After we arrive in Washington, D.C. and visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (The Wall), we offer a fourth Route, the "Sandbox Route", that goes "Wall to Wall" from DC to the Middle East Conflicts wall in Marseilles, IL
May 15-25, 2024 - CA to DC
May 26-28, 2024 - Sandbox
Run for The Wall® is an annual motorcycle ride from California to Washington DC.
Good day from chilly south-central PA. November is now upon us with many making plans for the upcoming holiday season. Another year has gone by producing no resolution to the POW/MIA and KIA/WIA issues that so many of our families face daily. As we gather around our tables with families and friends this holiday season, let us take a moment and remember those who are not with us, those who struggle daily with memories of sacrifices made in answering the call to duty. We Ride For Those Who Can’t is more than our motto; it describes what we do and why we do it.
A special thanks goes out to Denise “Zoom” Murray. She very graciously allowed us to use her Zoom account for our first-ever RFTW BoD Town Hall Zoom meeting on 2 November. We had a high capacity (500 seat) meeting planned, but a temporary glitch caused it to stop accepting logons at 100. Denise was able to quickly fix the issue and we had a total of 117 participants. Mike “Bonehead” Kyser was also there lending support and ensuring we were able to capture and document all the questions posted in the chat. The BoD fielded lots of good questions, eliminated some false, lingering rumors, and the consensus of our feedback is that the call was successful. We learned through this initial experience and plan to have more in the future. Thanks to all who called in and a special thanks to those who asked questions. For those who were unable to log on, our sincere apologies. As sometimes happens in an inaugural event, there was an unanticipated glitch, but we are confident we can prevent that from happening again. We hope to soon have the audio recording posted on our website, so those who were unable to attend and listen to the complete meeting recording.
Some good news from the Arlington/D.C. front. Despite what might have been unwelcome news, our Washington DC Coordinator, Gail Dippel was able to secure our host hotel for 2024 in Arlington where we have been for years. We are confident that this location will work for RFTW 2024 but do anticipate having to move in 2025. More to follow as the situation evolves.
One of the benefits of partnering with similar organizations is we often have access to tools and media devices that might be useful to those we meet. One of those partner organizations, https://www.vietnamwar50th.com, has made a Teachers Toolkit available. This resource is free to all and may assist teachers and other educators in developing academic studies related to answering the call to duty. If you have contact with or know an educator or educational institution, you might take a moment and offer this link: https://vietnamwar50th.com/history_and_legacy/teachers_toolkit/ (Teachers_Toolkit_2023_v3.pdf (vietnamwar50th.com). The file is quite large, so it may take a bit to download. The website describes this as “…a downloadable Toolkit that (sic) provides a comprehensive packet of materials and resources that educators can use inside and outside the classroom to support efforts to thank and honor Vietnam veterans and their families. These resources include website links, recommended activities, books, and films, and many other materials that accommodate all ages from elementary schools and after-school programs to college-level students.” So many of our riders and volunteers contact a variety of educational institutions, this might be just the resource some are looking for.
I recently received an email telling me about an organization out of the UK that is remarkably like ours (https://www.rttw.org/). Their website describes their mission as “…a unique motorcycling event which gives motorcyclists an opportunity to gather together at a place of remembrance, to pay their respects to our serving and fallen service men and women and in doing so, raise funds solely for the purpose of perpetuating their memory and recognizing the sacrifice made.” A video of their 2023 mission can be seen at: https://www.facebook.com/walter.d.matthews/videos/1721516728322129?idorvanity=112498421427. The similarities between our organizations and ours are striking.
Some of our riders may remember meeting navy Capt. Royce Williams, the Korean War hero that, in 1952, shot down four out of seven Soviet MIGs in an engagement that remained classified for decades. The Navy originally awarded him the Silver Star in 1953; then on January 20th, 2023, the Navy upgraded his Silver Star to the Navy Cross. As early as 2014, many senior leaders thought his actions were deserving of the MOH. In 2022, the MOH upgrade action received approval by the House through the Defense Authorization Act. The House then forwarded the approved amendment to the Senate. Sad to say, the action to upgrade the Navy Cross to an MOH is still sitting with the Senate, with no action yet taken.
Speaking of 2024, if you haven’t yet registered, I encourage you to do so before 1 February when the registration fee goes up from the “Early Bird” rates. Currently, our registration numbers are slightly behind last year. We kept registration fees at the 2023 level and there is still time to take advantage of the early registration discount. Since the accuracy of our registration numbers drive the State Coordinators’ planning, if you haven’t yet registered, please CLICK HERE to register today!
Please keep in mind that your RC and ARC are your primary points of contact for questions regarding route activities. While we all have our Mission and rider’s best interests at heart, they are the primary movers and shakers for their respective routes.
No one left behind is more than a standard we all live up to. It is a way of life. It is part of our Mission. If you or someone you know find themselves struggling with their mental health, please know you can contact the VA Veteran’s Crisis Line by dialing 988 then press 1 or text 838255 and speak or chat with a qualified responder.
Let us remember to keep our focus on the Mission. It is why we ride!
Back to Basics. Back to the RFTW Mission.
Is it May yet?
John “Turkey” Staub President, RFTW, Inc.
2011- CR FNG
2012 – CR Participant
2013 – CR Staging Team
2014 – 2015 – CR Staging Team Ass’t. Lead
2016-2017 – CR Staging Team Lead
2022 – CR Platoon Coordinator
2023 – CR and Sandbox Road Guard
2020 – Present – RFTW BoD member
As a reminder, registration for the 2024 RFTW opened on 11 Sep RFTW Registration – Run For The Wall®. If you desire to register to ride the Sandbox Route, Early Bird Registration is $15/person (11 Sep 2023-31 Jan 2024), Regular Registration is $20/person (1 Feb-30 Apr 2024), and Last-Minute Registration is $25/person (after 1 May 2024).
Registration is off to a great Start. We have 331 people registered, 98 of them are for the Sandbox Route. I encourage everyone to get registered ASAP. Each Route leadership team needs the projected numbers for planning purposes. Our State Coordinators are already working on Hotel accommodations, fuel and meal stops. Knowing how many bikes and people we are expecting is a huge help in the planning process.
After registering, I encourage everyone to also visit the Rider Code of ConductHERE. Please be respectful to all participants and supporters by adhering to these expectations.
I want to take a moment to thank “LURCH” (Southern Route Coordinator) for the hospitality and inclusive reunion in Kerrville. Additionally, I want to acknowledge Roger “Cowboy” Mead and wife Sam for executing another successful All Riders Reunion.
Board of Directors Town Hall
The RFTW BoD Town Hall ZOOM call is just a few days away. If you desire to participate, please see the following details:
RFTW BoD Town Hall Zoom Call Thursday, 02 November 2023 8pm Eastern / 7pm Central / 6pm Mountain / 5pm Pacific ZOOM Meeting Link: CLICK HERE
I don’t know about you, but BUSY is not just a word in the dictionary but tends to characterize a perpetual state of being. Trying to survive the Government Fiscal Year has been carnival ride for some. Then, I think everyone was shocked to learn of the attacks in the Middle East.
This Route strongly condemns the violence in the Mideast and extends full support for the U.S. troops heading into the Eastern Mediterranean to deter further escalation. In accordance with the Commander of the American Legion, “We stand with Israel and condemn the attacks by Hamas. At the same time, we pray for those lost to the senseless violence and for the safety of our men and women in uniform who are standing by to protect our national interests.”
This unfortunate exhibition of war continues, this illustrates just another reason we ride during RFTW. We support our troops down-range as the targeting of U.S. troops and anti-American sentiments grow in the Middle East just as there is an increase in U.S. troops in harm’s way abroad.
Veterans Day is not just a day of celebration and remembrance. It is a day of action. It is a day when we must recommit ourselves to the well-being of veterans and their families.
Most Americans profess to truly love our veterans, especially at gatherings like this on Veterans Day and Memorial Day. And while their feelings are sincere, it is important to remember that veterans are defending us 365 days a year. The heroism that has been demonstrated time and again by veterans from the American Revolution to the Global War on Terrorism is sometimes unnoticed by many who enjoy the security that their sacrifice has provided. Not all veterans have seen combat, but all have at one time made the solemn promise to sacrifice their lives for this country if called upon. Without the formidable strength that veterans have demonstrated in war, Americans would never enjoy their daily freedoms. It was none other than George Washington who said, – quote- “To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving the peace.” – unquote.
This is why we ride! Please take the time to visit the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial page here and become more familiar with the history of this memorial and the names included on this Wall. We ride “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.”
LEAVE NO ONE BEHIND DOES NOT END ON THE BATTLEFIELD!
If you or someone you know find themselves struggling with their mental health, please know you can contact the VA Veteran’s Crisis Line
by dialing 988 then press 1 or text 838255 and speak/chat with a qualified responder.
The RFTW Board of Directors Town Hall Zoom Call is just a few days away and folks have been asking for the details – here they are…
RFTW BoD Town Hall Zoom Call Thursday, 02 November 2023 8pm Eastern / 7pm Central / 6pm Mountain / 5pm Pacific ZOOM Meeting Link: CLICK HERE
The Meeting will start promptly on time and is expected to run about 90 minutes. We are all looking forward to a very positive meeting with good discussions on where we are, where we’re going and how we can all work together to get there. I hope to see you all on line for the call!
Recent social media posts have highlighted some carryover communication shortfalls that this RFTW Board of Directors is enthusiastic about changing. Many of those posts listed drastically incorrect information, presented as fact, leading others to make more assumptions that eventually spiraled further and further from truth. Others apparently hold serious grudges against the current Board of Directors for incidents they found personally harmful but occurred over 10 years before any of the current members were seated. While we can’t change the past, we are all firmly committed to doing the best job possible for the future of this Run and the Mission.
Just as a reminder, the Board of Directors is made up of Riders from all Routes. They are all dedicated and caring individuals who selflessly donate 1000’s of hours annually in support of RFTW Mission and Objectives. The Board of Director’s key focus is Strategic, in that the actions considered, and decisions made are intended to support and preserve the long-term success of RFTW as a whole. However, consideration of all the things important to the Riders, to the Run and to the Mission as well as the near-term impacts go into those actions and decisions. Sometimes those decisions are unpopular (e.g., loss of the Forum) but I can assure you they are not made without the due diligence of research, consultation with experts and consideration of available alternatives. (Call in to the Town Hall Zoom meeting on 02 NOV for further details on the Forum issue).
As a lead-in to the Town Hall Zoom Meeting next week, I respectfully submit the following. This list of inquiries was sent to me indirectly by an undisclosed requestor. Rather than send this info into the unknown, I thought to publish the unedited questions as I received them and the responses for each. Hopefully the unknown sender is tied into RFTW info streams well enough to see these, but I will ensure the intermediary that sent them to me informs them on where to find these answers.
Here we go…
– The board ask and begs for AAR but why are there not any replies to them?
The After-Action Report is a valuable tool for feedback to the Board and to the RCs for specific Routes. Every AAR is seen, read, and seriously considered by every Board member and automatically forwarded to the RC of a Route if specified in the AAR. We see hundreds of AAR’s – each one is greatly appreciated and very many of them receive specific and direct replies. It is presumptive to assume that “not any” of them receive replies. Just as the AAR’s are not published nor attributed to their author, neither are the replies.
– CB radios becoming obsolete?
CB Radios are actually not “becoming obsolete.” However, the mobile, hands-free and motorcycle versions are not as easy to find and expensive to install. The Board and the RCs are feeling the strain of this trend and are considering ways to mitigate the issue. The Central Route has taken the lead to conduct a trial run of an alternate radio system this coming year (May 2024) and we all look forward to hearing of their results.
– When I was researching for another website 1 year ago. Whom am I. I compared it with rftw.us. the site was hosted in another country. Why?
Not sure what you looked at but a review of whois.com for ownership of rftw.us clearly indicates it is owned by Run For The Wall, Inc administered by our Director of Public Affairs out of Arizona, USA.
– Volunteers will do a lot for a little if they believe in the organization and ask for little or nothing in return. With rftw lots of individual cost; gas hotels food, to and from the run, plus cash donations. Why can hats and patches not be provided. Ie now I have heard outreach hats if used are route or individual. Ie I do sight visits and over night to some place, twice a year, 250 miles 1 way from my house. Yet was asked to use a prior year hat and then didn’t request a state coordinator hat.
It’s hard to pick out a question there, but I will address the issue of Hats. RFTW has been spending thousands of dollars each year on a new hat for everyone in a leadership position. Every year I hear people talk about how many hats they have and never wear as they revert to wearing the one they already had because it is comfortable and they prefer it. We have recently realized cost savings by making the positional hats the same across all Routes with no year or Run number embroidery – thus allowing us to use any excess purchases for the next Run. The next step of the new process is that the RC assesses the need for new and replacement hats for their respective leadership teams – including State Coordinators. We then purchase only those needed in excess of current stock as coordinated by the RC’s.
– Within the nonprofit world. Donated funds are asked for and give for certain reasons. Ie per route, gas, schools, etc. Designated Funds. If not used for that reason. The funds should be held for that purpose, returned to donor or ask the funder for permission to redirect funds. Why does the board transfer any funds over a certain amount from routes to the board. Upwards of multiple 10s of thousands of dollars.
All Designated Donations made directly to Run For The Wall are absolutely used as directed. The majority of Designated Donations are to support a specific Fuel Stop on a specific Route and that is where those dollars are spent. All other non-designated funds are used to provide for operations and expenses that support the overall Mission and to keep all Routes active, protected and on the road. To be clear, Run For The Wall is a single operating 501(c)(3) and 100% of the money received is for direct and indirect support of advancing the Mission. Funds remaining at the end of the Run become seed money for next year’s Run and year-round expenses with designated amounts applied to further seed each Route.
– Have board meeting cost gotten out of control?
Actually, it’s just the opposite. The Board of Directors meets upwards of 2 to 3 times per month year-round – that’s approaching 40 times per year. Almost all of those meetings whether in General Session with the RC’s or in Executive Session with Directors only are conducted on Zoom. In years past, the BoD would hold a semi-annual face-to-face meeting that covered two days of intense meetings spanning 8-10 hours per day at a site central to the geographic spread of directors’ locations. Contrary to some peoples’ characterization, these meetings are not a vacation – that is unless those people like to spend their vacations locked into a windowless conference room discussing the intricate details of logistics and planning for a massive cross country motorcycle event involving people from all over the world. Nor does the BoD pay for spouses or guests to travel to the event – some choose to come along for the weekend, but at their own expense. Finally, as an additional control to rising costs of travel, the Board has decided that the winter face-to-face meeting will this year be conducted via Zoom. That means the same length of time spent in the meetings, but those 8-10 hours will be looking into a small screen rather than the faces of the decision makers planning the final stages of our annual event. It will likely be much less effective than in person but should be an acceptable alternative in light of the cost savings.
– How does giving from one non-profit to another (ie the house project) help the mission of rftw?
Occasionally, RFTW receives donations that are designated for specific charities or organizations that directly support Run For The Wall or have a Mission similar to ours. Those donations are provided through RFTW by the original donor to show gratitude for their actions in support of the Run and its Mission, e.g. Homes For Our Troops. The regulations governing 501(c)(3) giving stipulate who we can donate to and for what purpose we can donate. A non-profit that is struggling in its mission to support a veteran or educational cause that meets our mission scope is within the allowable donations. To that end, RFTW has made donations to many AM Vets, American Legions, VFWs, and other likeminded organizations that are working very hard to support our mission. In accordance with those 501(c)(3) regulations, the individual Route RC’s will often provide donations from their undesignated funds in support of organizations along their Routes that support them, the Mission or specifically support veterans or veterans’ families, all in alignment with the RFTW Mission statement.
– Why does rftw not provide an annual report to donors, volunteers and the public?
As a non-profit 501(c)(3) with no actual members, membership requirements or stockholders, there is no actual obligation or requirement for a formal Annual Report. Honestly, the time, cost and effort needed to create and distribute such a report is outside the scope and bandwidth of the volunteer Board already donating 1000’s of hours in support the organization and the Mission. Instead, the Board President provides regular newsletters reporting on the event and issues of interest to the regular participant. All activities of the Board and the annual event are conducted in accordance with IRS and other regulations governing non-profit charitable organizations. Each year, RFTW submits IRS Form 990 detailing the operations of the organization and its financial interactions – please note, it can take over a year after filing before the latest Form 990 is available online. Also, no Director or RC realizes any profit or financial gain from any of the activities of the Board or any Board approved activity.
– Why is the rftw rating 45 out of 100 on Giving.org or charity now.org?
There are several Charitable organization rating websites out there and we cannot govern the diligence with which they seek to ensure their information is current and accurate. That being said, we have in the past several months been working with Charity Navigator to update and correct their old and incorrect info (they still showed our website as rftw.org). When we get that one straightened out, we will turn our attention to some of the others as we find them (thanks for pointing out those two).
For more information on some of these topics as well as many other ongoing issues, please join the RFTW Board of Directors for a Zoom Town Hall Meeting at 7pm Central, on Thursday, 02 NOV 2023. There will be a question-and-answer session following presentations and comments from the Directors. I’ll look forward to seeing you there!
The BoD is pleased to announce an upcoming event we hope will lead to improved communications with our riders. On 2 November at 1900 Central Time, we will be hosting an open Town Hall via Zoom. As we do in our Board meetings, the event will be moderated by our Chairman, Billie Dunlap, with riders able to submit questions directly to the Board members. Our plan is for a brief introduction of our Board members, a focused discussion on some issues that impact what we do daily, and then opening it up to questions via Chat.
Please set aside this date and time. The link and additional information will follow soonest.
Is it May yet?
John “Turkey” Staub President, RFTW, Inc.
2011- CR FNG
2012 – CR Participant
2013 – CR Staging Team
2014 – 2015 – CR Staging Team Ass’t. Lead
2016-2017 – CR Staging Team Lead
2022 – CR Platoon Coordinator
2023 – CR and Sandbox Road Guard
2020 – Present – RFTW BoD member
2024 Southern Route Coordinator Say Their Names Newsletter
Welcome to the 1st Edition of theSay Their Names, Tell Their Stories, Never Forget!
This is the 1st Edition of a series I’d like to keep posting to live up to the Say Their Names, Tell Their Stories, Never Forget phrase.
If you have a story you’d like to have highlighted, please let me know. Since I found a wonderful article with first-hand survivor accounts and details of this mission, this is a long, but very interesting story.
The “American Beauty” Reconnaissance Mission – June 1969
The story of the loss of Brig. Gen. James (Jimmy) M. Stewart’s stepson, Lt. Ronald McClean.
General Stewart lost his 24-year-old stepson; Marine 1st Lt. Ronald McClean on June 8, 1969. Lt. McCLean was KIA while on a reconnaissance patrol mission in the DMZ code-named “American Beauty”. Lt. McClean and the Marines with him were caught in an ambush when he was killed. The 5 surviving Marines were pinned down for 24 hours by a dug-in NVA platoon. The resulting onslaught of automatic-weapons fire, grenades, and 12 hours of close air support could have killed the team many times over.
The following account is an extract from an article written by Jeffrey Grosscup – 5-27-2009.
“We all expected to die on the hill,” said Bob Lake of Aitkin, MN, who at 19 had been the assistant patrol leader. “We were in no man’s land, unknowingly dropped into a [1,200-member] enemy battalion, and [helicopter extraction from] the hilltop was the only way out.”
In January 1998, I tracked down Bob Lake, a Minnesota high school teacher, who had been one of the recon team members who walked out of the DMZ with me 29 years earlier. Lake provided the names of Roger See, Joe “Doc” Sheriff, Jimmy Sessums and Bunn, the Vietnamese Montagnard scout. The patrol leader, See, was the most difficult to locate, as he was living a nearly underground existence.
According to Sheriff, of Booneville, Ky., who had been the patrol corpsman: “Roger’s cool and even-headedness kept us alive. This was my first patrol. I thought, ‘God! If this is what it’s like out here, what are my chances of surviving?’” Sheriff went on to do 14 more recon patrols, with no casualties.
Lieutenant McLean had had infantry experience but had only been in recon a couple of weeks before he was killed. Officers seldom went on recon patrols, and this would be McLean’s first. Navy Lieutenant Martin Glasser was the battalion surgeon for the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion in June 1969. He said that because he and Lieutenant McLean, 24, were both from California, they quickly became friends.
Glasser remembered that an order had come down from division headquarters to have recon teams inserted into the DMZ to confirm enemy presence there. He also recalled that a priority for the mission was to bring back a POW. He said it was already known that there was an NVA battalion there, and the recon commander, a lieutenant colonel, refused the order, realizing that to drop lightly armed teams in the middle of it would be suicidal. That battalion commander, according to Glasser, was replaced by another who carried out the order.
Glasser said that McLean had heard the same intelligence briefings and was well aware that DMZ patrolling would be highly risky. He wasn’t going to ask his men to do something he wouldn’t do himself. “He didn’t have to go on the patrol,” Glasser said, “but once committed, he had a premonition that he would get killed.”
The team went in early on June 6 with orders to patrol an area four kilometers square. Two other reconnaissance teams were given similar missions, and all three would be operating in parallel quadrants across the DMZ. After a 35-minute helicopter flight from Quang Tri in northern I Corps, American Beauty was dropped on the same hilltop they would later fight on with every bit of firepower they had to save themselves. To allow the helicopter landing, American jets had blown away the hilltop foliage, and it was still smoldering when the team went in.
The NVA had to have seen the helicopter insertion. As the Marines raced into the jungle, the enemy had occupied the landing zone and dug in. The NVA had 54 hours to fortify their position. Late that afternoon the team observed a bunker complex with NVA soldiers periodically poking their heads out of holes. American Beauty, from an undetected observation point, called in 72 rounds of artillery.
By June 7, a day before American Beauty had its own fight, the recon team to the east had had an eyeball-to-eyeball encounter with the NVA, reporting two dead and several wounded. Four helicopters were shot down attempting their rescue.
“We were monitoring their radio frequency,” said Lake, “and could hear all the gunfire, and suddenly their radio went dead. Our fear factor shot off the scale. We thought they were wiped out.” (In fact, the reason American Beauty lost contact at that point was that the other team changed its radio frequency.)
“I knew from what was happening to [the recon unit to the east] that this was going to happen to us if we didn’t get out of there,” said See. “I spent all day on the radio trying to get us out before it happened.”
“Request denied,” came the reply. “Continue mission.”
The patrol spent the second night on a mountain precipice to minimize its exposure. “I had my feet wrapped around a tree so I wouldn’t roll off when I was sleeping,” said Lake. “We had movement 20 meters from where we were.”
Late on the morning of June 8 the team had moved only a short distance from its night position. “We had movement all around us,” said See, “and I was slowly moving us in the direction of the hilltop.”
Sessums remembered McLean being the rear security and recalled that every time he came forward he was reporting movement. “Were we watching them or they watching us? I don’t know,” said Sessums.
The official chronology records that at 1130 hours on June 8 the team fired on approaching enemy troops with unknown results. Team members deny that happened, saying that up to that point their position had not been compromised. The team still did not have permission to move to the LZ, but See headed that way, figuring that orders would have to come. For four hours they zigzagged through the bush, stopping frequently to listen. At about 1630 they stopped to eat, hoping to receive word that they were to be pulled out.
They were sitting slightly off a trail with the men back-to-back, observing, listening and ready to eat. Lake remembered Corporal See looking back to the east, the direction he thought any attack would come from. “We were stupid being right on the trail,” said Lake.
“We were bewildered. We knew there were [NVA] all around us.”
They had no way of avoiding what came next. “I’d just opened a can of meatballs and spaghetti,” said Lake, “and as I looked in the direction we were headed, I saw two jungle hats coming down the trail. They were only 15 meters away. I shot four rounds and…the whole team opened up….We killed one and wounded the other.”
Sessums, of Paragould, AR, radioed back that they had a POW. “The POW was our ticket out,” said Lake. “With the POW our mission was over. The helicopters were on their way.”
But now they had the prospect of NVA coming at them from two sides. If not for the prisoner, the team could have gone into hiding to wait for a safer time to move. Having secured the POW, however, they were radioed their orders to get to the landing zone. A Marine observation aircraft was in the area, and the pilot monitored the team’s frequency. He radioed, “Be advised you are being attacked from the west.”
The team suddenly had to lay down a defense for what the pilot estimated was a platoon-size unit. Corporal See ordered the patrol to get online and quickly string together Claymore mines. Expecting to be overrun, Sheriff and Lake did little more than stretch out their arms to place the Claymores facing the attackers.
“The Claymores were no more than six feet ahead of me when the observation pilot called to let it rip,” said Lake. “Both Doc and myself were blown through the air by the back blast.”
By this time there were fixed-wing aircraft overhead, and the area was raked with bombs. Sheriff remembered the jets and helicopter gunships pounding the hill for more than an hour while the team waited for its green light to move out. “This hilltop was only 30 yards wide and 20 across. We didn’t expect anything could survive the bombing.”
The team moved out with the hilltop as its objective. As the Marines came off the trail and into a clearing at about 1745, the LZ was to the left. The hill had about a 35-degree grade that made distance visibility nearly impossible. The Montagnard scout Bunn was up the hill first, followed by Lake and Sheriff. Sessums, McLean and See provided cover from behind a fallen tree.
“I was with the prisoner, trying to get him to move uphill,” said See, “when the NVA opened up, and a bullet got me in the leg. McLean moved over to help with the bandage.” McLean was sitting up when machine gun fire erupted, and a round caught him in the chest.
See yelled for Doc Sheriff. As Sheriff ran down, the NVA positions exploded with automatic weapons fire. Bullets were right at Sheriff’s heels, and a dust cloud engulfed him as he reached McLean. Sheriff’s running to McLean remained Sessums’ most vivid memory: “Bullets came from everywhere. He should have been killed.”
Reaching the body, Sheriff declared McLean dead. This was Roger See’s second tour in Vietnam, and as the leader of more than 60 patrols, he had not lost a team member. McLean was his first.
The patrol had walked into a beehive, and now the prisoner was a handicap. There was no way they could move forward with him. Sessums and Sheriff watched as See took aim at the prisoner’s head and shot him.
Years later, See remained troubled about killing the prisoner. “I should have tied him up,” he said. “That was my mistake.”
See told Sheriff to get back uphill. “I was going up the hill hunched low,” said Sheriff. “I was one foot from a hole where an NVA was curled up. If he had been able to get his AK-47 aimed lower, he would’ve had me. But because his weapon was elevated, all the rounds went into the air and the muzzle blast threw me back, leaving burn marks on my face.”
Startled, Sheriff fired his own unaimed automatic volley. Sessums, watching from below, assumed Sheriff had been killed and radioed back that they now had two KIA. That transmission was negated when Sheriff signaled he was okay. With their POW dead, McLean dead, and Bunn, Lake and Sheriff on the hillside, See and Sessums left McLean’s body and moved ahead.
Sheriff knew that the guy with the AK-47 was still in his hole. Both Sheriff and See believed this was the one who had killed McLean. Sheriff motioned to See to throw a grenade. Standing above the hole, See pulled the pin and waited several seconds before dropping the grenade. The blast neutralized that threat, but the other dug-in NVA soldiers kept the Marines pinned to the ground.
Each of the Marines had a story of an enemy grenade that didn’t go off. Which were the same story told through another’s eyes and which were individual incidents can’t be discerned, but while it was still daylight, one landed just feet from See’s head. “I told myself ‘I’m a goner,’” he said, “but the grenade didn’t go off.”
“We were told to get to the top—secure the high ground,” said Lake. “This is crazy, but Doc and I started singing ‘From the Halls of Montezuma.’ I grabbed a grenade and tried to throw it uphill, but my backpack interfered with the throw, and it only went about 10 meters before rolling down, exploding very close to Doc Sheriff. He yelled, ‘What the f— are you doing?’”
The team had no way of estimating enemy strength. The treeless hillside was clear only to the north. Had there been any NVA in the distant tree line, they could have picked off the exposed Marines one at a time. McLean’s body was 35 meters behind them.
The Marines had been unable to move for 2 1⁄2 hours. On top of the hill was an A-frame bunker, reinforced with logs and dirt and with sightlines to anything that approached the top. “The jets started dropping 100-pound bombs on top of that thing,” said Lake. Helicopters also hammered the hill with machine guns. “They knocked the crap out of everything, but apparently not the bunker,” he said.
Sheriff, who earlier had escaped the short grenade toss of Lake, now caught a piece of shrapnel in his hand. Shrapnel also blew a hole in the plastic stock of his M-16 rifle. The NVA were in their holes, not returning fire.
Late that day 1st Lt. Frank Cuddy, a Marine helicopter pilot who was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his support of American Beauty, was flying back from Laos with his helicopter gunship team when he saw the McDonnell F-4 Phantoms and learned that a recon team was in real trouble.
The aerial observer was short of fuel and wanted Cuddy to take charge. At 1930, believing the pounding air support had neutralized the hilltop, they attempted a helicopter extraction. Cuddy’s team would supply covering fire for the Boeing-Vertol CH-46s that would try to lift the team out.
“As the choppers approached, we were ready to make our run,” said Lake. “But as they came to hover, the NVA opened up and forced them off.”
Cuddy’s two Bell UH-1 Huey gunships remained on station while new teams of CH-46 pilots made two more extraction attempts. Each time, the NVA delivered crushing fire. The helicopters limped back to Vandegrift combat base.
“We carried enough fuel to stay on station for two hours,” said Cuddy. “When we left to refuel and rearm it was dark, and we would be leaving [American Beauty] all alone. I promised them I’d be back.”
As darkness fell, the team had been able to crawl together behind some fallen trees where they could take cover. “The NVA didn’t know where we were,” said Lake, “and they didn’t come out of their holes to look. Nothing moved.”
Sessums remembered hearing the distinct thud of a metal object hitting the tree they were behind, and then a sulfur like smell and a hissing sound. Another dud NVA grenade. In the dark, moonless night, a Lockheed AC-130 dropped illumination flares. When a gunship did arrive, the pilot needed the exact location of American Beauty before he could deliver his ordnance.
“We carried a strobe light,” said See. “I put it in a hat and threw it away from us…the NVA tossed a bunch of chicoms at it. We took a compass reading to the strobe light to mark our position and gave it to the pilot. His machine guns started smoking.”
“The trees sounded like a chain saw was chewing them up,” said Sessums.
Cuddy thought that after this pounding the CH-46s would attempt another rescue, but he learned that the division commander had ordered a cessation of rescue attempts. Too many helicopters had already been hit. Ground forces would be used instead.
And yet, there was an honored tradition to consider. “In the Marine Corps it’s ingrained that you don’t leave dead and wounded,” said Cuddy. “To leave them out there was to let them die.”
Cuddy’s team returned on station with a plan to get the patrol out. Huey gunships carried about 1,600 pounds of fuel. Cuddy intended to get the fuel down to 200 pounds, just enough for the 20-minute flight to Vandegrift. The crews jettisoned toolboxes and extra machine-gun barrels to gain more lift capacity. Stripped down, they thought they could carry two men on one helicopter and three on the other.
“The NVA knew our plan,” said Cuddy. “They kept their heads down as we shot up our ammo….We thought maybe we got them all.” At about 0130—and against orders—Cuddy came in for the extraction. An illumination flare was dropped, and the team was told to be ready.
“I was no more than three, four feet off the ground,” said Cuddy, “when all of a sudden 15 to 20 NVA were out of their holes firing at us. We were blinded by the muzzle flashes. One came right out of the A-frame and was face to face with me, firing. I stuck my M-16 out the helicopter and emptied a magazine on full automatic.”
Lance Corporal Lake, who would have been first on Cuddy’s helicopter, saw it all. “If [the NVA] had been on our side he would have been awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery,” said Lake. “Nothing got him.”
The co-pilot got hit and Cuddy was wounded in the face and leg. Plexiglas, shrapnel, and bullets exploded in the cockpit. They had to break off the rescue attempt. Cuddy could barely control the aircraft. His radio was shot out and the hydraulic system partially shut down, but he kept it flying and landed at Vandegrift. The next day he counted 16 holes in his helicopter’s nose and cockpit area.
When Cuddy and his crews left the DMZ early on the morning of June 9, all the patrol had was the artillery battery firing illumination. The sounds of foot movement, groaning wounded NVA and bodies being dragged through the brush continued throughout the following night.
“I had been operating on adrenaline up to that point,” said Sheriff, “but now was the first time I really felt afraid. I remember saying to [See], ‘We’re not going to make it,’ and he came back, ‘Ah, Doc don’t worry, I’ve been through this stuff dozens of times, we’ll be fine.’ He was the toughest rascal I’ve ever met.”
If the aerial rescue had been successful, McLean’s body would have been left behind. Retrieving it would have required another recon insert or ground unit operation, with its own problematic consequences.
The illumination rounds were the first indication to the infantry company, four miles to the south, that an American unit was in trouble. Sometime that evening the company learned that it would move out at first light to get the team out. Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, made it to the southern boundary of the DMZ around 0930, having traveled about three miles with some 90 troops. I was an artillery forward observer with that company. At a clearing 300 meters inside the DMZ, we established a patrol base. The plan was for the 3rd Platoon to make the rescue while the 1st and 2nd platoons remained in reserve.
In normal operations we avoided the trails, but in this case the terrain dictated we use them. Otherwise, we would have easily added half a day to get to American Beauty. The NVA knew we were coming, and we never expected them to let us walk in. What we didn’t know was the size of the NVA force American Beauty had encountered. Two infantry platoons should have been sent in, one as a blocking force.
At 1100, Bravo Company came across a dead NVA, probably the one shot by the team the previous day. We were now walking into the battlefield. This sight caused the column to move more slowly. The point squad pulled into a clearing at about 1130. The first sight was McLean’s body sitting up, slightly hunched forward, behind a fallen tree. There was no movement.
The recon team expected the NVA to still be dug in on the hill and See remembered trying to signal the Marines with a mirror, to let them know they were friendlies and to get them to be quiet. The first squad drew no enemy fire, and for the first time the recon team got up and moved around. Apparently the NVA had used the cover of night to make their exit. The collective guard came down, and survival instincts quickly subsided.
“When the Marines came in, I just started shaking,” said Lake. “I started crying. My team members were looking at one another, thinking, ‘Oh, boy, we are really tough sons of bitches.’”
The sun was high and the day was already hot when we finished burying three NVA. It was humane of us to bury their dead, but risky to spend any more time exposed. McLean’s 200-pound body was rigged with two ponchos and a 12-foot wooden pole for a four-man carry. The grunts made the reconners carry their own.
The trail we came in on would have been the easiest way out, but now tactical wisdom argued for avoiding it. Instead, we headed directly south through deep jungle mountain ravines. Pointmen used machetes to cut trail the entire 2,700-meter distance. By nightfall we had traveled only 1,000 meters and reached a dried stream bed where we set up our night position.
On June 10 we cut, climbed, and carried our way for 16 hours before getting to the southern edge of the DMZ and joining with the rest of Bravo Company. It was dark when the helicopter came to transport McClean’s body. The following morning the American Beauty survivors, all with bullet or shrapnel wounds, walked back to Bravo’s original patrol base for their ride out.
Besides McLean, two other reconners from the team to the east were killed and at least 15 Marines were wounded in their efforts to verify NVA activity in the DMZ. Within two days the team was dissolved and designated “combat inoperative,” due to combat stress. Lake was sent to scuba school in the Philippines and Sheriff to another unit. Sessums and See later got paired together at a mountaintop radio relay station. The four have not been together since January 1998, when I began researching the patrol, there have been many phone conversations between the members. In addition, Bob Lake has met personally with each of the team members and Joe Sheriff has met with Roger See. “I saw Roger in the summer of 2000 in the Florida Keys,” said Sheriff, who was then 52. “Back then [in 1969] Roger was…keeping the rest of us alive. Last visit, I felt like I was able to help him.”
For his actions on the American Beauty patrol, See was awarded the Navy Cross. Both Sessums and Sheriff were awarded the Bronze Star, and McLean the Silver Star posthumously. All earned the Purple Heart. Bob Lake’s Purple Heart was only approved by the Marine Corps on April 4, 2001, and was presented to him on Memorial Day before a hometown crowd.
Bob Lake remembered his anxiety about Vietnam surfacing in February 1985, after he read an article in Good Housekeeping in which Jimmy Stewart was interviewed about his stepson’s death in Vietnam. Lake’s sense from the article was that Stewart really didn’t know what had happened, so he wrote the family a letter. In order to do that, Lake had to get in touch with a memory he had been repressing. His letter to the Stewart family drew the following response, whose brevity spoke to how privately the family had dealt with their loss.
March 19, 1985
Dear Robert Lake,
My wife Gloria and I wanted you to know that we are grateful to you for your kind and thoughtful letter. We are so grateful to you for telling us about our son, who died in Vietnam. To tell you the truth, you are the only Marine who served directly with our son that we have heard from….
Jeffrey Grosscup was a Marine Corps artillery officer with the infantry company that rescued the American Beauty reconnaissance team. For additional reading, see: Never Without Heroes, by Lawrence C. Vetter Jr.; and First Recon—Second to None, by Paul R. Young.
Well, here we are already the middle of October—-It will be 2024 before we know it. I wanted to focus this newsletter on the importance of CONTRIBUTIONS and PROMOTIONS!
This is how your 2023 money was spent along with fuel purchases.
1. Rebels with a Cause $2,000
2. Milan School $3,000
3. Veterans Homeless Shelter Albuquerque $3,500
4. M25 Amarillo $2,000
5. Ft Sill Museum Building Fund $1,000
6. Red Rock Behavioral Health Services $1,000
7. USO K-9 Fund $ 500
8. Tommy Franks Leadership $1,000
9. Shawnee Veterans Memorial $1,000
10. Ridgewood Baptist Church Forrest City $2,500
11. Western TN Veterans Cemetery $ 750
12. Sunbright Memorial $1,000
13. Romans Warrior Foundation $1,000
14. Wilson County Veteran’s Musuem Lebonon $1,500
15. Ridgecrest Church $2,500
16. TN Veteran’s Home Murphreesboro $1,500
17. Wilson Elementary School $3,000
18. Falcon Children’s Home $3,500
19. Moose Lodge #1472 Hopewell $ 750
20. National Musuem of the US Army $1,500
21. Wheel Chairs for Warriors $3,000
22. Operation Family Fund $8,000
23. Combat Bike Build $5,000 TOTAL for 2023: $50,500
I want to talk about a few of the contributions so everyone realizes the impact we as a group have on the communities we visit.
First, Operation Family Fund and Red Rock Behavioral Health Services are nonprofits focused on PTSD and helping any and all veterans. Operation Family Fund managed by Michael Cash partnered with RFTW in the sponsorship of Homes for Troops Program where 10 veterans across the country are receiving a free custom-built home designed around their specific handicap. One is being presented in San Marcos, Ca on 28 October at 2PM. If you can or would like to participate, please read Nick’s, Central Route RC, newsletter for exact times and locations.
Next, look at the schools where we shine a light on service and country along with a small amount of financial help. The schools that we contribute to are in very economically strained communities and do not enjoy the benefits of excess funding. For example, 65% of the students at Wilson school still do not have running water in their homes. Some still have dirt floors also. The school itself helps to cloth, feed, and teach these children. I am so glad we went there last year to adopt this school as an annual Midway Route stop. We will return this year hopefully with the ability to provide more support through your generosity!!
Then, there are the VA facilities like the Veterans Resource Center in Lawton, OK that provide a temporary home for up to 12 homeless veterans and their families, while providing them the opportunity to get job training. They help with searching out jobs for the training veteran as well as housing after the Resource Center stay. They provide both support and training to help them get a job, a home, and a respectful life back. Then we have the Va Homes where Veterans are in residence due to physical or mental issues. Most don’t have family or friends close by able to visit. They look forward to our visit for a momentary glimpse back toward THE OUTSIDE WORLD.
Last, look at the Elks, VFWs, American Legions, and Communities that open their doors to us with food and community involvement. They all support their local veterans with programs, Memorials, and Museums. Additionally, they provide honor guards and other support to their communities which cost money. They start working the day after our departure on raising money and support for our annual return.
I bring all of this to your attention so each of you understand the importance of your participation in the various fund-raising events and how your leadership is trying to be Good Stewards of your generosity.
Without you the Riders participation in the many fund raising activities and your contributions there would be no RFTW!
You can send your checks to:Lily Lieux, 6426 Bridgeport DR., Greenwell Springs, LA 70739 or ZELLE to: Midway Route, @ Midway.Route@RFTW.US
I want to thank each of you in advance for stepping up to help make RFTW Midway 2024 a great success! Don ’10-A-SEE” King
We have an event coming up in Southern California at the end of October and we are looking for RFTW Riders to come and support it. This is the Community Kickoff Event for Homes for our Troops (HFOT). RFTW Donated money to HFOT to assist in building adapted homes for wounded Veterans. This month the Community Kickoff Ceremony for HM3 Nathaniel “Randell” Leoncio is Scheduled for 2:00 PM October 28th in San Marcos, CA.
We have created a sign up form on google docs to sign up for the event so we can plan for the numbers that will be attending. We are looking for Motorcycles to Escort Doc Leoncio to the Church where the ceremony is going to be held. Staging (Currently) is slated to be at Lot “C” at California State University-San Marcos. Address is 333 S Twin Oaks Valley Rd, San Marcos, CA 92078. Staging will be at 1:30 PM at lot C. There will be a rider’s brief and a chance to meet the Recipient Doc Leoncio and then we will escort him to the Church for the Ceremony. We are also looking for any volunteers to assist the PGR with a flag line at the church.
Please use the link to sign up or email email@example.com and let me know that you will attend and whether you are on a motorcycle or in a cage.
An early Happy Halloween to everyone! I hope you have lots of fun and kids Trick or Treating!
I want to take a moment to acknowledge Roger “Cowboy” Mead and wife Sam for another successful All Riders Reunion, their years of dedication to RFTW, and hosting the All Riders Reunion in Kerrville, TX since 2015. Thank you, Cowboy and Sam, for all you have done! They have now passed the hosting and planning duties on to Philip “Juice” Tutton and his wife Belinda “Pickles” with the reunion remaining in Kerrville!
The planning and preparation for RFTW 2024 continues. As stated in my welcome video, I believe in the saying I used on the SandBox Route last year which evolved during the Run last year to “Say Their Names, Tell Their Stories, Never Forget”. You will continue to hear me say this along with the new saying for the Southern Route this year – “Live a Life worthy of their Sacrifice” This is why I ride; this is why WE Ride!
Keep your eyes open for additional “Newsletters” focusing on “Say Their Names, Tell Their Stories, Never Forget” and “Live a Life worthy of their Sacrifice”.
RFTW 2024 is off to a great start with promising early registration numbers. With the countdown to KSU in 217 days, there have been 270 riders and participants register across all 4 Routes! If you have not registered yet, please register as soon as possible. Early registration helps us plan for our stops and Hotel accommodations, etc. You can register HERE.
After registering, I encourage everyone to also visit the Rider Code of ConductHERE. While at the Kerrville All Riders Reunion I was asked multiple questions which are easily answered by reading the Rider Code of Conduct. Please be respectful to all participants and supporters by adhering to these expectations.
If you are new to RFTW and this will be your first year (FNG) on the Southern Route and are interested in riding in Honor of a friend or loved one in the Missing Man Formation please send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This contact will eventually change to the Missing Man Coordinator. We are currently still looking for an appropriate volunteer to fill this position.
Along with the MM Coordinator, we are also looking for additional Platoon Leadership volunteers to fill the positions of Platoon Leader, Asst. Platoon Leader, and Tail Gunner especially if you are riding a Can-Am or a Trike with Trailer. All Platoon leadership positions are required to have CB communications. You can volunteer for any position(s) HERE.
It is still not too late If you have not submitted an After-Action Report (AAR). Please submit reports by clicking here. RFTW leadership reads every AAR in an effort to make the Run the best it can possibly be and we take the AAR’s seriously. Do not be alarmed, the ExecBoD and the RC’s read all AAR’s but we do not respond directly to each AAR submission.
If you have a Memorial or Outreach Mission that the SR visits and that Memorial or Outreach Mission holds special meaning to you, I would like you to reach out to me! I’d like to highlight each of our Memorials and Outreach’s and share the stories of those remembered at each of them. I want us to Say Their Names, Tell their (and your) stories, and Never Forget!
Leave no one behind does not end on the battlefield!
Veterans Lives Matter – Give a Damn!
If you or someone you know find themselves struggling with their mental health, please know you can contact the VA Veteran’s Crisis Line by dialing 988 then press 1 or text 838255 and speak or chat with a qualified responder.