Name: Fred Knipper
State: North Carolina
I can not begin to put into words the experience I had as an FNG on this year’s Run for the Wall. I retired from the Air Force in December 2004 after almost 27-years and had been feeling something was missing from my life-I found it on Wednesday, May 20, 2009. That was the evening I met up with Run for the Wall, Southern Route in Wytheville, Virginia. From the moment I stepped into Memorial Park after all the riders parked, I could see the brotherhood and friendships that had evolved-I have to admit I was afraid I was an outsider looking in and would not fit in with the group. Too Tall changed that quickly! He was the first person I ran into and as busy a man he was, he took the few minutes to point me in the right direction to the registration van, shook my hand and said “Welcome Home”! Little did I know at that moment how important those two words were and what they would mean for the remainder of the trip and my life! I quickly found the registration van and my next encounter was with Top Sarge, a woman who comes across with a tough as nails first impression but is truly caring, compassionate, lady with a heart of gold. Do it right and you are her friend, do it wrong or forget something, she will send you on your way till you get it right and then she will be your friend! After listening to her briefing, I felt more comfortable and started to experience the feeling everyone else tries to describe however, there are no words to describe it!
After a great meal at the Moose Lodge, I stood in the parking lot waiting for a hole to be made large enough to fit my bike through, listening to stories and conversations. As the FNG, I listened to every story I could to learn more about the ride, the mission, and more importantly, what not
The next morning in the park when Pied Piper called for all the FNGs that joined in Wytheville to come forward, I was unsure what was about to happen! I have to say, I never felt so honored to stand in front of a group of people so dedicated to a cause and receive the welcome that we got. THANK YOU Pied Piper you are a true leader and professional! As the children flowed in, I stood back and watched how many of the riders dropped to their knees to meet these kids face to face. They truly came down to their level and you could see in the kids eyes the love and respect this town has for Run for the Wall! I felt honored to reach my arm out and help some of the riders back to their feet after talking with the children! It was an amazing morning! When we got on the bikes and ready to head out, my heart was pounding! I did not want to make a mistake or worse yet, cause someone else to make a mistake! At that moment, I knew I had found what has been missing! From that point on, my heart swelled with pride and I got a lump in my throat every time we passed under an overpass that had someone standing on it waving a flag. I will never forget the one overpass we went under that had an older man standing at attention and saluting the riders as they passed under the bridge! That brought tears to my eyes!! As Top Sarge said the evening I met her, “if you do not feel this in your heart, you need a heart transplant!”
I thought when we got to DC on Friday and went our own ways to our hotels that, was going to be the end…was I ever wrong!!! The next morning when we met at the host hotel for the FNG ride to Arlington, you could feel the excitement. As we arrived at the gates leading into Arlington, I noticed something-you could see the pride and honor in each rider and their passengers as they sat a little taller and straighter on their bikes in respect for those who have gone before us! It was amazing how quiet it was even with two hundred plus bikes rolling into Arlington. I have been to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier a few times in the past but, it has never had the significance as it did this time; watching the honored RFTW-Southern Route leadership, Too Tall and Cowboy with the Central Route, place the wreath at the Tomb!
Our next stop was the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for the group picture! I have to admit, this was painful! With a bad back, sitting in a cramped place on stone was not the highlight of the trip! But, it was worth it! I am not sure who they were, but I owe a big thank you to the two folks behind me-if it was not for them helping me up, I might still be sitting on the steps today!
Sunday morning started early in the host parking lot as everyone began to arrive for the ride to the Pentagon for the Rolling Thunder ride. More great friends to meet, more great stories to listen to! As I listened to the experiences of others who went a lot further than I did, it made me want to go further next year! Hopefully, if everything goes well I will be able to but if it does not, Wytheville, Virginia is a great starting point! As I returned home and started telling others of the adventure and experience, many of them have already decided to make the run next year! To all the leadership from RFTW-Southern Route-I THANK YOU! You gave me an experience I will never forget! Too bad the FNG experience is a once in a life time experience! IT WAS GREAT!!!!