RFTW Day -1
We actually took off to get to the Run For The Wall on Sunday. The trip down to Rancho Cucamonga was uneventful but warm. Two weeks ago when I did a trip down to RC it was a high of 42 degrees - this time, a high of 93 degrees.
For those that have not been subjected to my blog before - the RFTW is a very important part of many of our lives. The primary purpose is to remind the world of all POW/MIA's. There is some really useful info about The Run on the website www.rftw.org . And this year, Gold Star Mom's Dianne (Layfield) and Julie Conover are representing their sons killed in Iraq, as well as PGR & Gold Star Dad Joe Rayan ("Joe Harley") representing his son.
Other "not so obvious" things - the RFTW is logistical nightmare that a whole mess of people contribute to - no one is paid and at best, some of the "leadership" might get some of their gas paid. We have an infrastructure that is extremely competent. We have a BoD that takes care of all the "corporate stuff" - safety/insurance, merchandise, newsletters, scheduling the Run itself, etc. Each state has a State Coordinator that gets our hotels set up, gets donated food, water, fruit, and sometimes, fuel. On the actual Run, we have an Advance Team, a Fueling Team, Hydration team, Chaplain Corps, Chase Vehicles (in the event a bike breaks down or someone needs to get off their bike. We have a LEO Liaison (Law Enforcement Officers) - his job is to coordinate our relations with individual state and local police. Making sure we can do what we do with their assistance or in many ways and times, no assistance as they do not have budgets covering traffic control for groups of riders such as ourselves. We have Road Guards - RG's move 500 to 2000 bikes across this whole country insuring zero fatalities or "lasting" injuries - never a fatality in 24 years! 9,000,000 man miles, and counting. We rarely arrive more than 15 minutes off the ETA's and usually, if we're late, more due to traffic then effort. RG's keep the bikes moving in a uniform manner, set speeds, spacing, getting thru freeways and surface roads, in and out of everywhere.
On Sunday, maybe a few dozen bikes were already at the Host Hotel. By Tuesday a couple of hundred. Tuesday morning, the FNG's were escorted to the Riverside National Cemetery where they met Medal of Honor Recipient Jon Baca and went to the MIA/POW Memorial. That Memorial has a life size figure of a man knelling on a pile of rocks, in just a loin cloth, arms bound behind him, looking to the sky. Within his bronze chest (you can not see this) there are 5 softball sized rocks on individual chains, hanging in a cluster. They represent our 5 Service Academies (2 for the Naval Academy where we "make" both Navy and Marine Officers. On a slab nearby is an inscription that originally had the phrase "those that were left behind". Our government didn't permit that so it had to be changed to "those that were lost". However, they concentrated so heavily on that point that they missed the fact that the face is of our first POW/MIA. And, his face is raised to the sky, looking for his brothers to come back and get him.
At that Memorial on Tuesday, they took down the POW/MIA Flag, the FNG's and others signed it, and its now being carried across the country to be left at The Wall. And its being carried by Pamela and Peter Stutzman (Bay Area PGR!) - carrying the hearts and souls of our Mission.
Monday and Tuesday was a lot of meetings for all the leadership - discussions on routes, hotels, etc, etc. Pretty boring but very essential. Tuesday nite was BBQ where we had the Gold Star's introduced (it was also Julie's son's 27th birthday (if he had lived)). We had the "party band" from 1st MarDiv and 10 of our Wounded Warriors from the Wounded Warrior Battalion. All were treated with respect and the band performed fantastically. We had Blue Star sister Stephanie Bayer from the South Bay sing the National Anthem - again and as always, beautifully.
Early nite as we had early reveille on Wednesday. Riders needed to be at the staging area by 6:30 Am - and were greeted with a "continental breakfast" . Road Guards had to be in place (to direct all to the area) by 5:15 - we were up at 4:00 AM ! And since were then driving all day (340 miles) in 100 PLUS degree weather, getting dehydrated, dirty and a wee bit sweaty, and its now 11:15 PM, I'm going to bed - I need to be back up at 5:30. Sorry - I'm very tired and the emotions that we feel all started at 4:00 AM, if not sooner. Memories are more vivid and for the next 10 days, will become very intense. I need my mind focused but I also need to be able to convey these feelings and thoughts.
Tomorrow nite I'll send Day 1 on the road. Several hundred bikes, and even more people - all doing the same thing, all with individual thoughts and pain. And always some fond memories.
But mostly memories of our brothers and sisters on The Wall. As we get closer, the emotions will be fierce, and welcome. I hope you all can understand and get a feeling for all of this, and remember our Hero's.
The Mission Rules.
RFTW DAY 1&2
I'm combining both Days 1 & 2 into one email as there is not a lot to talk about.
As I said in yesterdays ( D - 1) email - Road Guards had to be up and running at 4:00 AM - made for a tired day and made money for my new favorite company, "5 Hour Energy" 2 bottles a day and you can out do the Energizer Bunny!!
Day 1 was a long day in time but not mileage. But it was HOT - some places upwards of 105 occasionally breaking 110. You dehydrate almost faster than you can drink water. Most don't realize that air departure, plus wind (driving speed), plus heat from the road, the engines, everyone else's engine, body heat and baking in the sun - its the combination of all that causes the problems. In a run like this there are always some dehydration issues, but so far, in all these years, no fatalities. You literally need to drink non stop. Good rule of thumb - if you don't have to pee at the gas stops (badly), you ain't drinking enough.
The first 2 days are pretty much getting from one point to another but we are treated rather nicely everytime we stop. And fed. I never remember to write down the organizations that donate and support, but needless to say there are a lot of them. In Blythe they even have the JROTC with crossed swords up for the riders and the their "back seaters". And a mess of great food. In Tolleson (same day), when we got to the Host Hotel in the evening, we had all the food we could eat supplied by the local Golden Coral. This AM, at the hotel, we again had all the food we could eat supplied by "MickeyD's" - somehow it all tastes better when you aren't paying for it!! Seriously, very generous of our Hosts. Lunch was at the Wilcox Moose Lodge - and again, unlimited food and all locals, unlimited water, fruit and Gator Aid type drinks. Our Hydration Trailer also carry's all of our (donated) cooling scarves - fresh and rewatered at every stop. Temperature below a hundred today but still nice to have.
We always carry RTFW pins for the people we meet along the route. And we always give them to our LEO escorts - I found out today that the Wilcox PD put the pins on their uniforms and will wear them everyday on their uniforms until they get a new pin next year.
Things are a little different for me this year - Dianne and Julie (Gold Star Mom's) are riding with us, I'm Road Guarding but also training for the new job for the future RFTW's. Can be a little distracting!
As we drive, many of us start to remember what we lost, or what WE have . There are reminders all the way but in the first two days we are so blasted by the weather, driving in groups, etc, that the memories stay deep. Only in the quiet moments do they begin surface. Its funny in a way that as the landscape changes, it "adjusts" your thoughts. When we start in RC, we are pretty much in an industrial/residential area (home).That slowly changes to desert, first just brown, and then some scrub brush and bushes, then into more plant life and less desert, and then today, passing thru a solid green "zone", (deployments and the hardships that come with them), then back to the desert (void of meaning - unl;ess you look deep. The mountains in the distance have their own impact - depending on your service locations, some good and some not so good reminders and memories. Darker than the desert, but surrounded by the light browns. You could never say meaningless as its just the opposite - plenty of meaning. A few seconds today being able to reflect and remember - you can not do that sitting on the couch in your living room. But you also have to let the memories in slowly. Memories are a little different each year as they are this year.
Today was a 405 mile run - long day but my memories helped. Tomorrow will be shorter mileage (345, I think) but maybe Memorials, 5 stops. Every sstop people saying thank you. Flags and people on overpasses, in fields, Rest Stops, towns - everywhere. Little kids waving flags, holding signs, saying thank you. Out here they know what it means and will grow up with respect for veterans and our way of life. But the other side is there - so many will never receive these Welcome Homes and thank you's - but these people along with the veteran's I'm riding with will keep these memories alive.
I must go - I'm fairly tired and my day is starting again at 4:00 AM.
The Mission Rules.
Today started at 4:15 AM - give or take - setting up Road Guards to get people from 4 or 5 different hotels to the VFW for breakfast (donated of course). Schedule looks like this. Road Guards in place by 5:15 AM, riders start coming between then and 5:30. Breakfast starts between 5:45 and 6:00 and is served until about 6:45. FNG meeting until 7:00 AM. All riders meeting - Pledge, comments from Route Coordinator, raffles, lost and found ($5.00 to get it back (donation to the schools or RFTW), prayer. At about 7:30, riders turned loose to get ready to leave (get fluids, etc, leave fluids, etc. At the same time, the Advance Team (fuelers, etc) head out to the first stop to get set up for the 400 plus bikes (currently) to get refueled, we shut down registration and the registration team heads out. The 4 wheelers leave for the first destination, the support vehicles stage to leave, the LEO Liaison makes final liaison with the LEO's, the RC, and the RG Captain. The RG's get ready to roll. 5 minute warning and the RG's leave to set up the intersections and to "push" on the Interstate, the LEO escort starts to roll (they will escort us for many miles - usually on their own time), and we are on the slab! Odds are, I forgot something in there.
Today was the first stop at a Memorial. Dianne was able to "back seat" into the Memorial where she, Julie Conover and Joe Rayan were recognized for their loss. Dianne rode on "9 Ball's" 'Wing in the Missing Man Formation and was extremely emotional - understandable. This Memorial is a combination of things the most notable is a tribute to the infamous Batann Death March in WWII (google it for more horrifying details). The Memorial is made up of the footprints of the survivors - their real footprints. The Memorial begins with a large number of footprints and then slowly diminish to only a few - very symbolic and emotional. And the footprints are whatever they wore on their feet (if anything). The ceremony today involved local active duty, the GSM's and Dad, the local HS Color Guard, VFW and other service organizations, including a wreath laying at the main part of the Memorial. This specific stop is loved by everyone - its emotional but a "can't miss this" experience.
The scenery is changing - a little more color, a little less sand. Even man made stuff is changing - almost zero graffiti. Most overpasses look like a "work of art" - unique in appearance. Public buildings, bridges, etc are well maintained and are so clean they look like they're brand new.
Only about 350 miles today in 4 long legs. Although I run around a lot, it still gets exhausting due to another day of 100 plus degree heat. I still wouldn't miss one split second for any reason. The drive can be boring BUT if you look around enough, you see all sorts of life and shades of colors. Sometimes even the deserted homes in the "wilderness" can have a artsy appeal. And, you can see where people have come from, or, gone to.
At the gas stops, it seems that people are just waiting to thank us for going on our Mission. Most "pan handlers" are long gone either because there is zero here for them, or they've just moved on. So many people want to say thanks, take pictures with you, pose with your bike, or just talk - its a very warm feeling. The mountains remind you of places we've seen elsewhere and the shapes can sometimes remind you of people - usually the ones that are "on patrol" permanently. And so many people waving as we drive - so many children which as one vet pointed out, could be the grandchildren of those that hated the Vietnam Vets and exacted a price from them for something they did not do, nor did they control what was going on. So many things our brothers and sisters will never see.
Reminder - The blog this year may include photo's as Dianne "the photo machine" will be snapping away and will be posted to http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/madmaps , maybe www.eaglesup.us (if we can fix a broken link).
The Mission Rules.
We are moving right along today - 2 more Memorials plus Colorado City, Texas.
Memorials first - the one today is centered very specifically on Vietnam. Large field simulating a rice patty, three soldiers in the middle (2 helping one). Joe Harley got some photos looking thru the grass at the soldiers. I will send out when I get them but they are "close to home". Another ceremony with guest speakers and all very interesting. At this site there was also a Native American blessing the bikes and the riders. He, as do many riders, take this very seriously. I've never been clear on what the "tie in" is between 'Nam, Native American's, and bikers - but I'll figure it out. But, its very deep and meaningful.
Second stop today at a combined Memorial of Vietnam warriors, POW/MIA, and a Gold Star Mom's Chapel. Dianne and Julie missed it (of course) but will get another chance - I believe Julie has told Scott to get a bike for next year! The Memorial is beautiful and I will post pictures ASAP!
Had a wedding tonight - Road Guard and his lovely fiance (whom he met on the RFTW) - nice ending for the day. Married at Ray's Equipment - Ray is "Too Tall" and his wife "Too Small" - they hosted the whole thing. Pretty good example of the RFTW family.
I spend some time talking to other Vietnam Vets and those that do actually relax about there feelings are pretty moving - we all seem to see/feel the same way. The first day, slight memories, a little more the second and third days but starting today, big increases. Some readily admit that they can "hear" their brothers. I don't mean they have voices in ther head talking to them or telling them to do things. More of just remembering a voice or a way someone spoke or expressed themselves. Its hard to forget some of the guys - I think most all of us had pretty strong camaraderie with others in 'Nam that didn't come home. Funny thing is that in many cases it might have "just been a guy" in the unit that was well known or well liked - but we remember all the same. Maybe a funny story or a story of an act of bravery - or stupidity. Who knows and, who cares. We don't forget at least the face.
Many overpasses with Patriots on them - flags, signs, salutes, applause, etc. Sometimes in the middle of nowhere. Why are they there after all these years? Next to the freeway, in rest stops - all over the place. Fantastic, emotional and, for most of us, bringing us home.
The Mission Rules.
322 miles today. Hot but not as hot as its been. More police presence than normal - they are supporting us all the way with most of the Officers "off the clock". And driving a fair distance to do it - and even more people out showing support. In Louisiana, they had a couple of hundred USA Flags ALONG the freeway in addition to the ones on the overpasses. From Texas to mid Louisiana we had State Police as well as local PD's the whole time and distance. Our Road Guards are more than capable of doing it but the uniforms and lights do make it easier as well as a little safer. Much appreciated.
No Memorials today but memories becoming stronger. Again, in talking to others, different but similar. The highways now are tree lined - anywhere from a couple to acres. As we ride, we look into the shadows under the trees. You sense something (or someone) is there. Always a black & white/grey shadow (or are they real). The people in the area are always in color. The "sense" is always in the B & W, gray area. We can feel the coming home message, the usual good "welcome homes", a few of the "what's taken you so long", maybe an occasional "where the hell have you been". And some just recognizing the visit we are making. So many thoughts, so many people, so many things to sort thru. Many of my brothers are starting to get more emotional. Its interesting how this happens on RFTW but not when we're just walking around at home.
We know the Wall is coming but for the time being, its all the other stuff we are seeing and/or experiencing. The people Welcoming us can get us emotional. When some of the little children come and say hello, or thank you, you wish that they could be saying it to more than just us. We are not the hero's - the hero's are the ones that aren't coming - ever. Many of us are looking for something - a sense of relief, a passage of time, a voice saying that we are forgiven for being here, when they are not here, where THEY should be.
The Mission is everything.
The Mission Rules.
Day 6 - time just fly's by - only 221 miles today but we started our day (RG's) at 5:30 AM and had a short but HEAVY rain shower - just enough to make the roads a hazard. One very minor accident - little road rash - Tour bike with a trailer dumped turning into the staging area. It happens even on sunny days so a little rain accident is not unexpected.
We have now had State Trooper Escorts thru most of East Texas and ALL of Louisiana and Mississippi. Currently we are "overniting" in Meridian. We started today in a "Sam's Club" parking lot - the normal stuff - prayers, day dedication, FNG intro's, etc and then went to the Monroe, Louisiana Courthouse for a wreath laying. Some of us had to hang at the bikes (about 2 blocks away) - the State Troopers (on motorcycles) did some fancy stuff for us - super tight donuts where they keep adding one more bike and they run the circles front tire barely short of the rear tire of the bike in front - then reverse the pattern. These guys can RIDE. Heck, on the freeway, they actually rode with their feet on the highway pegs of the OTHER guys bike. They can "touch" mirrors (mirror to mirror) at highway speeds - so damn proficient its amazing.
All the way they have had the freeway behind us blocked so no one could pass. They treat us very nice. In Jackson, Ms, we lunched at the Jackson Harley Davidson dealership - one huge place. At the earlier gas stop, we picked up a GSM & D along with Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, Tommy Norris - they back seated all the way in. At the luch, they intro'd Dianne and Julie along with a couple of Medal of Honor recipients, som "Code Talkers and POW's from WWII, a Navy Cross recipient and a few othrs. After the lunch, the GSM's and others went for a tour of the Trail of Honor and had a chance to fire a Civil War cannon and some of our more modern weapons. I believe they enjoyed themselves immensely. When we got into Meridian, we went straight to the "Agri - center" - sort of like an open HUGE barn where they have rodeo shows and other events. We were the other event tonight, after they fed us the kids were there to hand out laundry bags, which we can then add our dirty clothes (individually), then the kids wash, dry and fold - and give us back in the morning while we are having breakfast (also donated). Another example of how nicely they treat our veteran's - year after year. A few of us bailed, went to Outback - great food and a break from the hurry up and eat that we normally do.
Tomorrow is a 312 mile day including a visit to a VA Hospital where we will eat and visit with the patients - horrible to say, but some of these hospitals (although nice, etc, are nothing more a dumping ground for unwanted parents). Later, another meal at another HD Dealership - Thunder Creek. BBQ I think!
Our Chaplains were busy today - a slight increase in the voices, faces, shadows, spirits, and remembrances. So many things to remember about our buddies - what they will not experience, the children they will never even know or see. No watching them grow up, no watching their parents hold their grand children. All the things we see, and they never had a chance to see. And the questions - why them, why not me, why did I come home and not them, what made my life more important - and what is now my obligation?.
The Mission Rules.
Well today had some interesting moments (I wish I could record as I ride). We started off at the Agri center - riders picked up there wash - all folded of course - as well as breakfast and the normal routines.
312 miles. Started out cooler by about 10 degrees and then progressed to RAIN and a lot cooler (60/61 degrees). During the day we were again escorted by LEO's - and did they ever do there normally great job! Before leaving the staging area they said we could pretty much do whatever we wished - my first and only suggestion was to shut down the state for our passing! We stopped by a VA Treatment Center, mostly a Mental Facility, and visited with a few patients, had a really nice box lunch. Then went on to Ashville (Tn) where we rested, fueled, HYDRATED, and had a snack (hot dogs). Met our new police escorts and took off. Had a couple of MINOR accidents that left little to no damage to the scoots (or riders) - all in all uneventful.
again, along the road there were many spots with people and whole companies waving at us. The kids are fantastic - they wave their flags and signs like there is no tomorrow. They try very hard to make eye contact and then, if they succeed, go ballistic! Everyone has a soft spot for a kid. For many of us, again, the kids can bring bittersweet memories - but to see their faces reacting to the bikes and the riders is great. The kids with what at least appear to be handmade are the best. The kids are growing up like kids - innocent and immune from the world around them. I "see" my kids and grand kids and they are a reminder that no matter how much I'm in to this RFTW, they are there for me to visit with. I get tied in knots when I see one that carries a sign honoring a grandfather or uncle that served and is no longer with us. Great to see that they are aware.
Short email tonight - sorry - but tired and another early day tomorrow. We only have 3 days till we get in. The silence is starting as the memories start to come out. Its really hard to express the inner feelings of myself, or others. Most of the conversations are personal and I'm not sure they are meant to be shared. A hug from a fellow vet or just talking. Many will NOT talk but you can see the hurt or anguish in their eyes. I'd swear that in some situations you can feel it - literally. So many of the vets are still "out there" in their thoughts - not willing to let them surface, not willing to drop our guard. And, how in the world can you convey he feeling of extreme loss and guilt that some feel. Remembering can be something to forget.
The voices get louder, the shadows get darker, the blurred figures are starting to come into focus. The tears are more intense. The nerves are stretched. The looks are more thoughtful, or in some cases, more vacant. The thousand yard stares are coming back. Coffee in a helmet and than washing your socks. Water with the constant taste of iodine. C Rations, learning how to dress a chicken or a pig. Sleeping in mud, living in a trench with a poncho, no showers for weeks. Sharing mail fro home - even love letters. Dear Johns. Finding out the someone is gone. Reading the occasional newspaper from some town you've never heard of. Never anyone saying than you. Never forgetting for one second that we are here.
The Mission Rules
280 mile day but a darn long one with really nasty rain on and off.
We are deep into east Tennessee and western Virginia. The route goes thru some fantastically beautiful countryside. The green is a dark green and there are enough trees, vine covered rocks, vine encrusted trees, and bushes, to be noteworthy by itself. Dianne and Julie have taken turns back seat riding (in order to experience the RFTW in its fullest) and seem to be having fun. The amount of times they've had to explain the term "Gold Star Mom/Dad/Family" etc is amazing. But as the word spreads and that we have some Gold Star's with us, the empathy and sympathy shows. I think the term has now been explained a dozen or more times.
Today, at one stop, my sister, her father in law, brother in law, someone's children, and the "Divas" showed up with PB&J sandwiches and a cash donation to RFTW - all very nice people and I'm waiting for some photo's. Also nice of these ladies (sorry - DIVAS) as this is the 3rd year. A heck of a lot of work and caring - very appreciated by all of us!
Interesting people on the ride - always - one rider who I'll call the "gas guy" has a small tank on his bike meaning he needs to stop more often. However, he has a 1 gallon can strapped on the back. BUT, he also has been seen with 2 "Gator Aid" bottles full of gas strapped in his vest. We figure if there is a lightening storm we will put him way out in front - to act as a beacon!
Speaking of which - today we hit rain - HEAVY rain. As we were already on the road we continued some in rain gear, some not. I had my Gerbing on so all I had to do was turn up the thermostat and I was warm. On the other side - we could not see worth a darn. Flashing or steady lights ok, but what they were or were attached to was a different story. As with all the Road Guards, we went mentally into the Plan B - assuming we would have riders go down, run off the road, etc. We were pleasantly wrong. One minor dump but that was it. It did require the most intense attention for everyone including the RG's - - it wasn't slippery as we slowed down to about 20 to 30 MPH but it took awhile - after about 45 minutes it let up and we got back up to highway speeds. Earlier in the day the tension had increased due to our pending visits with our brothers and sisters. You'd swear, sometimes, that you can hear them or see them telling us to hurry up and get there (to The Wall) but its not like you're "hearing voices" - more like you know they're there. The rain storm sort of pushed that aside and we were able to relax a little.
Wytheville is one of our favorite stops. After staging in their Memorial Park, we went around and met the residents all of which appear to be there to welcome us as returning hero's as with some, they are. Great reception and then we break for hotels, laundry and a huge dinner at the Moose Lodge - STEAK and all the trimmin's! After the meal we hear from our hosts who are again thanking us for our 12 years of coming thru their town. They actually teach the meaning of RFTW in their school - the importance of not forgetting our POW/MIA's and our military. And the emotions of our riders. They treat all of us with the utmost of respect - the whole town does.
At the dinner we hand out awards and recognition items to all of the "staff" - a lot of awards. And although it takes a long time, the "staff" does deserve what they get. The RFTW is a logistical nightmare and yet these guys and girls pull it off so smoothly that it seems like anyone can do it. And if you're one that thinks you can do it or do it better - volunteer.
After dinner back to the hotels - early wake up for most and remember, we are all tired, many got soaked, all got at least uncomfortable. When nite falls, the voices and faces return - again, a little louder, a little clearer - and a little closer to the heart.
That's it for tonight.
The Mission Rules.
150 mile but BUSY and rewarding day!
Today we started off at Memorial Park in Wytheville (same place we ended yesterday). Early up as the middle school laid out a nice breakfast for us and then down to the Park for some presentations and hugs. Big tribute trucks, tents of people with donuts, water, juices, etc. Then the school kids put on a real nice presentation with the kids doing it all. Thank you's, handshaking, gifts, its an unbelievable event. The school had the Gold Star Mom's recognized and Dianne finished by reading a poem relating to her son. Saying goodbye in Wytheville is not easy - so we don't - "see you in a year"!
From Wyttheville we run up to Montvale Elementary School in Montvale, Va - about 100 miles up the road. We stop at a small gas station to refuel and believe me, its tight. The hardest part is the exit from the Interstate - its a very short run off in a sweeping and dipping curve to the old freeway - now a lighted 4 way stop. The problem is holding it - much traffic including semi's that are on the clock and really don't want to wait for 700 bikes to get thru. Testy to say the least but we get thru with a minimum of stress - - - - maybe not a minimum, but not major - - - - - - well maybe a little major - - - - - - oh crap, its stressful!!
Montvale itself is another great school with fantastic kids and teachers. They also feed us (I wonder why there no weight loss (other than fluids)?) We are able to spend a little time with the students while we eat and then they also put on a presentation that brings tears to your eyes. And, they have the poster boards up - all of our names and we find them and sign them - next year we will do the same thing, again, as they do not throw these boards out. They do add new names every year. The kids always bring tears to our eyes with their presentations and the way they greet us. Leaving there is also sad but we all leave grinning from ear to ear.
12 miles later we pull into the National D Day Memorial in Bedford, Va. 300 miles from DC and very few people have ever heard of it, much less seen it. You can find the story and photos at http://www.dday.org/ . Its a beautiful tribute to our warriors that both fought in WWII and that stayed forever after D Day - the highest per capita loss at D Day beaches of any of our communities (I believe it was 23 out of the 30 from Bedford that tried to get ashore). Its a shame that its so far off the beaten path but I would encourage everyone to get there at least once. Hell of an experience seeing this memorial.
After another 42 miles we pull into the Veterans Care Center in Roanoke, visit for awhile, partake in ANOTHER great and donated meal. The "Care Facility" means that this is the last stop for many of the residents. It can be sad but thank goodness for the facility and the people that tend to them.
Before I forget to mention it - the Virginia State Troopers are still with us. A group of very dedicated LEO's that know RFTW better than some of us and there is complete mutual respect between all of us. If it wasn't for all of the LEO's, we'd have a much harder job.
Most of the Road Guards will get together tonight for a little light talk and food - last chance for us as a group to socialize before end of Mission and we go our separate ways. Its always fun to see everyone in an environment where we aren't rushing a mile a minute to get things done to get back on the road. Cajun, Diesel, Frenchie, Tail Dragger, Six String, Gator and Gator Bait, Widget, Mojo, Stoney, Master Chief, Slammer, Bandit and crap, I can't remember who else.
Long nite tonight. We're getting closer to our fallen hero's - only seems like yesterday - but we'll talk soon.
The Mission Rules.
243 MILE DAY -
but different. The only stops we make today are to get gas. This is the mad dash to DC day. Not so much a dash as just a push to get in before the Friday nite traffic. I headed in with Platoons 7, 8, 9 and any of the 4 wheelers left. We start in early as we are the slow movers and need the head start. I go with them because I need to get in to take care of a few things.
After fueling up at Salem, VA, I break off and head on in. I can make better time by myself but cruising now leaves plenty of time for thoughts and memories. Most of the thoughts today are of the men and women of RFTW 2012. The family we build and rebuild every year is hard to understand. We meet, in some cases, for the first time. But similar to Vietnam, we now have a bond that will keep us together for ever. When we meet "outside" of RFTW, we will share some nice memories with others that can never understand. In the now 9 years I've done this run, I've met some pretty great people - all are different but equal. We can understand what it means to ride for those that can't, experience a special camaraderie, a special understanding. These riders spend a lot of time together sharing stories and lives, spending a fair amount of money - and all for the primary purpose of not letting our MIA and POW be forgotten.
I also have time to remember my fallen friends as well as the wounded. You need to feel the loss before you can understand the loss. Only Silver Star and Gold Star families can really appreciate what the sacrifice means whether it be a wound, physical or mental, or the ultimate sacrifice. We all miss someone in our lives, but the Fallen and Wounded are a special group. And especially the POW/MIA. Wounded and Fallen are "home" - the others are not - yet. Many do not understand the difference and most do not understand the difference in fallen, or wounded, on the field of battle versus the ones that died from other causes.
My thoughts, as I get closer to The Wall are of the ones I knew, or the ones from a unit I was serving with. We can question the reasons but that does not mean we will ever understand. I wonder, as many do, why we were selected to come home to our families. Most everyone I know that served together would gladly switch places. So many of our brothers and sisters will never see their children, their family, their loved ones - we all want to know "why them and not me".
This is a beautiful country and as I've said as I've driven across, there is something different that we see every day. Listen to the words of "God Bless America" and "America the Beautiful" . I'd swear you can hear these songs as you drive. If you ride and look at this country you can see our souls, brothers and sisters, sitting there watching everything. We are able to ride because of them. You are reading this because of them. I am here because of them.
We will all shed tears today, many do every day.
The Mission Rules
I think I may have forgotten to mention that yesterday we ended the day with our Gold Star Mom's, Dianne Layfield and Julie Conover, along with Gold Star Dad Scott Conover, attending the Garden Reception at the Commandant of the Marine Corps' House. Its a "by invitation" only event and the special guest, as well as the guest of the Commandant and his wife at the Parade, was the Japanese General in charge of the Japanese Home Defense Force. From what I was told, they had a great time.
They then attended the Parade along with a mess of our RFTW riders. As it turned out, the GSM's were seated directly next to where we were. You should "google" the Friday Nite Parade at the Marine Barracks at 8th & I St's.
Back to today - today was early up for the FNG's (Fine New Guys) for the ride into Arlington National Cemetery. RFTW is the only large group of MC's allowed to ride in together. We were limited to 400 bikes. One of our FNG's laid the wreath - he was also one of the riders that carried the POW/MIA Flag from Riverside National Cemetery to The Wall - a trip he will never forget.
After Arlington, the RFTW met at the Lincoln Memorial for the annual photograph - we cover one complete side, all the stairs - this time with our 2 Gold Star Moms right in the center! We get on and off pretty quickly as we are not allowed to block the Memorial. When we get off the stairs, we head down to The Wall for "end of mission" where we lay a wreath and leave the POW/MIA flag. Those that are carrying the MIA photos we brought all the way, find the appropriate panels and leave the photos there, in all 3 cases, with lots of emotions and tears. Many stay and visit but many more leave as they will come back later when the crowd thins out. The Wall is beautiful, respected and a quiet place - everyone should see it. The names on The Wall encompass all the Vietnam Fallen and all of our Vietnam MIA's - the items left at The Wall, on a daily basis, are photo's of when they left, childhood, families, letters saying good by, saying how they're missed, teddy bears, all sorts of mementos - most take zero explanation.
Hot but beautiful day. Voices, faces in The Wall, spirits, memories, tears - and always the question.
The Mission Rules
RFTW 2012 is, as they say, in the history books. Many of the Riders hung around for Rolling Thunder XV - a huge one again this year. Staff Sergeant Tim Chambers, the Saluting Marine" was at his appointed place of duty for a little over 4 hours (I believe). There is a photo on the front page of the Washington Post showing Tim saluting with the bikes going by and a young boy in front of Tim and the Soldiers Cross, kneeling and apparently praying.
After Rolling Thunder we all went our separate ways - in my case, dinner with Dianne, Julie & Scott Conover, my sister & her husband, my daughter, son in law and grandson, my son and another grandson, Rich and Barbara Martin. Darn near took up the restaurant by ourselves. As it turned out Tim and his family were there along with a few dozen Rolling Thunder. Lots of shaking hands and well wishing.
On Monday, Memorial Day, some of us went to the 50th Commemoration of the Vietnam War. Beautiful day full of more memories but due to the "key note speaker", The Wall was closed. The Wall might have been the perfect backdrop but that doesn't change the added stress for those that came a long way to speak to their brothers and sisters. I believe that those that could hung around to visit The Wall later in the afternoon.
Riders from RFTW headed back to a couple of dozen states, and at least 4 different countries. 3 of our Aussie Riders on the Central Route were injured early on but I believe are going to be ok. Our Israeli Col that talked to us about a RFTW in Israel should be home by now (I believe their Road Guards carry Uzi's instead of traffic flags). We honored and remembered many many of our true American Hero's - and continue to do so. Many, including me, are riding home with new memories to go with the old. Many, including me, will be back next year, RFTW 2013, 348 days from today.
The Mission Rules.