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CR Day 9, The Future

Day 9 saw a few changes to the normal Central Route routine. Traditionally, the pack rides from either Hurricane or Nitro (Hurricane this year, the two cities alternate years hosting us) to the West Virginia state capitol where a photo is taken on the capitol building’s steps before riders explore the state complex’s many memorials. Construction at the capitol precluded the Run For The Wall from stopping this year so the main group of riders had a reprieve from early morning wake-ups. Instead, the mandatory meeting was at 9:00 AM.

The early morning reprieve was not so for the Ambassador team who still had two schools to visit before reaching Rainelle prior to the main pack. So it was that I too was up early as I’d been planning for months to ride with the Ambassador team this day. There are several teams that function as the Run For The Wall as riders move across the country. The Ambassador Team, with whom I rode today ranges out ahead of the main body to thank people who come out to cheer on our riders. The Ambassadors stop at schools to educate students on the mission of the RFTW, they arrive at lunch and gas stops early to thank donors and supporters there and they stop at overpasses where supporters have set up to encourage riders as they make their way across the country. The Missing Man Coordinator works with the riders to identify a KIA, POW, or MIA hero that the entire Central Route rides for at each leg. The Route Coordinator and the Assistant Route Coordinator are the ultimate authority for the entire Central Route. They make leadership decisions that ensure the mission is accomplished. The Outreach Team connects with Gold Star Families who live near the Central Route to acknowledge their loss and to be a comfort when possible. This year, the Outreach Team expanded its efforts to reach families who have lost a loved one to Agent Orange. Road Guards stop traffic from interfering with the main body of riders. They also guide the way by ranging out in front of the main body to major intersections and on/off ramps to identify the correct route the riders should take to reach their various stops and final daily destinations. The Fuel Crew rides ahead of the pack to gas stations where they work with station staff to clear the way for the fast fueling of 400’ish bikes in as little as twelve minutes. The Staging team manages all group parking. They identify where every bike should park so that all are lined up in the correct order of march, to easily fit 400’ish bikes into parking lots with limited space, and to properly align the pack for safe movement. The Registration team validates that each rider and bike has the proper credentials such as valid motorcycle endorsements and motorcycle insurance captured in the RFTW database. They welcome our “Friendly New Guys/Gals” to the run with hugs and give initial instructions to riders so they can easily join the run. Chaplains and Medics care for riders at each stop and in moments of crisis, while platoon leaders and tail gunners are the constant touchpoints for each rider in the main pack. The hydration team roams with the pack and ahead to locations where other teams are operating to be sure every rider has the fluids and snacks necessary to keep them going between meals. Chase trucks help riders who encounter mechanical issues. Leadership Support manages the money each day and pays for gas at fueling stops while the Raffle Rouser raises money for donations to organizations along the way and ultimately Rainelle Middle School. The photographer digitally documents the run through pictures (look for pictures after the run in the Central Route Hub). State coordinators work throughout the year and during the run to arrange the support from the local communities we pass through that makes the run possible. The LEO Liaison works with policing organizations to coordinate escorts and the safe movement of the pack. The merchandise team tows a trailer across the country offering RFTW swag at every stop. Lastly, you have me, the daily SitRep writer. I report on the day’s activities and the heartbeat of the RFTW Central Route.

Arrival at the start point was 6:30 followed by a morning meeting, the Pledge of Allegiance, and prayer. Kickstands up with the Ambassador team was at 7:22. We rode with care through Charleston, then hit US 60 bound for schools in Smithers and Ansted, and finally the destination of the entire Central Route this day, Rainelle Middle School.

Upon arrival in Smithers, the group of Ambassadors plus myself turned off the main highway onto a frontage street where we arrived at Valley PK-8, a school serving grades Pre-K through 8th Grade. Unfortunately, we missed the school year by one day. The last day of school was yesterday, May 24th. However, we were not wanting for students to interact with.  Several students and families came out as well as 74 students and staff from the Mountaineer Challenge Academy. A small group of students sang the National Anthem for us as well as a song entitled “No Greater Love” composed by Mike Wilson, copyrighted 2020 by Plank Road Publishing, Inc, which has the following lyrics.

In a frame on the wall, medals hanging in the hall. Near a flag, for their son, who would never make it home. Some were moms. Some were dads. They had families, dreams, and plans. But they answered the call. In the end they gave it all. 

No greater love than this than to lay down your life for a friend. We remember those who gave their lives to show no greater love.

At an hour of great need, with great skill and dignity. Over land, air, and sea, they defended liberty. They were young. They were brave. And for sacrifices made we can cry, we can pray, placing flowers on their graves.

No greater love than this than to lay down your life for a friend. We remember those who gave their lives to show no greater love.

Prior to the formal assembly being started, the Ambassadors mingled with students, staff, and families handing out flags and other patriotic or RFTW memorabilia. Each one expertly, from a heart of gratitude, expressed true gladness that the students, staff, and families present were there to support the Run For The Wall. These men and women are unique individuals with big hearts and the ability to make every person feel their value. While not specifically stated, I think that is one of the main goals of the Ambassador team. It is to communicate with each person who supports us or to each student at an assembly that we value them. Their inherent value is important and their value to the Run and to Veterans is significant.

After the students at Valley PK-8 finished singing for us the microphone was given to Sonia Ammann, who co-leads the Ambassadors with her husband Eric. Sonia and a member of the Ambassadors gave donations to the school then Sonia eloquently spoke to the mission of the Run For The Wall and why we ride. She then scaled down that mission which nicely fits at a national level to apply it to the local level. Sonia spoke the names of the fallen from West Virginia and even more specifically, those from the smaller communities of Smithers and those in close proximity. These are those men:

SGT Jefferey S Angel II from Gauley Bridge, WV.
SGT Angel had been deployed to Iraq three times and was preparing for a fourth deployment when he perished in a helicopter accident in Alabama on 9/11/2007. He was a graduate of Valley High School at Smithers where he was a quarterback for Valley’s football team and captain of its baseball team. Jefferey enjoyed hunting deer and fishing. SGT Angel was a Blackhawk helicopter repairer. He is survived by a wife, daughter, and his parents.

Commander Keith Royal Wilson Curry, Fayette County, West Virginia (Salem)
Commander Curry served in Vietnam as a pilot. He was attached to Attack Squadron 145, Carrier Air Wing 2, USS Ranger (CVA-61). Commander Curry was lost at sea after a non-hostile air crash during a catapult launch for a mission over Vietnam. His aircraft immediately lost altitude and crashed in front of the ship. The navigator ejected but Commander Curry was not seen to have ejected and his body was not recovered. Commander Curry’s name is inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Panel 05W, Line 33.

2LT Ted Howard Christian, Fayette County West Virginia (Gauley Bridge).
2LT Christian served during the Vietnam War in the US Marines as a Basic Infantry Officer attached to 3rd Marine Division, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, A Company. 2LT Christian was killed in action in South Vietnam, Quan Tri province under enemy mortar fire. 2LT Christian’s name is inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Panel 27E, Line 94.

SFC Michael Robert Norton, Kanawha County, West Virginia (Eskdale)
SFC Norton served in the US Army as a Field Artilleryman. He was assigned to C Batter, 5th Battalion, 27th FA Regiment. SFC Norton’s unit was in danger of being overrun. They withdrew from their base of operations, dispersed into the jungle and regrouped with a Mobile Strike Force unit which was to guide them to Bu Prang. Norton was present when the unit regrouped but was missing when they attived at Bu Prang. Search efforts failed to locate SFC Norton. He remains unaccounted for and is considered MIA. SFT Norton’s name is inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Panel 16W, Line 23.

I am unsure of the impact the reading of these names had on the students present but it registered deeply with the adults. SGT Jefferey Angel’s family were present. His wife and daughter, Megan and Sophie have become adopted family of the Ambassadors who have watched Sophie grow up. Sonia gave them Ambassador hats, shirts, and ride pins. It was a touching moment which these words do not properly communicate. In the images I have posted at the bottom of this SitRep, you can see SGT Angel’s family taking a fun photo with the Squatch I have carried with me from Washington. They were a great family to talk with. They are vibrant and full of life even amid their loss. It was an honor to meet them. Additionally, the Mayor of Smithers, Anne Cavalier approached us after the brief ceremony. She was awash in tears having learned from us the fate of 2LT Ted Christian. She spoke of how he was one of her best students when she was a teacher. She had wondered all this time how he had faired. She said that “Teddy” was an extremely kind and successful student and that her job as teacher was to “launch” him. She sadly learned today that he indeed was a success, gaining his Commission to 2LT in the Marine Corps but regrettably loosing his life in Vietnam. In that moment of realization, I hope we all held her heart gently. I cannot imagine what this lifelong educator and servant of the community was feeling. I gave her a long hug as did Sonia. It was a powerful moment that I won’t easily forget. When we left for Ansted it was with a part of our hearts missing having given those parts to Megan, Sophie, and Mayor Cavalier.

At the school in Ansted the Ambassadors mingled with the students, staff and parents present. Like the school in Smithers, Andsted had let out for the summer yesterday. Therefore, the turnout wasn’t what it would have been were the school in session. However, the group was great. Sonia and a member of the team once again gave donations to the school. Like Smithers there were three donations in total. One from the Run For The Wall, one from a private source in Colorado who heard of these schools and was moved to donate, and lastly one that was collected directly from the Ambassador team themselves. Not only does this team give with their hearts, they also give sacrificially from their finances. Mary Simkin, daughter of Harold Simkin WWII POW survivor told of how she worked to have the RFTW make the short detour from the main highway to pass by the school. She said the first time she took students down to the main highway but realized that was dangerous, so she needed a better solution. At her bidding the RFTW now diverts off the main highway to drive by the school to be cheered on by students and staff. We took a group picture and departed heading for Rainelle.

Rainelle Middle School is insane. The students treat the riders like rockstars seeking autographs in booklets created just for this day. Some students offered riders patches left made but unused from the two Covid years during which the run did not operate. Others signed the shirt of one of our platoon leadership, while yet others sought out gifts from the riders who, knowing of this day came prepared with all manner of goodies for the kids. Lunch was cooked by the local Highschool Culinary class (you crushed it!) and then a brief ceremony was held. The school’s fourth and fifth-grade classes sang the National Anthem, then two students led the riders and their schoolmates in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Kirk Olsen, Road Guard Captain read a letter from Don Pierce “Bullet” longtime RFTW road guard and one of the original 1989 founding members. Bullet will no longer be riding with the RFTW and offered his RFTW Vest (cut) and Jacket to Rainelle Middle School as a gift. The school gladly received it and will be archiving it for future students to view. What an incredible gift. Thank you, Bullet.

Founding rider, Gunny, spoke from his heart about how much Rainelle means to him.

Paul Marshall, Central Route Coordinator then gave the school a plaque and revealed the total funds raised by the Central Route for the school during our journey across the United States. It was an astounding $25,665.28. The donation was given in cash and a check. You’ll find an image of Principal, Kim Tincher holding a bag full of cash in the images below. As the ceremony ended Principal Tincher graciously thanked the Run For The Wall for our tremendous support telling the riders that no other school in the area understands what it means to be a Rainelle Ranger. They love this day, they love this month, and they love the Run For The Wall.

The students at schools like those in Smithers, Ansted, Holbrook, which was visited early in the mission across the country, and then Rainelle hold the key to our future. The RFTW stops at these places for a reason. Gunny stated it well in his brief comments. He teared up speaking about how the students who just a half-hour prior had been showing great respect to the veterans are the future of our nation. Gunny is right. We ride for many reasons, and one of them is to sew into the future of our nation.

If you have scrolled this far and are looking for pictures, they are a bit farther down. Here I want to insert a Q&A I had with the Ambassador leads, Eric and Sonia. I spoke with them a few months ago about the Ambassador Team and themselves. I hope you enjoy this peek into their heart for the mission.

Q.  Can you tell me a bit about yourselves? If you are Veterans what was your role in the military? Are you retired now? What do you do when you are not on the Run?
A. We both are employed at Caterpillar, Eric is an engineer and Sonia is a trainer. We are not Veterans but we have family who served. Giving back through the Run is our way of serving.  2003 was Eric’s and 2004 was Sonia’s FNG years

Q. Can you summarize the charter of the Ambassadors and how your role supports the mission of the Run for the Wall?
A. The Ambassadors started in 2012. Ross Currie (road guard) co-lead it with Roger Hageman former SitRep (rides out with Bones). We have been leading since around 2014.  As Ambassadors, we are the front face of the Run. We thank the overpass people for coming out and thank the cooks for all that they’ve done. We seek out behind-the-scenes people to let them know we value their efforts.  We give people love before the chaos of the pack inundates them. We build relationships.  We visit schools to educate students about why we ride.  In Holbrook, we visit every single classroom. We give out pins and stickers.  The team purchases patriotic items from a vendor to supplement ride pins and stickers to make sure we have enough to hand out. Sonia organizes three overpasses with school buses of students north of Albquerque NM and visits to schools in WV.   School visits are comprised of Flag folding ceremonies or are like an open house.  over the years we’ve watched a Gold star daughter grow up at Smithers where the mom and daughter are honorary ambassadors. In Ansted, the school holds lunch on the lawn when school is in session.

Q. Did you come to the Run as a married couple or is there a greater story of connection for you two that folks would love to hear about?
A.  (laughter) Nothing so dramatic. We celebrate our anniversary on the Run but we keep the date a secret. Most of our married life has seen our anniversary celebrated on the run.

Q. What roles have you filled for the Run and what compels you to be and lead a team of Ambassadors?
A. We were on the Fuel crew for 5’ish years. Giving back to veterans, gold star families, and to the supporters of the Run is what compels us to serve.

Q.  In your numerous interactions with run Participants, Volunteers, and Supporters, is there a story or two that you’d like to share that holds great meaning for you?
A.  Corydon is aspecial spot for Eric and I. We stopped to do the parade route in downtown Corydon where we saw a WWII Navy vet. My dad was in the Navy. The veteran had just put his wife into a nursing home.  He took my hand, and I gave him a hug, and we shared tears.  The next year we were there… “there he was with a buddy”.  Paul Higginbotham. Charles Hughes was his name. His daughter-in-law would bring him.  He was a Korean veteran.  We now have to see them both each time we visit. Charles was in hospice and recently passed.  Paul got a girlfriend.  Two buddies and a girlfriend would come with him.  Now he brings his son who is in his 70’s. The others we have met in Corydon have passed.  We exchange cards and phone calls. Paul’s sons know to call Sonia. should anything happen to him.  We gave him an Ambassador hat after which he spent the time while the Pack road by transferring pins from his WWII hat to the Ambassador Hat.  He has since worn out his hat and asked for another.

We don’t always know the impact we have as an Ambassador.

We Stopped on an overpass in NM. There was a gal standing there who had just buried her father. She handed Sonia the shell casings from the 21-gun salute asking her to take them to the wall.
The gold star daughter we watched grow up in Smithers WV. Her mom gave a handwritten card. She is so grateful that the Ambassadors say their loved one’s name. Every time his name is said,”He comes alive again”.

In the town of Gauley Base Bridge, on the way to Rainelle in the Glenfare spas area. Sonia spoke about Teddy Christian.  “here is someone who went to the same school you did, who paid the ultimate sacrifice”  At the end of the assembly one of the teachers came up in tears. She was best friends and shared a birthday with Teddy. She hadn’t heard his name in many many years.

Q. Why do you run ahead of the pack?
A. We are always ahead of the run.  We need to be ahead so we can great and then leave the supporters so they can enjoy what they came to do. Always ahead.

My takeaway from the conversation with Eric and Sonia is that they are the perfect couple to lead the Ambassador team.  Eric and Sonia, thank you for your love of the Run and for those who support it. Thank you for caring for the Gold Star families you meet and thank you for your servant leadership.

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SR Day 9. Thursday, May 25th

Breakfast in the park!  Man, is it extremely cool and damp out here this morning!  I had to go put my rain jacket on just to get warm!   The community folks had the big tent up with lots of breakfast goodies. Everyone’s kind of strolling around in the grass chit-chatting & waiting for the kids to come down from Spiller Elementary School.    The riders have strands of Mardi Gras beads, pencils, and pins to give out to the kids as they come down the hill. This is always an exciting morning for us.  The kids made it down and sang some songs for us.  This time, when we did our wreath laying , we did it while the children were there, so that they could witness it. This is the first time we have done this.  So, off we go to Montvale & its elementary school—with the Wytheville folks & Spiller kids waving us on.  

Lunch at Montvale is always really neat , because the men are invited to eat with the kids in the classrooms!  Yep—our big behinds on those little chairs….!   During the program, the kids not only recited the Pledge of Allegiance but also sang the Star Spangled Banner with such pride and meaning that I saw many a veteran wipe away tears.  The military branch flags were brought in while its song was played.  The men love this part since it lets them hoop and holler!  The school’s mascot is Montvale Patriots —- and that is so true!  What pride and patriotism is shown by these kids & the teachers, as well—it truly brings us hope that there is still hope for this country.   You cannot imagine how often I hear that from the men….  The final presentation was from the BCPS (Bedford County Public Schools) JROTC, who did an exhibition drill demonstration.   Wow—these young men and women did an outstanding job!   

Now on to the D Day Memorial entrance where  a huge flag on a fire truck awaited us.  The D Day Memorial always makes you reflect on World War II and the horrible battles that were fought and sacrifices made.   After a brief presentation, we had a wreath laying under the Overlord arches.  Then platoon pictures were taken.   After a few more moments to walk around the Memorial, we were off to Lynchburg and to the Harley Davidson dealership for dinner.   These guys always do us right—good food, sitting outside & enjoying the great weather & evening.   Then—off to the hotels for a good night’s sleep for a VERY early start in the morning.   Day 10 is here!

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Day 10.  Smithfield, NC to Ashland, VA.  193 miles.

Today is about Us!

Today was a very short riding day for the Midway Route.  We are within an average days ride from Washington DC, but we will make it a two-day trek.  With so few miles to do today, we will just take it easy and enjoy a few last memorial stops.   But first we had to get started for the day.

As you may have ben able to tell, a LOT goes on during our morning Riders meeting.  These meetings are Mandatory, as we discuss any changes to our itinerary, weather issues, safety concerns, and other general announcements.  Today’s meeting started, as always with one of our Chaplains leading us in a prayer for safety and of thanksgiving for our safe and successful trip across the country.  We said the Pledge of Allegiance and sang the national anthem, as usual.  The meeting and announcements were nothing new, until we got to the very end.  The last activity of each meeting is to read a biography of one of our Nations Fallen Heroes.

Denise “High Maintenance” Dugas has been reading these biographies to us for many years.  As she took to the stage this morning, she mentioned that this would be the last bio that she reads to use.  Her years of Midway Route Leadership is coming to a close, and she will pass that torch on to another for next year.  For her final reading, she chose to read the biography of Col Rex Meyer, a Vietnam Veteran that lost his battle with Agent-Orange related cancer a few years ago.  While she was reading Col Meyers biography, several people enveloped Vickie Meyer, our own “Needy”, in a circle of hands, everyone wanting to comfort her and pay tribute to her late Husband.  Denise and Vickie have been close friends for decades, so Denise could think of no better person to honor with her last reading than the Meyer Family.

So it was with tears in my eyes that we started down the highway towards are first fuel stop.  Normally, there is a bit of chatter on the CB radio as the Road Guards deploy to intersections and on-ramps, and the Leadership communicates with the Platoon Leaders.  Today, the radio was relatively silent.  It gave us all a time to reflect on what we have done over the past 10 days.  Part of that reflection for me is the close friendships that I have bound with certain people.  For the past 4 years, I have ridden primarily with the Leadership Support Platoon, which is directly behind the Missing Man Formation.  The riders in this Platoon have not varied much during these years.  In fact, there has been a “core element” that has remained the same.  Now, I knew that at least one of “my gang’ would not be coming back next year.  And that made me wonder who else would not be returning.

At our first stop, I found out that several of “my gang” would not be returning, for one reason or another.  It was both a sad and bittersweet morning.  Sad, because I will miss riding with these patriots, my Friends, in support of our Mission.  I will miss seeing their (generally) smiling faces.  But I understand the need to move on.  Someday, I, too, will step back and give someone else the opportunities that I have enjoyed.  Until that time comes, I wonder who I will be riding with next year.  Will it be another Leadership Member in a new role?  Will it be someone brand new to Leadership?  What will MY role be?  Will I have a role?  It is actually exciting to think about all of the possibilities.  “My Gang” cannot be replaced in my heart, but there is room for others to join in.  There MUST be, because just a few years ago, *I* was the “New Guy” and I was welcomed in.

This sort of reflection was on my mind all day.  And in talking with many others, I could tell that they were having the same thoughts.  I know of at least six people that will not be with us next year, from Leadership Support to Platoon Leadership to Road Guards.  There will be changes in our Outreach Team and Ambassador Team.  As sad as I am to know this, I am heartened to see several of this years FNG Class that I know will be stepping into leadership roles.  I am not saying that I can predict the future.  None of us can.  But some of us “seasoned” RFTW Riders can sort of tell when an FNG “gets it” and fully understands what we are trying to do.  I have seen that again this year!  There are some very promising young Riders that I KNOW will be leading the Midway Route into the future.  We are in for some exciting times!

We continued down the road to our lunch stop at the River Falls Park in Weldon, NC.  This beautiful little park always has a special Patriotic display set up for us.  This year was no exception.  Imagine a large cross laid out and outlined on the grass with small American Flags.  Then imagine being able to fill the interior of that outline with thousands more flags, until the park is filled with Red, White, and Blue!  There are always some Christmas Trees set up in the park that we decorate with the names and photos of Fallen Heroes, POWs, those Missing in Action, and memorials of “The 22.”  (On average, 22 Veterans commit suicide every day in the United States.  We need to do a better job at understanding and identifying PTSD!)

Yes, the memorials are beautiful and somber, but we don’t let our emotions get the best of us.  Today, we know that we are celebrating US.  This park, and specifically the Weldon Mill Distillery is a great place to take group photos.  I try to get every platoon, whether a service platoon or a Riders platoon, to gather together on the steps of the Mill for one final photo.

Notice that I said “try”?  With everyone feeling a little “salty” from our achievements, getting them to line up for a “nice’ photo is like trying to herd cats, with a broom, while wearing roller skates, on ice.  In other words, “It ain’t easy!”  We were just having too much fun with each other today!  But we DID get the platoon photos, both serious and fun, and we had a good time doing it.  (I HOPE I got every platoon!)

After the lunch, it was just a few short miles to the Moose Lodge in Hopewell, Virginia, where we would have our “recognition awards ceremony.”  This is our chance to thank all of our Leaders and volunteers for the hard work that they put into the Midway Route.  We get to acknowledge the contributions and successes of each Team, and start sowing the seeds for next year.  That doesn’t mean we can let up on our duties for the next two days, but we can start “seriously” recruiting some of those eager (soon to be) former FNGs!

During this awards programs, we said Thank You to Ken “Six-String” Dugas for his MANY years of service to the Midway Route.  He has kind of been a “Route Coordinator Emeritus” as well as a mentor and stand-in for all things Road Guard related.  He was instrumental in developing the “servant leadership” style that Midway has fostered.  His time with RFTW is coming to an end, as he is focusing now on the Combat Hero Bike Build program.  He isn’t going away, he is just changing his manner of supporting our Veterans.  Six-String, we are going to miss you!

We got to honor many of our other leaders, but the one that deserves the most thanks this year from all of the Midway Riders is our Route Coordinator, Jerry ”Corp” Wilkins.  He did an outstanding job as out Leader this year, and the success of the Run can be laid at his feet.  Yes, he had help and he graciaously admits it.  But it was his leadership, training, and oversight that made our journey and Mission so successful.  Jerry, it has been an honor to serve with you, and I know that all of the other volunteers feel the same!  You did good, Sir!

As all of the other Leaders were called up to receive a certificate and wall plaque, you could hear people joking, laughing, and even crying a few times, as we honored all achievements and heard people announce their plans for the future.  This is where some of us found out who would not be returning next year and who definitely would be back.  Again, it is both a sad and happy ceremony.

Finally, it was time to leave and head to our hotel for the evening.  And that is why this SITREP is a little shorter than usual.  We got here early.  We are in a good mood.  We have an early, but easy day tomorrow to get us into Arlington, Virginia.  So tonight, we will laugh together, tell stories together, some may have a beer out in the parking lot, others were already playing a game of cards in the lobby.  We will relax and enjoy the limited time we have left together.  We will have some fun.

Tomorrow, the mood of the entire Route will change.  We will wake up to the knowledge that this is the last time that we, the 2023 Midway Route Family, will be together as a singular unit.  Once we arrive in Arlington and all the other Routes join us, we will never be the same.  Our thoughts will be on finishing the Mission we started 10 days ago.

But that is tomorrow.  Tonight, we will enjoy each others company.


Jim “Hoofer” McCrain
Midway Route Photographer and SITREP Author




When I get back home after the Run, I will start editing the photos that I have taken this year.  They will be made available for you to use for free.  They will be posted at  Just look for the 2023 Gallery.


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Day 09. Asheville, NC to Smithfield, NC. 307 miles.

With all that we do, do we make a difference?

Todays SITREP is going to be shorter than usual.  Not because we did less today, but because a theme for the day presented itself as soon as our morning meeting began.  I am going to let these stories tell themselves.

Story Number One:  My roommate this year is a tall, thin, extremely likable fellow named Tim.  We have gotten along very well, and I wish I had met him years ago.  One evening after our riding was over for the day, he casually mentioned that he had beaten a cancer diagnosis.  That was very good news!  He credited one of our Chaplains with his recovery, by offering prayers and encouragement to him.

The next evening, he mentioned that he had his own outreach mission to perform the next day.  Since he is on the Staging Crew, I assumed that his Team were all going on a special program.

This morning, one of the Chaplains casually mentioned that they (the Chaplains) had a large group of people that were going to be standing on an overpass with flags to cheer us along.  Would I like to go visit with them and get some pictures?  Sure!  As the pack began to move out this morning, I rode up behind the Chaplain Corps, only to find myself riding next to my roommate Tim.  Cool!  I finally get to ride with him!  But I wondered why he was there.

About an hour later we arrive at the designated overpass, and sure enough, there are a bunch of people gathered there.  They happen to be from our Chaplains church.  As we dismounted our bikes, our Chaplain announces to the crowd that “This is Tim!  The recipient of our very first Prayer Quilt!”

The pieces of this strange puzzle fell into place.  Through some strange, round-about way, I was present when a new Friend met the Church Group that prayed over him, encouraged him to keep up the fight, offered to help in any way that they could, and that covered him, literally, with prayers.

Tim credits their support and friendship with his remarkable recovery!

Story Number Two:  At our morning meeting a few days ago, one of our Ambassadors told the story of visiting a Veterans Home in Tennessee.  The entire Ambassador Team (all 8 of them) spent about an hour trying to visit each of the Veterans that lived there.  He was heartbroken when he found a 92-yeear old highly decorated Vietnam Veteran lying in his room all alone.  As our Ambassador talked with him, he discovered that this Veteran had not had a single visitor in over a year and a half!  He was so grateful for the brief visit that he sat up as best he could and feebly gave a salute.  Our Ambassador left in tears, and still wells up when he mentions this encounter.

Story Number Three: Our own dear Sarah took to the microphone this morning to Thank all of the Riders that visited a specific VA Hospital during our Outreach Day in Cookeville.  She told of a deaf elderly Man that has no visitors other than family.  After all, he is hard to communicate with.  She said that he felt so special that day.  His entire Family wanted to extend their Thanks to our Riders for their considerate visit.  That deaf Veteran is her Uncle!

Story Number Four:  You may remember that I wrote about our visit to Wilson Elementary School.  The Midway Route made a small financial donation to help support these kids.  Some of these kids live in homes with dirt floors.  Some do not have running water.  Some wear only hand-me-down clothing.  Some go home hungry at night.   We gave them school supplies, t-shirts, and some money.

Story Number Five: This afternoon we visited the Falcon Childrens School.  This is an orphanage that houses and educates poor, neglected, and/or abandoned children, giving them love and security.  The Midway Route has been a supporter of the school for five years now.  Today, we gave each graduating Senior a gift certificate.  For many of them, this is the largest amount of money that they have ever had all to themselves.  We offer them encouragement and a pledge of support.  We are extremely proud of what they have accomplished, and the attitude that they all have for their own future.

Story Number Six:  While at the Falcon School, one of our own Riders (“Pockets”) told how his daughter had taken her own life a few years ago.  He proceeded to tell the students in the room how much each one of them mattered.  Not just to their educators, not just to their friends, not just to us, but that they mattered to our society.  He then announced that he was giving scholarships to each of the graduating Seniors, in his daughters name.  (There wasn’t a dry eye in the room!)

Does what we do make a difference?  We honor our Veterans.  We visit the sickly, the poor, the “forgotten.”  We offer “small change” from our wallets.  We give little gifts.  We talk to strangers.

But to the people that we interact with, we bring hope.  We bring understanding.  We show our love and support for those that have sacrificed so much for us.  We encourage young people to follow their dreams, and show them that they CAN follow those dreams.  We give children the tools they need to get an education so that they can make a better life for themselves.  We put new clothes on the backs of people that may not have had a new shirt in years.  And we send a child home with a full belly.

Yes.  What we do matters.  We change lives.  But don’t take my word for it.  Read Story Number Seven:

This one comes directly from a former Midway Route Rider, the Daughter of our own “Big Bopper.”  She writes:

Hello Midway Route! Some of you may remember me from last year. Some of you may not. I was the short, bald girl that loved signing patriotic songs.

For those that don’t know my story, six years ago I was given a stage IV breast cancer diagnosis with a life expectancy of less than a year. Apparently God had other plans for me though and I just kept on living. Then, in January of last year, four months before the 2022 ride, the cancer had spread greatly through my brain and the doctors felt that I had about a month left on my ticket. So what did my dad do…. he signed me up for a motorcycle trip that was scheduled in May… and, somehow, by the grace of God, I lived long enough to join you all as an FNG.

I can’t adequately express what this ride meant to me. I was so nervous joining. I had ridden on the back of a motorcycle for a grand total of maybe eight hours in my entire life. I knew nothing of the culture or the schedule or what to expect. But even if I had known what to expect, I wouldn’t have been prepared for what I experienced.

The love and acceptance that you all showed me from the moment I joined was beyond anything I could have imagined. You embraced me with hugs, love, prayers, chaps, neck warmers, and rain gear. You made me feel like I was truly part of what you were doing… and what you were doing was truly something spectacular!

You will never know what a difference you made in my life. That week I felt like I was part of something much bigger than myself and my problems. I forgot about the cancer for the first time since I’d been diagnosed. Life’s worries melted away as I focused on the mission. I loved every moment of the journey and every one of you that was on it.

A year has passed since that glorious ride, and now RFTW 2023 is en route. I’m not able to join you this year, but I am grateful to report that I am still alive and well. According to the University of Michigan Cancer Center, I am a “medical anomaly”. But we all know that it is so much more than that.

Thank you for loving me and accepting me. Thank you for including me on your ride and in your lives. And thank you for praying for me. I have no doubt that it is through your prayers and those of the saints and the faithful that I am still on the top side of the grass.

Until we meet again, I pray that God blesses you, keeps you, and makes His glorious face shine upon you.

Much love,


P.S. I’m happy to report that my wild, curly hair finally grew back!


What I have submitted this evening is such a small sampling of what we have been doing everyday for the past nine days.  These are just a few of the hundreds of stories that we hear during the Run.  I wonder how many we do NOT hear?  I am so proud of our Midway Riders, and all of the Riders from the other Routes as well, because I know that these things we do aren’t just a once-a-year occurrence.  I see the goodness in our Riders hearts.  I know of the countless hours of volunteer work that they do throughout the year.  I know of the charities that they support year round.  I know that they care for their Brothers and Sisters, their comrades in arms, and the Families of their Heroes.  They “walk the talk” and will leave no Man behind.  They make a difference in the lives of the people they touch, both their physical and emotional needs.

As “Pockets” and I were standing in the hotel lobby, getting ready to turn in for the night, I offered my condolences for his daughter.  We talked a bit of different tragedies that had befallen both our Families, and how helpless we felt not preventing them.  He did not know the theme of todays SITREP.  But as we ended our conversation, he said with a sad smile “We do whatever we can.  We make a difference.”

This is Run For The Wall.  This is what we do.

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain
Midway Route Photographer and SITREP Author

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CR Day 8 Corydon to Hurricane: Overflowing

It is the close of Day 8 and I’m writing this SitRep from my hotel room while eating popcorn from Robley Rex VAMC. Robley Rex has been a stop on the Central Route for a number of years. Last year, riders were not allowed into the facility, but this year it was back to pre-covid operations where our riders were welcomed to visit patients in the hospital. I witnessed staff taking groups of riders to different floors and wings to be an encouragement to veterans who were admitted there. What a great sight to see! Popcorn has long been a tradition at Robley Rex as well. Stalwart RFTW champion, Popcorn Billy was there to greet us with his infectious personality and charm. When you go to a hospital you don’t want to “catch” anything from anyone there unless it is from Billy. His laughter, kindness, and love of all people are something we can all “catch” while at the hospital. “Popcorn Billy” was given his nickname as he used to volunteer making popcorn at the center for many years. Billy is no longer making popcorn but he is still a force of good at a shining example of how VA Hospitals can be run. The staff at Robley Rex clearly put Veterans first in all they do and that includes how they interact with the Veterans and supporters riding as part of the Run For The Wall. To a person I’ve met who works at the facility, each has a genuine heart of concern for the wellbeing of all veterans. It is refreshing and wonderful. Side note here: One of the hospital’s ER Doctors, Nathan Berger, registered for the Run and rode as my passenger for most of the day. It was great hosting Dr. Berger who is one more example of the great people who staff Robley Rex.

Another of the many great people employed at Robley Rex is Senay. Senay met my family and I last year and we reconnected this year. Senay is almost as bubbly as Popcorn Billy and has a huge heart for Veterans. I had the opportunity to introduce her to our Route Coordinator, Paul Marshall who Senay told of her love of veterans due to her family who has served in the military in Cuba under the Castro regime. Senay values the freedoms afforded here in the US and cares deeply for our veterans but that core value was instilled through the example of her father who no matter the leader has been true and faithful to his country. While most people in the US wouldn’t tie the foundations of patriotism and love to Cuban leadership, it was very interesting to see where seeds were planted that grew into Senay’s genuine love of US Veterans. I believe Paul was as moved by her story just as I was. He gave Senay both a Central Route “Mother Route” patch and one of his personal Challenge Coins. Senay’s response amidst tears was “I don’t deserve this.” On the contrary Senay, you do. We love how you love us.

While at Robley Rex the Central Route experienced something very special. Joan Shelton, one of the original group of riders that started the Run For The Wall by riding from San Diego to DC was present. She shared her story of losing her father in Laos during the Vietnam War. Joan described how her father’s sanitized aircraft went down and that he evaded capture for three days before he was ultimately caught. Col Charles Ervin Shelton, USAF is still MIA. The Shelton family has gone to great lengths to see his remains returned to the US, which has caused additional loss and tragedy to the family. Joan said to both Robley Rex staff and RFTW Riders that “We can’t ever leave anyone behind again.”  The Missing Man for the leg leaving Robley Rex was ridden in honor of her father, Col. Shelton. This is an example of why we ride. Every leg of our journey is in honor of a lost serviceman or servicewoman.

Our departure from Robley Rex saw us head for the Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The use of a sundial to cast a shadow upon the name of lost Kentuckians on the anniversary of their death is both unique and awe-inspiring. The use of a sundial gives each hero a personal tribute. You’ll want to click out to the official Kentucky Vietnam Memorial website to read how it works and to see photos. It is a remarkable memorial.

I wrote the following words in my personal blog on the day of our visit to the Kentucky Vietnam Memorial during an alternative run to DC during Covid. “Marine SGT Reynolds opened our visit with a heart-moving story of how as long as he has breath, he fulfills his friend’s wish to make sure that on the Wednesday before Memorial Day at 10:00 am he would be there. The story was moving, powerful, and exemplifies the honor a warrior brotherhood bond forges between two people. While many of SGT Reynolds’ words were powerful, I greatly appreciated these; “If you don’t want to be prayed for, don’t come to Kentucky.” Nothing can stop a man who is a warrior both in his constitution, but also in his spirit on his knees. I look forward to seeing this man again. Next time, I will be sure to strike up a conversation and meet him.”  I had that opportunity today. Last year SGT Reynolds was unable to attend due to injuries incurred while using a ladder.  This year, SGT Reynolds was present and kicked off our visit to the memorial. Beforehand I introduced myself, shook his hand, and shared a few words. Thank you, SGT Reynolds, for fulfilling the promise you made to your friend. All who are present to hear your passion and to be led by you in the Pledge of Allegiance are better for having that experience. Thank you for praying for us and thank you for continuing to serve your country.

The departure from the memorial was also amazing. A Huey helicopter overflew the riders as they mounted their bikes. The aircraft then circled around until we left and then it overflew the pack several times. One rider remarked, “I love that sound. It means I am safe.”

After gassing our bikes at Fast Lane, lunch was provided in Mt Sterling where air conditioning was most welcome. Three doors with servers waiting to load plates with a hearty meal were awaiting the pack while in the lobby and out-front organizations and volunteers were present to provide sundries to the riders. My personal favorite was a Coffee Van. Think Food Truck but built in a Sprinter Van. I enjoyed a mocha while others tried blended specialty drinks or iced coffees. The graciously donated mocha that I enjoyed was the perfect treat before jumping on the bike to ride two hours to Hurricane WV.  Inside, another rider favorite was Kirkland brand 5-hour energy drinks. Thank you, Mt Sterling. You somehow upped yourself from last year. We are grateful for your support.

A long two-hour ride from Mt. Sterling to Hurricane WV found the riders arriving to a throng of flag-waving patriots as we paraded through town to the Wave Pool facility where a ceremony was held and dinner was served. The local HS Airforce JROTC posted the colors while another youth organization led the riders in the Pledge of Allegiance.

An unexpected speaker during the ceremony was Anne Montague. Anne is the Executive Director at Thanks! Plain and Simple, an organization working to capture and preserve the stories of the women known as Rosie the Riveter. Anne, born in 1939, is the daughter of a Rosie and is known as a Rose Bud.  Anne’s compelling words described how “Rosies” did thousands of jobs, not just riveting, and conveyed the message that “Coming together as the Rosies did, is what makes a big difference.”  Her point is clear. We live in a nation divided. Only by coming together can we make a difference.

After the ceremony’s conclusion a brief dedication of a marker in honor of the Huey that previously welcomed riders at the WV state line was held. That Huey along with six passengers were lost last year in a tragic accident. Today, the RFTW dedicated a marker to ensure it is not forgotten. Chaplain Duane had these words to share at the dedication, “In years past we were greeted in Hurricane WV by a Bell UH-1B ‘Huey’ helicopter owned by MARPAT Aviation in Logan County. The helicopter was flown by the 114th Assault Helicopter Company, ‘The Knights of the Sky’ in Vinh Long, Vietnam throughout the 1960s. After the Huey returned to the U.S. in 1971, it was featured in movies like ‘Die Hard’, ‘The Rock’ and ‘Under Siege: Dark Territory’.  On June 22, 2022, at a reunion of Vietnam-era helicopter enthusiasts, the Huey crashed near the Battle of Blair Mountain historic sites and six people lost their lives. We will take a moment of silence to remember these six people along with a bird who flew into hot zones in Vietnam to deliver and to extract men on the ground and their supplies. So, we will remember the lives lost, but we will also remember the lives that were also saved when this bird showed up for them in Vietnam.”

Today was so full, that I feel as if I’m just reporting the details and not clearly conveying the heartbeat of what took place. Let me try to communicate that to you by sharing how I felt as we paraded through Hurricane. There were a significant number of supporters lining the roadway. Groups of people numbering in the multiples of tens were spread out along our route. The total of these groups was easily into the multiples of hundreds and likely into the low thousand range. This outpouring of patriotism was also evident upon our arrival at the Wave Pool facility where many, many more were present to serve us dinner, wash our bikes, lead us in the various aspects of the ceremony that was held, or were just there to support us with warm smiles, hugs, and handshakes. This was the perfect culmination of a significant day for Central Route. Robley Rex, the Kentucky Vietnam Memorial, lunch in Mt Sterling and finally filling my heart to overflowing was the amazing reception of the pack by the people of Hurricane. It rained in my helmet so that my cheeks were wet when I finally got parked and took off my sunglasses. Thank you to all who gave so much to us today. You have filled us full both physically and emotionally. We are very grateful for your support.

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SR Day 8. Wednesday, May 24th

Another beautiful crisp morning.  Lynne Fouraker-Craft (“First Nav”) gave the talk on why she rides, which tied in with the Silverdale Confederate Cemetery, which is directly behind the Harley dealership.  Lynne & Edwin (“Wookie”) were instrumental around 2009 in raising funds to repair the rundown cemetery, and each year, we continue to take a collection here at the meeting to give to the organization. There are 155 soldiers buried here. Most of them are considered MIA because their identities are unknown.  Only 39 have been identified throughout the recent years.  The cemetery is peaceful and serene—yet there is a somberness in the air when you stand there & think of those confederate soldiers.    

Our first fuel stop is one that we always look forward to— it’s a stop where we have donuts and homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made by the “Divas” girls!   Unfortunately, there were no donuts, but the TA travel center furnished sausage biscuits and chicken sandwiches.  Best of all, the Divas were there with their sandwiches.  It was a bright sunny morning—and all was well!

The next gas stop was quick & uneventful —so on to lunch at Bristol HD Dealership.  On the way, the Virginia state police picked us up and escorted us into Bristol.  They’ve done it for many years—AND WE LOVE IT.   A great lunch was served, and I saw a few people sneak down to a river flowing behind the dealership—-with their lunch!  Ahhh…a well kept secret!  It was lush, quiet and so relaxing.  

When coming into Wytheville, VA, to the city park, we actually ride up into the park on its walking path, and all of us park on the sidewalk that circles it.  This is one of the riders’ favorite places.  Many of the townsfolk are out to greet us. We had a brief welcoming ceremony, and then we were off to check into the rooms and then head to the Moose Lodge for our dinner.  Steak and chicken and fancy cakes awaited us!  Afterwards, an auction for prizes went fast and crazy.  “Juice,” one of our road guards, did  a great job on the auctioneering.  And we had fabulous raffle prizes and silent auction items.  

A quick but important note—many riders and supporters do not realize how crucial our Fuel and Staging teams are to the efficiency of the run—regardless of route.  They are truly unsung heroes of RFTW.   There is NO WAY we could fuel up & move hundreds of bikes like we do without their leadership.   People don’t believe us when we tell them that we can fuel up to 300 bikes in under 20 minutes—until they actually see it done.   My hat is off to you fuelers & stagers.   I did those duties way back in the infancy stages of the “Advance Team”. (Early 2000’s), and it has progressed to a well-oiled machine.   Thank you, guys & gals who get us through each day.

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Day 08. Cookeville, TN to Asheville, NC. 238 miles.

A Good Day to Cry!

The Mission Statement for Run for the Wall states that 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.”  The healing that we speak of is an emotion, and on the Run, there are really only two emotions.  We are either laughing or we are crying.  Most days we do both, and today was no exception.

We started our day, as usual, with our morning Riders meeting.  Gary “Chief” Burd started us off with a prayer of thanks for safety, good weather, and entering into “God’s True Country.”  (He was referring to his own home state of North Carolina, but we know that Heaven is actually Texas!)  We had announcements from each of our Leadership Teams, and then Denise “High Maintenance” stepped up to the microphone.  We braced ourselves, because this would be the reading of another Fallen Heroes biography.  We were wrong.

Instead, Denise read us a letter that was sent from a commander on a ship cruising the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War.  In the letter, the Commander described as best as he could the details of the loss of one of his pilots.  He told how the pilot researched and executed his mission perfectly, but at some point during the mission, his aircraft was hit.  He flew the aircraft out to open water as the other pilots from the mission watched his plane catch fire and begin to fall apart.  As the aircraft began to fall from the sky, our pilot ordered his Navigator to eject, saving the Airman’s life.  For an unknown reason, our Pilot was not able to eject himself, and the other pilots of the flight had to watch helplessly as the aircraft nose-dived into the water, disintegrating on impact.  The Commander had written this letter to the Wife of the downed Pilot, and you could tell through his words how grief-stricken he was but that he could not imagine the anguish that this young Wife must be feeling.  Nor could he understand how she would tell her young son, who had yet to be born.

By now, the tears of every Rider could be seen falling to the ground.  But Denise wasn’t finished reading yet.  She then went on to describe how this young Son grew to be a Man, and through whose efforts, the National Gold Star Family Act was established.  Again, more tears.  This time sorrow was mixed with a little joy, as we learned how the Son had turned a negative experience not a positive one.

And then the tears began to roll again, as it was revealed that the young Son, now a grown Man, was standing with us and rides as one of our Ambassadors.  “Pitch”, we are so proud of you for what you have done, for what you have shared, and for how you inspire all those around you.  I am personally proud to call you my Friend!

After the Riders Meeting, all I could do was walk up to “Pitch”, shake his hand, give him a hug, and pat him on the shoulder.  No words passed between us, but I could see in his eye that he understood the pain that WE feel for his loss, and that we will do whatever we can to support him and his Family.

And then another Friend of mine had to leave the Midway Route and head back home.  Shannon Spake rode with us for a few days and quickly realized just how strong a bond we on the Midway Route share with each other.  Before Shannon left us, she made arrangements for her Passenger to Continue The Mission.  Jet is a little stuffed bear dressed in an Airman’s Uniform.  Jet rode with me for several days, and now has been passed to another Rider who will in turn pass him to another, and another, until he makes his way back home.  Jet is the surrogate representative for Lt. Commander Dennis Pike, Shannon’s Father, MIA 1972.  It was hard for her to leave, and it was hard for us to see her go.

But as you know by now, our Mission must continue, and so we headed to our first stop of the day, Wilson Elementary School, in Crawford, Tennessee.  This is a rather small, rural school.  Again, I am not overly fond of children so I thought “Great!  A whole school full of them!”  I am glad it was such a small school (186 children in total) because I couldn’t have dealt with too many more.

They were incredible!  They were laughing and cheering: their excited exuberance was infectious!  How could I have been cynical with all this energy around?  The answer is: I couldn’t!  I actually enjoyed the visit!  The kids almost YELLED the Pledge of Allegiance, they sang the National Anthem in every key imaginable!  They were absolutely adorable!

One of the “performances” that we were given was a “roll call” of our Armed Services.  As the anthem for each branch of the military was played, a young “soldier” would march across the gym floor carrying a flag twice his own size.  Then came an “Airman”, followed by the Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard, each with another huge flag.  And at the end, here came “Uncle Sam” dressed in red, white, and blue and wearing a hat so big that it covered his eyes and he had to keep pushing it up off his nose!  He practically ran around the entire gymnasium!

The Midway Route Riders were screaming with as much enthusiasm as the kids!  This was just about the best, happiest thing we have seen on our entire journey so far!  It was just simply an amazingly good time!

This school has been “adopted” by the Midway Route.  We provided them with some school supplies (sorely needed) and a check (even more sorely needed).  The Principal was overwhelmed with gratitude to the point that we could almost see her crying.  But she regained her composure and insisted that we all stay for some refreshments.  (Y’all, we ARE in the South.  We feed people every time we get a chance!)

After the program, a bunch of the kids were BEGGING to come out and see the bikes!  Being a good Principal, she granted the kids their wish.  I ended up taking class photos of each grade in front of our bikes!  I really had a good time, and I KNOW our Riders did, too.  I can’t wait to come back next year for another visit!

By this time, it was only about 09:00.  Folk’s, that was an emotional rollercoaster way to start our day.

Oh Hey!  I forgot something ELSE that happened this morning.  While on the way to Wilson Elementary, I rode with the Ambassador Team.  I got to stop at on of the highway overpasses and visit with the people standing underneath a giant American Flag!  In fact, I stayed with them until the entire pack of Riders had passed by us.  It was such an uplifting event to share with these great American Patriots!

We were given ANOTHER incredible Police Escort AGAIN today!  In fact, we had escorts almost all day!  And we were extremely grateful for them going into Knoxville, TN.  We were escorted directly to the East Tennessee Veterans Memorial.  We have a tradition here (remember how I said that we are BIG on traditions!) and our FNGs as well as seasoned Riders did not disappoint.  Immediately upon dismounting our bikes, we made our way to the fountains, and promptly walked right through them!

I don’t know exactly who started this tradition, or why, but I “heard” it was RFTW Founder James “Gunny” Gregory.  I think he may have just been hot and wanted to cool down.  (Others say he simply needed a shower.)  However it started, the Midway Route just goes with it.  Our Road Guards are generally first into the water, but everyone is welcome to join them.  And this year, so many did!  It is fun to watch!  No, I didn’t join in.  Someone had to stay dry to take the pictures.  (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!)

It was another fun moment.

But then we walked to the actual memorial site.  This is a series of grey granite slabs with the name of a military conflict at carved at the top and a list of all the veterans from the County that participated in that conflict.  What makes this memorial so powerfully emotional is that it sits at the very spot where an old train terminal stood.  It was from this very ground that these boys boarded a train, leaving their homeland, to go off to war.  Many of them never came home.  It is a sobering reminder of how world events can affect even the most remote corners of our country.

It was another dip on that roller coaster ride!

After the lunch donated by the local American Legion Post, we wound our way through the beautiful mountains of eastern Tennessee, enjoying the great weather and fantastic winding roads.  Of course, we stopped for fuel and ice-cream, which just made our moods so much lighter.

And it was at this time that I got the call to participate in the dignified transfer ceremony for the American Flag that we are carrying across the country.  I know that this may sound a little silly to some of you, but it is quite an honor to carry this flag.  For 100 miles, I was responsible for the safety and integrity of this symbol, this representation of our Nation.  It is humbling to be a part of this, and also a great burden.  We do not touch this flag.  We wear white gloves during the transfer.  As the flag is removed from its protective case, it is held in front of the bearer, who renders a salute.  In my case, as a Civilian, I put my hand across my heart, held it for a respectable time, and then slowly lowered my hand.  The flag was placed gently into my possession, and then saluted again.  Do NOT think that the salute was for me.  It was for our flag and all it represents!  To see this solemn ceremony is one thing, to participate in it is quite another experience.  Thank You, “Needy”, for allowing me this great honor.

By this time, I am an emotional zombie.  I don’t know if I am happy, sad, joyous, depressed, or whatever.  I am on emotional auto-pilot.

But our Mission must continue, so we mount our bikes and ride.

This is one of the regions that I really enjoy visiting.  The roads are perfect for motorcycles.  Clean, smooth, winding, and beautiful.

And there are TUNNELS!  Two hundred big V-Twin engines going through a tunnel is an awesome sight … and sound!  I had set myself up to take some photos from a really good vantage point just outside the tunnels exit.  I could see the look of surprise in the smiles of each Rider as they passed by, knowing that I would get a pretty cool photo for them to remember this day.  (I got a fun video, too!)

Again, our Law Enforcement Escort was phenomenal!  We made it safely, and with minimal traffic, to our days final destination: Harley-Davidson of Asheville.  Here we had great food and conversations.  (Mostly talking about how fun the roads had been today!)  There were also some very pretty “Big Rigs” to view, and one fancy “wrapped” motorcycle.  I can’t explain them, you will just need to see the pictures.  We were Happy Happy Happy!

And then “Gunny” Gregory walked up to me.  Don’t worry, I was still Happy!  I got to see his lovely Wife Patti again, and also got to meet his charming brother Eric.  “Gunny” is an amazingly nice, generous, and thoughtful Man.  He is the Founder of Run For The Wall, and we are all grateful to him for giving us this opportunity.  But instead of simply accepting OUR gratitude, he gives it right back to us, letting us know how grateful he is to US for carrying on his Mission.  I have been fortunate to get to know Gunny a little bit over the past few years.  He has bestowed upon me the highest honor that I could receive: He likes my SITREPS and has asked me to keep writing them.  When Gunny says something like this, there is a lot of pressure involved!  I told him that I would continue and do my best.

So here I am, late at night, writing down the stories of our day and reliving all of the emotions that we experienced today.  There are tears on my keyboard as I type, and then I occasionally laugh out loud as I look at the pictures of those kids.  My roommate probably won’t get much sleep tonight because of all this noise I am making.  But he wouldn’t’ have it any other way, and neither would I, because he rode that same roller coaster with me today.

And that is why we are here: To provide AND receive the healing that is in our Mission Statement.  We are here to feel all of these emotions.

Jim “Hoofer” McCrain
Midway Route Photographer and SITREP Author




If you would like to see some of the photos that I have taken during the Run so far, please visit:   I will be adding more photos to this gallery each day.   After the Run is completed, I will be editing thousands more photos and posting them to individual day galleries on the same location.

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Day 7, Wentzville to Corydon: Speak their names

For a number of us headed as a Breakout to Missouri’s National Memorial, also known by many as the Perryville Wall, the morning started with an early breakfast provided at the Wentzville VFW Post 5327.  It was so early that the sun rose right about the time I finished eating. For those in the main pack, the morning started a little less early, but it wasn’t void of something to do. Let me break this down for you.

A breakout group (people and machines that go to another destination apart from the main pack) of about 15 bikes left at 6:00 AM for Missouri’s National Veterans Memorial. I was among that number. It was incredible and sobering.  Arriving in the early hours on a Tuesday meant there were no crowds to navigate. The Wall stood in the distance with dignity and strength beckoning us to come, remember, read the names. I briefly took in the well-appointed museum and then answered that call. I walked there alone with only my thoughts and the names of 53,318 who lost their lives in Vietnam. Honestly, this experience overwhelmed me more than my previous visits to the Wall on the National Mall.  I believe it was because I was alone. There were no tourists and the RFTW Family I traveled with to get there had not yet made their way across the field to the memorial. I stood there reading the names of men I never knew while my fuzzy reflection was projected back to me. Just as my likeness was reflected not as it is in a mirror but altered and changed, the experience changed me. It was as if they in turn spoke my name and recognized what I carry having served from 1985 – 2006 but never having been deployed to a combat zone even though I was trained as an Arabic Linguist. I left active duty as a 1LT and then for several years, I held positions in the 104th Division Institutional Training. During that time and even beforehand on active duty at Fort Lewis, I trained ROTC Cadets in Field Artillery, Hand Grenades, Rifle Marksmanship, and Automatic Weapons. How many of those cadets who later earned their commissions never came home from Iraq and Afghanistan?  I will never know.  Just as I was processing this, feeling its full weight, a brother was there for me. Joining us in Gallup was my Command Team partner. Now CSM (Ret) John Jimenez, then 1SG Jimenez, we were the Command Team for A Company 3rd of the 414th, 104th Div IT.  John listened, I shared, and he then did what all great NCO’s do. He gave me something constructive to do. Together we found the name of Harry G. Cramer on panel 1E. Harry Cramer is the father of LTC Cramer who is part of the 104th Div IT. Harry Cramer was added after petition to the Wall and his name is not presented in chronological order. It is an interesting story that I suggest you look up using your favorite internet search engine.

After my encounter with the Wall, I was with others of our group awaiting an informal ceremony where the Central Route ARC presented a donation to Missouri’s National Veterans Memorial. On hand to receive it was Jim Eddleman, the primary donor, and visionary whose promise to his comrades made in Vietnam was fulfilled to make this memorial a reality.  While awaiting the ceremony, I approached a kind-looking gentleman and introduced myself. To my surprise, the gentleman was Jim Eddleman himself. We spoke for a few minutes about why he needed to create this memorial. Jim described carrying wounded, then dead to waiting helicopters after Vietnam’s Tet Offensive. His promise to do something for his comrades was born in that moment of great emotion and tragedy. For many years Jim didn’t know how his promise was to be fulfilled, but then financial provision came through by way of sound investments which yielded a large sum of money. That money along with grants and input from others was used to create Missouri’s National Veterans Memorial. It is a remarkable story, especially when told by Jim himself.

The site is expanding to include a Huey helicopter, which is currently undergoing the process of becoming a museum piece. The memorial is also adding a Jeep section to its museum. Presently a Jeep is being restored by the Career and Technology Center of Perryville. And lastly, in my notes I have that a sculpture has been commissioned to be added near the site’s courtyard. It is “The Old Guard”.

While the breakout group traveled to Perryville, the remainder of the Central Route visited the 1st Vietnam Memorial erected in the US. The site is a very short distance from the VFW and makes a great place to start Day 7.  This visit is an annual occurrence and is generally the same.  As I was not there, I cannot give you specifics, but it is with great care and due respect that a wreath is laid, the colors are posted, and rifle volleys and Taps are played. In years past the High School Band has been present and a good number of families turn out from the community. The Central Route values this portion of the Run from California to DC. Thank you, Wentzville, and all who work to make our stop in your town a success.

At our gas stop just prior to lunch the Breakout returns to the main pack and all move as one to lunch at the Mount Vernon Airport. The organizers here were on their “A game” this year streamlining the food distribution and simplifying the way that riders interact with those who come to support the RFTW. We all appreciate the effort it takes to prepare some of the very best fried chicken in the world and then get it quickly into the hands of 400+ RFTW participants. Your volunteer students are also amazing. We wanted for nothing as they all worked up the courage to approach us multiple times to ask if we needed anything or if they could take our trash. Not every time we were asked did we need something, but when we did have a need, the students rushed to quickly fulfill that need. Y’all are doing things well in Mt. Vernon. Your students are respectful, hardworking, and kind.  After a great meal and wonderful hospitality, Central Route moved out for Corydon, our overnight stop.

The gas stop between Mt. Vernon and Corydon is like none other on our journey across the country. Here, tents are set up offering food, prayer, and sundries and a color guard awaits us at the entrance to the station. Many of us look forward to a hot dog even though our stomachs are still full from lunch. This is so because the hot dogs are really good. Yes, reaallly good. Thank you to those who come out.

Dinner in Corydon is fried catfish. If fish isn’t your thing or if you are hesitant to eat catfish because it is a bottom feeder, toss that all out and get in there and try the Corydon fish fry. No other seafood compares. Thank you, Corydon. We all look forward to your hospitality and the great Catfish fry. We know it is an incredible amount of work. Thank you for the many hours it took to make that meal a reality for us.

There were so many great people present at each of our stops. Some are leaders of Foundations or Veterans Service organizations. All turn out to give back to those who have served. One such person is Jim Beasley. Jim is a WWII veteran having served in Occupied Germany. Jim is the chairman of the Veterans Tribute Committee. Among other initiatives, the committee maintains an installment at Kaskaskia College in Centralia Illinois where any veteran’s name can be engraved to never be forgotten. Jim passionately told me that he feels that engraving a veteran’s name on his headstone should not be the only place that name is recorded. Thus, the Veterans Tribute at Kaskaskia College. You can use this link to submit names to the project or to support it financially.

Today, I’ve probably said a bit too much about myself. These SitReps are to tell the story of the day’s events as they occur for all of our riders. I hope that by revealing some of my own story it helps you as you process your own. We all carry something and shouldn’t diminish our story because our brother’s seem more tragic. Wounds are wounds no matter how deep. They need healing. Turn to your brother or sister on this run and share that load or better yet set it down forever. This is your time to begin the rest of your life without past burdens. Don’t wait, your quality of life and freedom are at stake. We are all here for you.

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SR Day 7. Tuesday, May 23rd

Breakfast at the Ag Center, clean clothes waiting for us, & cool, misty weather—-it couldn’t get any better!  In the briefing, we heard “Puff Daddy,” one of our chaplains that has been with us for quite a few years, speak on why he rides.  His story really hit home to me, as he is also one of us civilians who work the run.  

For the ride out, some of us suited up for possible rain later this morning, as we were checking the weather & radar apps on the phones.  Sure enough—-halfway through our 92 mile trek, we hit light rain.  The good thing is – that it stopped before we got to the fuel stop, so at least we weren’t sitting in it while fueling up.  And guess what?  Two local women who work or worked at the Mercedes Benz facility came out again and paid for our fuel! These two generous ladies have done this for a number of years. “Backseat” stood with them and explained a lot about how RFTW functions and of the different logistics involved.   These ladies are truly one of the hidden treasures of the run.

Off to T Town HD dealership for lunch, also in Tuscaloosa, but on the way, we did a “drive-through” at Tuscaloosa VAMC, so that at least some of the veterans could come outside and see us and wave.  We used to stop here for lunch, and would get to visit with the veterans, but alas, another change because of Covid.  Back to lunch—the rain had subsided, which made the outdoor meal quite pleasant.  And man, the Mexican food we had really hit the spot!  And NATURALLY, the HD showroom was packed with shoppers and lookers!  

On to Chattanooga – where the roads were drying out, and the sun had come back out, but yuck—-the traffic on I-24 and in Chattanooga!  We finally made it into White Lightning HD dealership for another great meal.   Since there were no activities scheduled for the evening, all had the chance to just sit, chat & head to the hotels.   Another night of catching up on some sleep!

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CR Day 6: Feeling the Love

Welcome to Wentzville! This is what the pack heard after a long day in the saddle that saw us leave Kansas behind until next year and enter Missouri. At the border, Central Route was joined by law enforcement officers from several agencies who worked in a ballet-like dance of motor officer and machine to continually move in front of, around, and behind the riders to repel would be encroachers of our space.  They stopped traffic from gaining access to us via freeway onramps and they also went ahead of us to move vehicles we might overtake to the right of the roadway. This had the effect of making our riders completely safe from outside influence. Wow, thank you so very much!

Our first stop of the day was for fuel on the Kansas Turnpike. We were met with open pumps staffed by the CVMA. Fuel and Turnpike tolls were donated by ABATE KS District 4, ALR 400, CVMA 21-4, Warner Electric, Skin Illustrations, and KWIC Staff LLC.  Wow! So many giving to the Run For The Wall. Your generosity is significant. Thank you for giving and for manning the pumps for us. It was great to see your warm smiles as you helped us on the road this morning and the massive flag that “presided” over everything… Loved it!

After fueling, I was relaxing near my bike when I was approached by CW2 John G.  John and I struck up a conversation. He was wearing a hat identifying himself as a Veteran, so I began to ask him questions about his service. John told a story of becoming a Sikorsky Choctaw pilot in the Army because his eyesight was too poor to be accepted as a pilot in the Air Force. John’s story isn’t much different than many I’ve heard or even my own. The specifics are different but the emotions and struggles are similar. However, John has yet to visit the Wall. He told me that he has been in DC on business a few times while working for the State of Kansas, but he could never bring himself to visit The Wall.  John, you are not alone. The Run For The Wall rides for men like yourself. Your burdens do not need to be carried alone any longer. Seek us out, ride with us next year on a bike or in a car and when you arrive in DC, you’ll have a massive support group to help you go to the Wall.

Lunch was provided by the CMA and the Citizens of Concordia at the 13th Street Park in Concordia MO while vintage aircraft from The Commemorative Airforce, Heart of America Wing flew overhead. This is one of my personal favorite places. The peace that is present in this small town envelops you as you make your way through historic buildings toward the park. Once at the park, the people of Concordia carry with them such love, kindness, and warmth that everyone feels at home and at peace. Why this place is filled with peace becomes self-evident when the riders are led to join hands and recite the Lord’s Prayer. Lunch was pulled pork that was cooked and donated by Charlie Williams with Ham donated by Tyson’s Ham, homemade finger deserts (think cookies, brownies, etc.), and chips of various types. Teachers from the local school came around to each table to hand out bags containing cards students had written to our riders. Inside the bags with the cards were buttons, a card for a return message, and an envelope.  It was explained that the school maintains a map where students track where riders are from. How do they know? The cards we are to return should identify where we are from.  What a great idea! The card in my bag was genuinely appreciative of Veterans and the sacrifices given by so many.  Teachers, I applaud you. In the school systems I’m familiar with, teachers are undermining the military and our First Responders. In Concordia, you are teaching respect for the Military and probably First Responders as well. Thank you.

After our meal in Concordia, the Central Route donated $1000 to Wreaths Across America on behalf of Seth Vandekamp and the entire pack along with Concordia community members sang the National Anthem. How cool was that! Four hundred-plus voices joined together in unity to sing the National Anthem. I almost couldn’t sing. Pride in our country, pride in our mission, and pride in the men and women around me choked me up a bit. When the singing was done, as I mentioned above, we were led to take the hands of those around us and together recite or pray the Lord’s Prayer. I realize this had the chance for some to maybe not know the words, but for as much as I could see, everyone took a hand and at a minimum honored those around them. This was an amazing moment.  Our country was founded, and our independence won by men who wholeheartedly believed in God and who undoubtedly prayed those same words. I’m not trying to preach here for that is unnecessary. What I am doing is pointing out how appropriate it was for that to have taken place. Concordia, you are a refuge of peace for our riders. Some took naps or rested under your trees during the additional time we had after lunch. You have created an atmosphere where that is possible.

The massive flag flying high over the roadway on arrival in Wentzville always blows my mind. It is huge and the only thing that compares to it as we arrive are all the people cheering and waving flags of their own alongside the roadway. The entire scene is impressive and much like our arrival in Junction City yesterday, my helmet had a bit of rain on the inside and I’m sure I’m not the only one with the same condition. As has become a tradition over 33 years of stopping in Wentzville, a brief ceremony was held before getting down to the business of enjoying the Cattlemen’s Association’s BBQed steaks. For various reasons, some riders may choose not to stay for an evening meal. At this location, leaving for a meal elsewhere is not a choice very many make!  This year’s ceremony was different than in past years. Mark Schmitz, Father of Lance Corporal Jarred Schmitz, who was among the 13 killed during the hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan briefly spoke.  Mark presented the Run For The Wall with a flag bearing the names of all 13 slain in the attack to carry to the Wall in Washington DC.  Mark also handed out window clings of the same flag design to anyone who wished to place one on their bike to honor the fallen. And lastly, Mark Schmitz told us of a new nonprofit “Remembering the heroes that made the ultimate sacrifice by supporting the veterans still with us.” For information, you can visit

This was an amazing day filled with acts of love of country, love of Veterans, brotherly and sisterly love between riders, a Father’s love for his son lost in Afghanistan, and love of a God in Heaven.  I can’t wait to see how tomorrow tops today!