Aloha Members, Family, Friends and Fans..........our boys made it and after tomorrow's SITREP some 500,000 bikers will be heading home. Next year we will have many more Chapter Members and Family participating to include "Bo" Helman who will be returning from Australia and being stationed at Camp Pendleton as the CO of 1st FSSG. Harry Mixer will be towing his trailer and also joining us. I was informed by Odie today that Lisa was in Las Vegas looking at bikes and she just may be riding with us!..........Harry, Bo and I just might go "all the way" to DC if we can work it out with our employers...........not to early to start planning. We had a great "Run" this year and we all can be proud of our part in this "noble mission." Again, Mahalo to all those that participated and supported 2005 "Run For the Wall." SITREP follows...
Semper Fi Monsoon
Monday, May 23
Devil‘s Den Forward 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division (Mech) provided our breakfast this morning in Thomas Park, instructions and reminders as well as certificates of appreciation were handed out at the riders meeting, and we were on our way at 7:30 a.m. to Topeka under another clear blue sky. The hot weather continues, and everyone is guzzling water. We‘re in luck: Wichita had 6 inches of rain last night, but it looks like we won‘t hit any of it in the area. The first accident of the Run occurred about 45 miles east of Salina; there was a lot of construction and a rider trying to avoid some fallen cones went down. One of the riders following him was a paramedic and checked him over. The rider, a day rider from the area, appeared to be okay, but an ambulance was called to make sure, and his bike was transported for him. We got a rousing welcome at the VA Hospital in Topeka; doctors nurses, and patients lined the drive to greet us. Groups went off in different directions to visit patients; they were so very excited and grateful for our visit. Back on the road, we had a hard ride going through Kansas City. With no police escort, it was difficult to maneuver the dozens of freeway flyovers and interchanges. With construction on top of it, it was ugly. A few bikes missed a turn and the pack ended up going a different route than planned. But we ended up where we needed to be. We‘re seeing a huge increase in people turning out to greet us on freeway overpasses and along roads. Between Kansas City and Columbia there were lots of POW flags and ‘Welcome Home Vets’ signs. The first gas stop was the Topeka Service Center, with gas and turnpike tolls paid by Kansas ABATE District 4. As we approached the gas stop, a plane was criss-crossing the freeway pulling a banner: ‘Mid-America HD supports Run For The Wall - POW-MIA.' It was a great sight. It was another 105 miles to the next gas stop in Oak Grove, where free gas for bikes was provided by VFW National HQ. A fantastic lunch of brisket, ham, turkey, pork, fruits, sodas, and cookies was provided by Freedom of the Road Riders (MO District 4), ABATE of Kansas, CMA Disciples of Christ, city of Kansas, fire department, VFW, and others. After Oak Grove, we continued another 95 miles to the next gas stop at Columbia, and then on to our final stop in Wentzville. Just before Wentzville, construction closed down the freeway to one lane, and it was tricky for the road guards to keep the pack together, but we managed to get back into one continuous pack again. After gassing up, Wentzville police escorted us to the VFW Hall. We‘ve always received a rousing welcome in Wentzville, but this year was incredible. Hundreds of people, more than ever before, lined the road approaching the VFW; American and POW flags were planted along the road, and scouts were lined up, saluting our vets. The fire department had its huge U.S.. flag hoisted up on their fully extended ladder; it was truly beautiful. After welcoming ceremonies, the VFW Post 5327 had a feast prepared for us, cold beer and soft drinks, and music. Campers set up their tents on the grass, with no fears of waking up in the rain like last year. We had 108 new sign-ups this morning at Salina, for a total of 710 participants so far. Sandra McKinney and Linda Apodaca work hard setting up registration every morning and evening, and we all appreciate them. They make sure everyone fills out their emergency information, and dispense RFTW bracelets, itineraries, and hugs for FNG‘s. Harley Rodger is also a hard worker; he can be found every morning and evening at his sewing machine, sewing patches on vests. The riders appreciate the convenience. This was another long day, 418 miles and a hard ride. Tomorrow‘s 285 miles sounds like a breeze! We‘ll be visiting Jefferson Barracks VA Hospital.
Tuesday, May 24
The Wentzville VFW Post 5327 ladies were up at 2 a.m. to start cooking breakfast for us! And what a breakfast it was: eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy, and juice. We really appreciate their hard work. We had another 104 sign-ups at Wentzville last night, and 64 this morning. We now have a total of 878 participants. At the riders meeting, JR Franklin reminded everyone to drop some change in the jar for the kids at Rainelle; we‘re running a little behind last year‘s donations. When we get to Rainelle, we want to be able to give the school a substantial donation. Our past years’ donations have paid for playground equipment and school supplies for the kids. Rainelle is a town of modest means, and our donations really help them out. There was a special ceremony at the meeting: New Mexico Mike had Top cut his ponytail off in memory of his brothers who did not return. JR reminded us that our brothers and sisters who did not return are the reason for this ride. He also reminded everyone to use correct hand signals while riding; it avoids accidents. When the road guards give the 2-up or stagger signal, pass it back so those behind you also get the message. Don‘t leave big gaps in the line: close them up so we don‘t have the problems we had getting through Kansas City in the traffic. Always point to any debris in the road to warn those behind you. If you have trouble with your bike and need help, wave both arms over your head or the support vehicles may assume you‘re just taking a break and won‘t stop. JR gave an update on the rider who went down yesterday after Salina. He had a couple of knots on his head, but was otherwise okay. The Highway Patrol said if he had had his helmet on, he would have just gotten back up with no injuries at all. We had a compliment from the manager of Days Inn, who said that our group was the best of the entire year; he was impressed that we were polite and that there was no trash left behind. On the way out of Wentzville, we stopped at their Vietnam Memorial for a ceremony. Wentzville‘s memorial was the very first one in the U.S. The color guard presented the colors, the high school band played the national anthem, and we placed a wreath at the memorial. After lining up for our traditional group photo at the memorial, we headed out for Jefferson Barracks VA Hospital, where we picked up a police escort and had a very short visit with patients. We crossed over the Mississippi River and stopped for gas and lunch at Hucks Truck Stop in Mt. Vernon, provided by American Legion Posts and Auxiliary. When we left we paraded through town, and the streets were lined with people waving flags. It looked like they had let all the kids out of school to watch us, as the front of the high school was packed with kids. After another gas stop in Dale, we rode the last 49 miles to Corydon, where a fabulous fish fry was served at Harrison County Fairgrounds. A proclamation was presented from the Governor of Indiana, declaring today Run For The Wall Day in Indiana. Today was finally a little cooler--about 75 degrees. A lot of clouds came in between Dale and Corydon, some a little dark. But rain isn‘t due here until Friday, so luck is still with us. Only three days until we reach Washington, D.C.
Wednesday, May 25
At every morning riders meeting Chaplain Mark Rittermeyer asks for protection of all of our riders; he also says a prayer for three of our riders who are ill. Today we passed from Indiana to Kentucky and were dazzled by the beauty of the countryside. It‘s a beautiful day with deep blue sky and a few clouds, and as far as you could see were green fields and white fences of horse farms. Our first stop was the VAMC in Louisville. Many of us had wondered if Robley Rex would be there to greet us again--after all, this year he‘s 104 years old. When we pulled up, there he was, grinning from ear to ear, wearing his leather vest the Run had given him a few years ago. This man is truly amazing. He volunteers at the hospital three days a week, and staff told us he‘s an inspiration to them all.. He‘s always cheerful, never complains, and has a quick wit. Rex is the last living World War I veteran from Kentucky, and is revered by everyone. He was helped up onto a motorcycle, where he posed for photos and was interviewed by PBS for the Run For The Wall documentary to be released next year. We also met a World War II Medal of Honor recipient, who also has a silver star, purple heart, and a couple of bronze stars. There was a short ceremony at the hospital‘s POW monument, and three incredibly beautiful singers brought tears to all eyes when they sang patriotic songs. Cards were passed out to all to carry to the Wall; they depict Matt Maupin, the only current MIA from Kentucky. He was captured April 9, 2004 in Iraq; the government has not changed his status from MIA. He was recently promoted to Sgt.
After a gas stop in Waddy, we proceeded to the Kentucky Vietnam Memorial. Many people consider this to be one of the most impressive memorials in the U.S. A large sundial sits in the center of a concrete plaza around which are scattered engraved names of those Kentucky servicemen and women who died in Vietnam. It was designed so that the shadow of the dial falls on each name on the anniversary of the day that person died. Col. Solari Arnett was present and spoke about the memorial and about the mission of Run For The Wall. He reminded us that it was through the efforts of Vietnam veterans and supporters and Run For The Wall that the issue of POWs and MIAs has been kept alive. Because of the Vietnam veterans’ 30 years of demanding an accounting of POWs and MIAs, the government was compelled to address those issues.
We gassed up and had lunch on our own in Mt. Sterling, then continued on to Hurricane, West Virginia. There was a lot of construction and the road often went down to one lane. The chase vehicles were kept busy, often all being summoned at the same time as several bikes had trouble and had to be transported. Traffic was rough, as with no police escort many cars and trucks refused to yield to our group, making for a very dangerous situation. As hard as the road guards worked, it was almost impossible for us all to stay together.
In Hurricane, the Stars of West Virginia Touring Chapter 197 met us at Yamaha Powersports, where they provided a great spaghetti dinner and chili dogs, and live music. They did a great job of performing the flag-folding ceremony, and also the POW table ceremony. We also thank them for the beautiful pins commemorating the day. JR Franklin and West Virginia Coordinator Krispy Ferris each presented certificates of appreciation to all in this area who helped or donated.
This was the first time in several years that the fields weren‘t soggy and campers didn‘t have to bail out their tents. We can‘t believe that we‘ve still managed to avoid rain. It‘s a little cooler today, about 70 degrees. We did 244 miles today and are running with about 300 bikes. Tomorrow is a very special day: Rainelle and the kids we love. ?
Thursday, May 26
Another gorgeous day of blue skies and puffy clouds, around 80 degrees. Not a sign of rain all this way! What a welcome change from the last few years when we encountered thunderstorms through several states. At the morning meeting one of our chaplains initiated his 11-year-old son to the Run For The Wall. He started riding with his dad years ago, and today his dad presented him with his own leather vest with the RFTW patch on back. He is entrusting his son with the mission of RFTW. There were a lot of teary eyes. The young man told our vets thank you for our freedom, then added “you meet the nicest people on Hondas” which caused great laughter. Central Route National Coordinator JR Franklin presented a certificate to PCB Bank for allowing us to stage in their parking lot this morning. Chaplain Mark Rittermeyer lead us in prayer, with special thoughts for three of our participants on the Run who have serious illnesses. He also praised JR for the superb job he‘s done of leading the Central Route. Sgt. Rock reported that donations for Rainelle had just surpassed this year‘s goal of $4,000! One anonymous donor put $500 in the jug, bless his heart.
After the morning meeting we traveled to Charleston, where we pulled into the state capitol to view the Veterans Memorial. The memorial honors veterans from World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. On the inside of each panel are engraved all the names of West Virginia vets lost in each of those wars. We were greeted by members of South Charleston Harley Davidson, who provided Krispy Kreme donuts, coffee, and fruit juice. A ceremony was held at the Memorial, with the governor of West Virginia, Joe Manchin III, reading a proclamation recognizing the great efforts of Run For The Wall in raising awareness of POW/MIA issues, and declaring May 26, 2005 Run For The Wall Day in West Virginia. Miles Epley of the West Virginia American Legion has driven all the way from Wheeling every year just to pass out RFTW pins to RFTW participants. JR Franklin presented a plaque to the West Virginia American Legion, and a certificate of appreciation to South Charleston Harley Davidson. American Legion member Dan O‘Connor related that his brother Jim, a Catholic priest, wrote a song, actually a medley of patriotic songs, just after 9-11, and he played it for us. It was beautiful--a truly moving tribute. It has been played in the war room at the pentagon. After the ceremonies, we moved to the steps of the capitol to have our group photo taken. The photo will be posted on http://www.wv.dot.com .
The ride through the hills of West Virginia on the Midland Trail (Route 60) on the way to Rainelle was indescribably beautiful. There is a lot of logging and coal mining in the area, so we encountered a lot of logging and coal trucks and a 50-car train filled with coal. People were out waving flags in all the little towns we passed through. In Smithers, all the high school kids were out front cheering so loud we could hear them blocks away, while their band played patriotic music. Cars and trucks passing us honked, and even a train tooted his whistle..
We pulled into Rainelle to a great reception by the townspeople; all the elementary school kids were lined up in front of the school. After parading through town and back, we parked and went to the back of the school to meet with the kids. What a pleasure it is to see these kids; they are so unspoiled, respectful, and sweet. They dashed from vet to vet, asking for autographs on their books, t-shirts, caps, and anything else they had with them. Their teachers have obviously taught them throughout their schooling that our veterans are heroes and deserve our respect. The children understand that our vets have fought and even given their lives in order that we can have our freedom. Many of us brought little gifts to give the children, and they‘re so excited to get these little tokens from us. We had a short ceremony, with presentations of certificates and a talk by the school principal. He told us how much they have appreciated all that Run For The Wall, Rolling Thunder, and Task Force Omega have done for the school and the children. Over the years, we have donated over $23,000, which has paid for playground equipment, two new ball fields, but most importantly much-needed library books. They wanted to do something to encourage the children to read as much as possible, and with RFTW they instituted a program where the children receive rewards from RFTW for reaching milestones of so many pages read.
The school and Moose Lodge both served lunch and dinner for us, and riders camped here and there around town--wherever there was a grassy patch. Others camped down the road at the Lewisburg Fairgrounds.
We‘ve ridden about 2,600 miles and now have almost 1,000 participants registered! Tomorrow we reach our goal: Washington D.C.
Friday, May 27
We left Lewisburg West Virginia in pea soup fog which lifted when we reached the Virginia border. The first group of almost 50 trikes and bikes with trailers and several support vehicles left at 7 a.m. The second group of about 300 bikes and several support vehicles left at 8 a.m. The first gas stop was in Raphine, then we went on to Toms Brook, where we linked up with the Southern Route.. There were about 40 bikes on the Northern Route this year, and they went into D.C. by themselves.
Because the combined group was so large, we left Toms Brook for D.C. in two groups. The first, led by the Southern Route road guards, was a pack of about 70 trikes and bikes with trailers and 8 chase vehicles and 4-wheelers. The second group of about 600 bikes was led by the Central Route road guards. It was a beautiful day to pull into D.C.; about 75 degrees and the sky was blue and cloudless. All the way into D.C. packs of bikes, some as large as 50, waited at on-ramps and joined the pack as we went by. We went directly to the Lincoln Memorial to have a group photo taken. D.C. was full of construction, and we had to park a distance from the Lincoln Memorial.
At 6 p.m. a ‘Gathering of the Runs’ was held at the Holiday Inn, but many chose instead to go to watch the Marine Silent Drill Team at the Marine Barracks. What an exciting performance! In complete silence, and with no leader, the 100 or so Marines, all having to be exactly 6 feet tall, went through their paces with absolute precision. When they tapped their rifle butts on the ground, you could hear only one tap. The Marine Band also performed, playing some John Phillip Souza marches, and the program ended with cannons being fired. The Silent Drill Team is fashioned after the Military Tattoo in Edinburgh, Scotland.
These ten days have gone by way too fast! The Run this year was almost flawless, just one accident but no injuries. Tomorrow we go to Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknowns. Stay tuned for a rundown on activities this weekend
Saturday, May 28
We gathered at 9:00 this morning in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn in Arlington for the riders meeting. Drawings for t-shirts, caps, and other merchandise were held, and JR Franklin gave out plaques and certificates of appreciation to the many people who worked to make Run For The Wall XVII successful. JR expressed his gratitude to the Road Guards, merchandise truck workers, chaplains, and everyone else who pitched in and made his job easier. He also told us to see a board member if anyone would like to help with the Run next year. This is an all-volunteer organization, and a lot of help is needed.
After the meeting, we took off for Arlington Cemetery for the RFTW wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Four of our members were chosen to lay the wreath. While walking to the ceremony, some of us found the grave of Audie Murphy. From Arlington we went to DC Ramblers for lunch. It was a pretty wild ride, trying to keep about 400 bikes together on the Washington D.C. freeways. Unfortunately, a rider hit some rocks and went down. Ron Young of West Virginia, husband of the WV Coordinator Krispy, broke his leg and is going home in a cast. It was the only injury of this year‘s Run. Heal well, Ron.
The DC Ramblers always put on a feast for us, and today they served up spaghetti and meatballs or sausages, mashed potatoes, and green beans. They had a local radio station set up there playing music. The D.C. Ramblers is the oldest motorcycle club in the U.S., established in 1937, and they have their own clubhouse on three acres of land. One of their oldest members, Wayne, 84, joined us today. He recalled that in the 1950s club members built the clubhouse themselves, even digging the footings.
Everyone has been making the rounds of the war memorials in D.C. at their own pace. Some prefer to visit the Wall late at night when there are fewer tourists. Last night and tonight the RFTW midnight patrol made a visit to the Wall.
We have been blessed with beautiful weather all the way across the nation, but today the weather finally gave out--with impeccable timing. Just as we all finished eating at DC Ramblers, the clouds suddenly darkened, a strong wind picked up, and the rain came down. It was a short shower, though, and hopefully we won‘t have a repeat tomorrow for the Rolling Thunder parade.
This year‘s mission is almost complete; the goodbye hugs have already begun. Tomorrow many will be starting back home. Central Route has had a relatively safe journey; there were some disabled bikes and a few bikes down, but only one injury--still a miraculous feat for 1,100 participants traveling in a tight pack for almost 3,000 miles. Give yourself a pat on the back for following the rules and listening to and trusting our Road Guards. Have a safe journey home, and hope to see you next year. And remember to spread the word about Run For The Wall‘s POW/MIA mission. We cannot rest until we have brought all of our brothers and sisters home.