An FNG’s Experience on RFTW XX
(Ed. Note: I received the following email from Cindy: “Judy: I followed your blog from the time your group left California/Lake Havasu until I joined in Hurricane, WV. Thank you for the wonderful stories and insights you gave anyone who took the time to read them.”)
My dad and I both joined RFTW as FNGs this year. He joined in Wentzville, MO and I in Hurricane, WV. We had talked about doing this for 6 to 8 months and I must say that I really didn’t know what an experience it would be. My dad is a Navy vet, with 20 years of service and I have to say that I am really proud of him. It wasn’t until the last few years that I actually knew that he had been in Vietnam during that war. I knew that his years of service were during that time, but he never really talked about the experience until lately. Now I have a better understanding of why.
During this trip, he told me about four guys that he served with whose names are on the Wall. As he tells it, “Navy guys are not supposed to be up there.” Two pilots and their navigators were killed while he served with them. One plane was shot down over Vietnam and both the pilot and navigator died in captivity one day apart. The other two were in a plane that crashed during a landing attempt on their carrier. My dad had been to the memorial once before, when his two sons were young and hadn’t really had time to pay his respects. He only had the names and ranks of his fallen comrades but not the locations of their names on The Wall. Unfortunately he still hasn’t been able to pay his respects.
We made two visits to The Wall. The first visit, on Friday night after we arrived in DC, he did not have the location information so we simply walked along the Wall in silence. When we were about two-thirds of the way through, he put his arm around me and leaned on my shoulder and we walked the rest of the way rather quickly. He attempted to revisit The Wall on Saturday after we had been to Arlington but couldn’t bring himself to walk its length again. However, I was able to get to the location books and find the information he will need in the future to finally pay his respects to his friends.
I will never forget the physical presence that exists when you walk along The Wall. It is something that I have never felt before and I imagine that the feeling is there every time. If I get a chance to go there again, I’m sure that I will find out firsthand for myself. The only other place that I felt that physical presence was in Arlington Cemetery.
I mentioned that we were at Arlington-we were honored enough to be in the group of 250 RFTW FNGs who were allowed to ride their bikes into the Cemetery. Again, something I will never forget. It too has a physical presence that simply cannot be described. You have to feel it to understand it.
I am not a military veteran, simply the proud daughter of a 20-year Navy veteran. I was honored this year to be allowed to experience all that RFTW is and does this year with my Dad. I hope to get the chance to do so again. He has indicated that he would like to make the trip again, possibly next year, and God willing, I will join him if he so wishes.
Another note I’d like to share is how proud I was to be a West Virginian when the group rode into Rainelle. Other than the greeting I read about at Lake Havasu, I did not get to experience anything so moving. When I spoke to one of the veteran RFTW folks about it (I think it might have been Bounce) I actually got tears in my eyes and my voice broke. I am proud of the Mountaineers of WV! They know what it means to be of service to our great country. West Virginia has one of the highest per capita number of military servicemen and women in the country, and, even though I wasn’t born here, I am proud to be considered a Mountaineer. I would like to get more people out to greet the RFTW as it comes through the Capitol city of Charleston, WV and if I am able to participate, you can be sure that I will be one of them.
Thank you for taking the time to read the ramblings of an FNG who just had to share her experiences with someone who would understand.