night in Odessa Texas.  We were treated to a great breakfast at the American Legion in Odessa.  Very nice people that took care of us well.  We then went to Midland TX to the Permian Basin Memorial.  It’s a slightly smaller memorial but the people that raised the funds to build it are very proud of it for good reasons.  It pays tribute to local warriors that have lost their lives from all branches of the Armed Forces.  It was locally designed by residents and pays homage very well.  They have a statue in the middle of three warriors, one carrying a wounded soldier to a helicopter and a third soldier assisting but also looking back to the wall with names of those lost that they can’t bring back with them.  It’s touching when you realize the story and intent.  One of our RFTW volunteers father is listed as one of those KIA in Viet Nam which brings home meaning of our mission to not let any of our warriors be forgotten.  You will be remembered!  We did have a wreath laying here.

We then went to the Big Springs Veterans Memorial.  This was also a very nice memorial and there was a wreath laying.

Then we were off to Colorado City, TX.  Colorado City is a small town that goes all out to give us a warm welcome and feed us a great steak and/or chicken with green beans and a fantastic potato salad.  I expect this is one of the highlights of their year to have the RFTW group come to have dinner (lunch time) with them.  The warmth and hospitality cannot be outdone, Thank You Colorado City!  We then drove more to get to the Dubiski Career High School where the students participated in preparing a great dinner and taking care of us.  Again, wonderful hospitality which included a bag pipe player, an honor guard and having your hand shook 20 to 30 times just to get into the building.  Some pictures are attached.  The weather has been hot, decent but hot.  We have a chance of rain in front of us but we keep moving with rain gear if that happens.  A few other things worth mentioning that are a critical part of this Run To The Wall is the support we get from the volunteers that help keep us organized.  There are unsung hero’s that race in front of us to be ready to set up the fueling stations, that stage us so we can take off in an organized fashion in the correct platoons that we were assigned to, the people that open up and hand us drinks so we can stay hydrated, the nurses that are ready to take care of us that need help along the way, the people selling merchandise to help raise funds for financing this run, road guards that are guiding us safely through traffic and I’m probably forgetting some but the number of volunteers is amazing.  Without each one, we would not have such a successful and well organized mission.  A huge Thank You to all of you helpful volunteers!  Today, we also had LEO escorts all the way through our travels in Texas for the whole day.  Again, much safer and faster.  Thanks to the local police and Texas State Police.

Thanks for listening.

Native American blessing our bikes