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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Run For the Wall May 27, 2011

After today, we will be in Arlington at the host hotel. Our ten day journey is almost over. That is not really true. This journey will never end for me. I will add the memories of this year to the past 2 years.

Our day starts early this morning. RG’s have to be out by 0515. I get to the American Legion Post for breakfast. Since I am working early, I have to go to the front of the line. Nobody objects because they know the RG’s are already at work. After breakfast I head out to relieve another RG so he can eat.

We hold our meeting inside the Post while everyone is eating breakfast. This is the final morning meeting and a lot of things are discussed. Cajun hands us our ride pins. They are really nice and I treasure mine. Then our duties are assigned. Once again we will be escorting each platoon into Arlington. Traffic will be very heavy and the RG’s need to make sure the platoons are tight and get in without any problems.

Preacher starts the last morning meeting and talks to everyone about what to expect. He then calls all the FNG’s, who are no longer FNG’s by the way, and tells them to line up. Those who started in California to the front followed by those that came aboard from all our other stops in the order they joined. Every year, the FNG’s get to go to Arlington as a group. RFTW is the only motorcycle group that is allowed to enter Arlington National Cemetery as a group. We have slots for 250 FNG’s between the Southern Route and the Central Route.

Then Preacher did one of the most touching and best things that I have seen done in my three years with RFTW. He called up Karoni, Pam, and Trish to the stage. Trish was not there so Karoni and Pam came up. At that point, Preacher talked about the laying of the Wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Last year we had a drawing open to all the veterans for one of these positions. Five Dollar Marty got the honor and Mustang, a long time member who was an Ambassador this year was named. What Preacher said was that this year there would be no drawing. He said he hoped everyone would understand his choice. Then he announced that Karoni and Pam would represent the Southern Route. Outstanding! Nobody could complain. We all knew who both these wonderful young ladies were. Both of them have been waiting for way too many years to find out where their MIA fathers are and when they will be coming home.

I was standing at the side of the stage and saw Pam’s face when this was announced. Karoni had her back to me. Pam’s face showed first shock then she looked at Karoni and they embraced. The emotion from these two ladies was overwhelming. I could feel it where I was standing. Then they both hugged Preacher to thank him. When they came off the stage it was all I could do not to start crying as I hugged them and talked to them. They are just so special. They are what POW/MIA is all about. It is why Run For the Wall keeps going. We must never let this issue die. We must always work for a full accounting of all our PPOW/MIA’s.

I saw Preacher outside later and walked over to him. I had to tell him what I thought of what he did. I told him it was probably the best thing I had seen in my three years with RFTW. I told him how proud it made me to be a member of RFTW and that I know how much Karoni and Pam were honored by his actions. He told me he knew because when they hugged him they were shaking. Way to go Preacher.

These are the things that make RFTW so special. These are the things that make you realize that you are not alone. There are people in this country that do care. If they are lucky they get to do RFTW to experience the things we all experience on this journey we take. I have said many times, the pain from the past will always be there. What happened in Nam is one thing. What happened when we came home is something completely different. It was like coming home to a foreign country. We were the enemy. We were reviled and shunned for doing what we were asked to do. None of us wanted to go to Nam. It was our duty to go. We had no choice and then the same people who sent us over there, treated us like dirt when we came back. That is what most of us are dealing with now and I still have issues because of that. But once again, I digress from what this is supposed to be about. The mission is what counts and so let me get back to that.

Since this is the last day of our journey, platoon 7 made up of trikes, sidecars, and bikes towing trailers left at 0700 for DC. They have been at the end of the formation the entire journey. They go early because they take a longer time to get down the road. The Advance Team also leaves early. These people work extremely hard every day. They are on the road before most of the formation leaves. They get to the first fuel stop and get set up and ready for when the formation arrives. They work extremely hard and get all the bikes fueled in a short amount of time. They usually don’t get to mingle for very long with the main body because they have to leave for the next fuel stop. They deserved the honor of getting into DC early.

Today is a short 243 mile ride into out host hotel. I almost forgot, at the morning meeting Preacher announced that the fuel stops this last day are donated. There is no charge to the riders. That is always welcome news. Our first stop is 68 miles out at Fuel City for gas. This is a pretty short stay as it was a short ride to this stop.

Once everyone is ready to go, we all head to our last fuel stop in Front Royal. This is a 104 miles away. The ride goes smoothly. As everyone gases up, we head over to the parking lot in front of a hotel. While we are there, we are fed a donated lunch by the Tree of Life Ministries. Again, this will be a quick lunch so that we can be on the road again as soon as we can.

Once all the bikes are on the road, the RG’s place ourselves in the front and back of our assigned platoons. As we did when we headed into Chattanooga we will try and keep the platoons tight and get them into Arlington without problems. The traffic will become heavier as we get closer to our destination. The final leg went surprisingly well. There were no problems at all.

When we arrived at the parking lot across the street for the hotel, we had a Marine Color Guard, at attention, as we entered the lot. Where did they come from, you ask? SgtMaj called the SgtMaj of Henderson Hall and requested the Color Guard. Of course it wasn’t that easy to accomplish but in the end, they were there. What it all comes down to is Marines taking care of Marines.

I left and went to the hotel that Barb and I were staying in. It was located at Bolling AFB about seven miles away. How, you ask, did we get a room there! Once again, SgtMaj called over to see if they had any rooms. They did and he arranged for Barb to get in a day early and we stayed to June first.

After checking in and leaving my gear off, Barb and I headed back to the host hotel. I was leading a group of riders to Marine Barracks at 8th and I. They put on a Friday Evening Parade. We have tickets for this, thanks again to a certain SgtMaj, and I will be leading the group. That is going to be fun since we have about 150 bikes to lead. After I briefed the riders, I told them I would be on channel 2 on the CB. I would keep everyone informed about about the progress and any turns we were making. Even with all that it was hard to keep everyone together. We did get separated and by the time I got to 8th and I, I only had about 100 of the bikes with me. We parked in a lot under the overpass and gathered up. What the Marines wanted was for us to break into groups of 25 to be brought into the Parade Grounds. As we did this, each group was brought over to the grounds and seated. Well it started to rain so the Marines took us under the shelter of the overpass. Then there was heavy thunder and lightning. After some time, the Staff Sergeant in charge got a message on her walkie-talkie that the event had been cancelled. It was because of the lightning. Since the viewing stands were all metal, it was determined that it was not safe with the amount of lightning in the area. Even though this was very disappointing, it was understandable. Like the Staff Sergeant said, “It isn’t about the Marines, it is about those of us in the stands.” I’ll be back next year and hopefully it will go on.

That is the end of this days activities. Tomorrow is the last official day of Run For the Wall 2011. It may also be the most emotional day of all. It is the day we go to the “Wall”. For many Viet Nam Vets this is sacred ground. It is a place of healing and talking with our brothers that sacrificed all. It has a profound affect on us all. Until I am able to finish that report, thank you all that have read and commented on this and I am truly sorry it has taken me so long.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Run For the Wall - May 26, 2011

Today we will be leaving Wytheville. But the town isn’t done with us yet. First, starting at 0600 they feed us breakfast. Some of the parents bring their young children to eat with us. That is always a treat. This year I ate early (RG duties) and didn’t get a chance to meet any of the young ones.

We all stage at the park again this morning. We are waiting for the school kids to join us. Everyone is anxious to see them. The FNG’s only know they will be there. Some of them know they will be putting on a show for us. Even though we have to be there early for meetings and the normal morning ritual, the students will arrive at 0900. We say the pledge of allegiance and are just waiting for the young students. We have pencils and beads and pins to give to them. They are all students of Spiller Elementary School in Wytheville. This is our eleventh year in Wytheville. The students in Spiller learn about Run For the Wall as part of their curriculum. Isn’t that amazing. They learn why we show up every year and what the Run is all about.

At about 0900 the students start arriving. We all go over to them and give them whatever we have. I have beads and pins. I hand them to the students and they hand me a paper star with their name on it. Some of the stars just thank us. Then a young girl gives me a rose. I told her I would leave it at the Wall for her but she didn’t say anything. After she walked away, I walked away from the rest of the children. I was real glad I had sunglasses on. As I have said many times, you never know what will set you off. It just happens and you have to deal with it.

After the kids all assembled at the Veterans Memorial, we did the pledge of allegiance again with the kids. It was time for the kids to entertain us. After a couple of short speeches the kids took over. They sang a couple of songs for us that made you feel good. These young grade school children really work at making this special. They do succeed and we appreciate every bit of it.

I had to leave for our RG meeting. Cajun gave out our assignments. I was assigned to his team. What we were going to do was block roads as we headed to our next stop. Our trip was going to be mostly on surface streets so we needed to make sure the platoons would all get thru. Otherwise, it would take us forever to get there.

Our first stop was in Montvale for fuel. Everyone filled their tanks and staged. From Wytheville, this was a 94 mile leg. We would only go 150 miles today. But we would be busy. After fueling, we headed for our next stop that is the Montvale Elementary School that is only 2 miles

As we pull up to the school all the children and their teachers are standing outside cheering. They have been waiting for us. As we dismounted our bikes the students went back inside. They wanted to get back to their classrooms. Our lunch was donated by the school. What we got to do, was go to different

classrooms to eat lunch with the students. This is special for us. As we eat, the students come over to us and ask us for our signature and where we live. I really enjoyed this a lot. I have a lot of fun with these young boys and girls. They make us feel special but in fact these young children are the ones that are special.

After lunch we go to the gym for a show put on by these students. They all sing songs and really entertain us. Like Wytheville, the youngsters really put their hearts into it. But after that we must leave for our next stop.

We are heading to the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va. The question always is, why is the Memorial in the middle of nowhere. The answer is pretty simple. The small town of Bedford, Va. suffered the highest rate of casualties on D-Day. This Memorial was built with private funds. No government money was used. The Memorial is beautiful and something you don’t want to miss if you ever get to this area of the country.

We only have a short amount of time to spend here. One thing we did do is made sure that everyone paid to get in. Everyone donated $5.00 to the Memorial. The people who maintain the Memorial say our group always gives them more money than any other group that goes there.

Once we are ready to leave, the RG’s once again leave first to set up at intersections to make sure everyone can get back on the highway as a group. As when we came in, the local Police worked with us to make this a much easier task.

Our final stop will be the Salem VA Medical Center. It is only 42 miles away so it didn’t take a long time. While there we will be given another donated meal by the VA. Once we got everyone there, several of the RG’s went to a restaurant to eat. We ended up in a pretty nice restaurant that served mostly seafood. Seafood and me don’t get along but I decided to see if they had something else. I ordered a steak that turned out to be real good. One of the things I like about being a RG is the camaraderie we all have. The dinner was really good for us. I don’t know about the other guys but it sure was nice to sit down, relax, and blow off a little steam. After dinner, we found out that SgtMaj forgot to turn his lights off. Actually, there is a problem someplace in one of the bikes switches. We were able to push start him and off we went. We checked into our motel and got ready for the next day.

It is kind of funny about the last day of our journey. You get so close to so many of the people on the Run that you almost wish it wouldn’t end. You wish you could just keep going and not end it. But tomorrow is the last day and we will be at our final destination. I will continue this after the final day is over.

Rich 'Yankee' Martin
Viet Nam Vet

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Run For the Wall May 25, 2011

Once again we are getting ready to head from Chattanooga to Wytheville, Va. Wytheville is one of the top stops on the journey. For me this was completely different. I will start where I left off last time.

If you remember, it was dark out and I was parked with my lights flashing directing bikes to the staging point. I was there for about 1 ½ hrs. Next, I was staging with the other RG’s with my lights still flashing. We went up to the usual morning meeting.

After that we head over to the Silverdale Confederate Cemetery. This is the final resting place for over 150 Confederate unknown soldiers. In 2009 the place was a disgrace. It was overgrown with weeds and you couldn’t even walk in there. The state of Tennessee, the City of Chattanooga, and none of the local veteran’s organizations wanted anything to do with it. Finally, some local vets decided they would clean it up and even try to identify the unknown soldiers.

In 2010, the grounds were clean and looked much more respectful. Plus, eight of the unknowns had been identified. In 2011, the grounds have been well taken care of and in fact 13 more of the unknowns have been identified. This is incredible news. These men fought for what they believed in and paid the ultimate price. They all need to be identified. I don’t care if they were Confederates. They are Americans and could have relatives that lived in the north or could have been from the north. They are honored dead like any American soldier that gives all. That is my opinion and you may not agree with me and that is okay.

What really makes me proud is that Run For the Wall actively supports these efforts. Without the money that we give to the organization, most of this work would not have been done. Without our continued support, most of the rest of the soldiers may never be identified. Someday I hope to enter the cemetery and know each of the soldiers buried there.

Now we are done and getting ready to get on our way. Remember what I said about my lights flashing. It has been about 3 ½ hours that they have been on. Guess what! I try to start the bike but there is not enough juice left in the battery. So we push start it and I am good to go for about 30 seconds when the bike stops again. Now I am done. Can’t push it up hill and no time to try a jump start. Short Stack brings a charger over to try jump starting the bike. Unfortunately, it is almost dead. They forgot to charge it last night. So up on the chase trailer I go. I find out where the local Honda dealer is and they take me there. The Chase driver stays with me until the shop opens and we get the bike inside. He has to leave to catch up with the group.

I told the service manager, Bill, what the problem was and what happened. He said they would test the battery to make sure it was good then they would charge it. A ½ hour later, Bill told me the battery tested good but needed a charge. He also asked it I knew the right light was out. I did and asked if he could replace it. No problem at all. So I went inside and sat on a chair. Next thing I knew I was sleeping. I woke up and one of the employees suggested I go over to a couch since it would be more comfortable. I did and fell right back to sleep. About 1130, Bill woke me up and said the bike was ready. I think that what they did was just let me sleep for a couple of hours. They must have figured I needed the rest. (I did) so I pay the bill, which was not that much, and start out. By now it was almost noon so I figure I would get something to eat. By the time I got on the road, it was close to 1245. A side note here is needed. Just as soon as we pulled into Chattanooga, we entered the Eastern Time Zone. That means we lose an hours sleep right off. That is one of the reasons I was so tired.

Today’s ride was only 280 miles so I figured I could catch up someplace along the way. Looking at the schedule, I thought if I was lucky, I could catch up by Blackwolf Harley in Bristol, Tn. I was flying down the highway trying to catch up. I got to Bristol, and I knew they were gone. I checked just for the heck of it and nobody was there.

Back on I81 I went. It was only 66 miles to Wytheville and I didn’t want to miss anything there. I got off at Wytheville in time to see some RG’s heading to the park. As I saw the entrance, I saw the tail end of the last platoon heading into the park. I made it. I caught up with the pack and wouldn’t miss anything. I was real pleased about that.

In the park we have the opportunity to meet some of the townspeople. They have been waiting for us. Mayor Crowe, talks to us and introduces several people who were involved with setting everything up for us in Wytheville. In case you don’t remember, this year the Mayor road all the way with us from Rancho to DC. This was the first time he had done that. In the past, he would meet us wherever he could with the time he had and lead us into his town then go the rest of the way to DC. When I was an FNG in 2009, Mayor Crowe road next to me from Baileyton into Bristol. He was more concerned about his riding and if he made me nervous that anything else. Of course, at the time I just thought he was just another rider. He has great riding skills and I told him. Later on I found out who he was. I have the Wytheville pin he handed out when we got there. It sits proudly on my vest.

That night at the local Moose Lodge, we are fed a steak dinner. It is here that many of the awards and plaques are given out. Preacher calls up the different groups up. He starts with the Ambassadors. Then the platoon leaders and tail gunners. Everyone cheers for these people. They all deserve all deserve it for the hard work they have done. Then they called up the Road Guards. We got a tremendous ovation from everyone. It was kind of embarrassing but appreciated. After all the introductions, we headed back to our hotel room or rest before we took up our mission in the morning.

For me, this was an easy day. I got a couple of hours extra needed sleep and made it to Wytheville in time for everything. By the way, if you notice that I don’t have many pictures this year it is because my camera stopped working. The new battery would only work for about five shots and the older one maybe an hour. It drove me crazy so I just stopped taking pictures. The last two I downloaded from Karoni’s facebook page. I will be getting some from another rider and also Bill and Tim. So all is not lost.

Rich 'Yankee' Martin
Viet Nam Vet

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Run For the Wall May 24, 2011

Woke up this morning, looked around for my shoes, you know I had those mean old Walkin’ Blues. No, wait! That wasn’t what I meant to say. I am just confused. What happened is that when I woke up I knew something was wrong. I didn’t eat anything for supper last night. Well, I am a diabetic and this morning I paid for it. I was shaking all over. I knew my sugar was low. Way low with all the shaking I was doing. I looked for my tester but couldn’t find it. I practically emptied out my bags to try and find it. It was nowhere to be found. So I just took about 5 sugar pills and waited until most of the shaking subsided. Then I went to the lobby and had a continental breakfast. I ate many muffins.

I then loaded up and went to staging. At the Ag Pavilion, they had more muffins that I ate. I just wanted to make sure my sugar went up. I have to confess, I was really worried about not finding my tester. It would be very difficult to try and maintain my sugar levels without one.

Then I was reminded that our first stop of the day was the Tuscaloosa Veterans Hospital. In the past they filled prescriptions for Veterans. I didn’t know if they could replace my tester. I would find out when we got there.

(insert photo here)

I can’t remember if it was here or in Monroe when we had Pam Cain, MIA daughter, join us for the rest of the mission. She is our third MIA daughter. Her, Karoni, and Trish are all with us now. They are the reason we do this mission.

Speaking of Trish, I hadn’t seen her for a couple of days. I was wondering what happened to her. They I saw her. She had her right arm held against her body. I seems that she was walking down some stairs and texting Karoni, when she fell. She tried to catch herself and dislocated her right shoulder. Of course, it was all Karoni’s fault. LOL (I will make no joke about texting and walking at this time) I do have to hand it to her. It did not stop her from riding on the back of a bike and she went all the way. Good job, Trish. I hope you are getting better.

We gassed up in Tuscaloosa and then headed for the hospital. This is when the fun started. We had a police escort. The Tuscaloosa PD would stop traffic at an intersection then one of our RG’s would relieve them so they could get another intersection. We held the intersection until everyone was thru. I had a major intersection and held it. After about 10 min. and no bikes in site, I had angry horns beeping. I couldn’t hold it any longer. I started heading toward the hospital when over the CB they are telling all RG’s to hold the intersections. Do not leave. It was too late for me. I did hold another intersection until no more bikes came by. I got to the hospital and waited at an intersection until it needed to be held again.

In the meantime, all I hear is how three of the platoons are lost. It seems that platoons 1, 2, 3, and 4 all made the correct turn. But platoons 5 and 6 went straight. Platoon 7 made the turn but got lost later. At the turn we had a RG and a local LEO but they were ignored. Eventually, all three platoons made it to the hospital with the help of the local LEO’s. Just another example of what can happen when you try and get over 400 motorcycles from point A to point B.

(Insert photo here)

At the VA we are given a donated lunch followed by the chance to visit with some of the patients. However, several of us, me included, had to get meds renewed. With the help of a doctor who took me right where I needed to be. Once I told the staff what the problem was, they couldn’t have been more helpful. They had me fill out paperwork to get me into their system. Then they had to test my blood sugar level. After that I had to see a doctor. Since the tester they gave me was different from the one I lost, the doctor had to authorize additional test strips. I already had everything else I needed.

I had to go to the Pharmacy to pick the supplies up. Trish was there getting a sling for her shoulder. Lightbulb, one of the RG’s was taking care of her. She was in good hands. Since it would take a few minutes to get my supplies, I went to the cafeteria to get something to eat. After eating I went back and got everything then had to find my way back to where everyone was. I found it with only a few wrong turns just in time to mount up again.

Our next leg of 100 miles was to Asheville for fuel and snacks supplied by the local Piggly Wiggly. Under some trees by the gas station are hot dogs provided by the grocery store. We all get to cool off and socialize with each other. This is always a good time. Everyone gets to unwind a little. I got to talk to Karoni and Pam for a while. Two of my favorite young ladies on the mission with us.
I had to leave for a RG meeting. This was our last leg before we reach Chattanooga. Thunder Creek HD donates the meal and entertains us. As we tell the FNG’s every day gets better and it does. The pusher team heads out to take care of the interstate for us. There will also be RG’s posted when we get to Chattanooga. We are still under escort with the Virginia State Police. Sgt. Jesse used to lead this team for years. He was with us this year but is not retired and had turned the task over to another Officer. Sgt Jesse rode with us. Our task was to bump and run with the Officers. They would speed ahead and block traffic on an entrance ramp. Our job would be to relieve them and hold that ramp. That is fun accept that sometimes the people you are holding don’t appreciate it and since we are not LEO’s they want to go. We just stop them. I got to relieve at two ramps.

It was decided that each platoon would have two RG’s to lead them into Chattanooga. I was with 4th platoon and rode in the back with the Tail Gunners. The closer we got to Chattanooga, the heavier the traffic. The last rider, just before the Tail Gunners kept falling back. One of the Tail Gunners tried to get him to move up but he wouldn’t. Finally, a car jumped in front of him. Then three more cars jumped in our formation behind that car. All but one of the cars moved out of the formation as soon as they could. The original car stayed in. as soon as I could I swung out and signaled for him to move either one lane left or right. He did this. Then I signaled the rider to move up. He did and was yelling at me (of course I couldn’t hear what he was saying) and waving his arm. I looked at him and again signaled him to move up and the same thing happened. Finally, one Tail Gunner moved ahead of him and waved him to come up by him. I dropped back with the other tail gunner, Casper who I know, and looked at him and gave a what is his problem look. Casper put up his hand indicating they would take care of it. That was all I needed to see. It would be taken care of. Other than that, the ride into Chattanooga went without problems.

We arrived just about on time and had a nice meal. There were some vendors also. Plus, they had a version of the Tennessee Wall set up. It lists all those from Tennessee who gave all. Seeing things like that can be hard to deal with at times but we ride for those that can’t.

We are done for the day and head for our hotel that is right across the street. SgtMaj checked up in and was sitting outside the room when I got there. Seems there was a problem. When he first went to register, he was told he had no reservation. After getting that corrected, they gave us a room. Turns out it was a smoking room. It stunk so SgtMaj got spray and really sprayed it down. Many of you are thinking, so it was a smoking room, so what. Non-smokers will understand how offensive the smell can be. Especially if someone is allergic to smoke.

So we were sitting outside the room letting it air out. Two of our Chaplains were cleaning their bikes. Not wanting to let a good opportunity pass by, I told the one by my bike how good a job he was doing. SgtMaj joined in. We told then that we were a couple of old guys and that when they got done with their bikes, they could easily do ours. We had a lot of fun kidding them. After a while, we went inside to get ready for bed. 0 dark thirty comes real early.

Of course it was still dark when we got up. As I was loading up my bike, I had to wipe the windscreen because of the dew. I couldn’t believe it. Someone had cleaned the windscreen. Last night it was real dirty, today it was nice and clean. Then I looked at the bike, I couldn’t be sure but it looked like the bike was clean also. SgtMaj was saying the same things. We were kind of flabbergasted. We couldn’t believe the Chaplain’s had actually cleaned and polished our bikes. We decided to wait until the sun came up to be sure they did the whole bike. I went down and relieved one of the other RG’s at an intersection. We park our bikes with the flashers going and signal the bikes coming in which way to go. I kept looking at my bike and it looked great! The lighter it got the better it looked. I realized that the Chaplain’s that we kidded with had actually cleaned and polished our bikes. I was almost speechless. I didn’t know their names but I knew what bike one of them was on.

I will continue this in the morning once we leave Chattanooga. Our next goal is Wytheville, Va. This is another small town that really takes care of us. Until next time.

Rich 'Yankee' Martin
Viet Nam Vet

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Run For the Wall May 23, 2011

Today is a short 221 mile journey. But today is a day we all look forward to. That is especially true of the FNG’s. That is because today we stop at Jackson, Ms. This Harley dealer does an amazing job for the week leading up to Memorial Day Weekend. More later.

The hotel we stayed in had a continental breakfast set up in the lobby. I had several muffins of different kinds and a couple of glasses of orange juice. Then I headed over to staging. I got out my flag and started directing bikes to where they had to be for each platoon. Once that was done, we had our RG meeting where our duties for the day would be explained to us.

One major difference from last year, I was a RGIT last year. It was here that the Road Guard Captain presented us with our second yellow sleeve and we were no longer RGITS. It was a special moment for those of us that were RGITS. This year, there were no RGITS. We were not supposed to call the new Guards RGITS for some reason. They were given both yellow sleeves at the beginning. I really think they missed out on a nice presentation in front of the whole formation.

As we got underway, something else changed. The last two years, we would go downtown Monroe for a ceremony with the Mayor and other city officials. For some reason, this year we did not do this. I wish we had but the upper leadership makes those decisions.

Our first fuel stop is only 59 miles. It is a Loves Truck Stop in Tallulah. We do open registration here for anyone that wants to join us for the rest of the way. Top Sarge works real hard doing this. She has to make sure the riders all have the proper identification, insurance, registration, and endorsements. I don’t know how many additional riders we picked up but we have grown every day we had registration. I think we have about 400 bikes right now. That is just a guess on my part.

This was another fairly quick stop. We only stayed long enough for fuel, snacks, and/or facilities use. Jackson is our next stop and we are all anxious to get there. So we left after a stop of about 40 minutes for another short 65 mile ride to Jackson Harley Davidson.

This Harley Dealership is incredible. First of all they empty the showroom of all the bikes they are selling. Then they put up tables for all of us to eat the donated lunch they provide. But that is not all. They have what is known as the Trail of Honor behind their shop in the woods. They have displays covering every war.

They also have displays of weapons many of which can be used and they shoot of several of them. That can be a problem. When they shoot off the civil war era cannons they make one heck of a lot of noise. They are supposed to yell “FIRE IN THE HOLE” before they do this. I understand that they do, but since I am hard of hearing, I don’t get this warning. Neither do many of us. First time a cannon went off, I almost had a heart attack. I jumped so hard and my breathing became so ragged I swear my heart skipped a beat or two before I calmed down. Then they did it again from another direction and I jumped just as much. You could actually feel the cannon going off. They had machine guns, rifles, and at time would fire them also. I always looked toward the firing but was able to deal with it. The cannons just were not that easy to deal with.

As we got to the end of the walk, they had a half size replica of the Wall. I knew from last year it would be there. I started walking along it. People sitting at a table asked me if they could help me find anyone. They had all the names and locations in a book. I told them I didn’t need help because I knew where those I wanted to see were. As I walked along, I got to where the apex should be and looked for Ray’s name. I stared at it for a little bit. I was lost in thought when Bill walked up to me. He was having a real hard time but I couldn’t really help him like he did me last year. I was lost in thought and had a hard time to connect with him. I do apologize for that. I should have been there for him but wasn’t like I should have been. Sorry Bill. I did the best I could. I wish it were more.

There was also a parachute demonstration by the local Army Special Operations Group. Not only that, they gave Huey Helicopter rides to anyone who wanted them. Not for me. The sound of a Huey is the sound of Nam. It is distinctive and you heard it all over the country.

But back to lunch. I don’t really remember what was served but what I remember is some of the dignitaries that were there. The Governor could not make it so he had a State Senator who headed the State Veterans Committee. (I am pretty sure that is what he said but I can be wrong) Then they introduced the true stars. There were two Medal of Honor Recipients, some Tuskegee Airmen, a WWII Pow, and a survivor of the Battan Death March. These men were there for us. They wanted to show us they cared for what we were doing and the POW/MIA issue. Several speeches were made by some of the dignitaries. Some of them were really good and well worth listening to. It was after lunch when I started down the Trail.

It was now time to leave Jackson. We may be reluctant to leave but we are also anxious to continue our mission. The mission is the most important thing. Each of us will remember Jackson. We will all remember it differently. This was my third year here and my memories are different from each year. But that is what this journey is all about. Each year you take it, you see things differently. You can see the same thing as the year before but you will see it differently. Just like when you see something, the person standing next to you will see something different from you. It is one of the things that makes our journey so different for each of us.

Our last stop for the day is in Meridian, Ms. It is the longest leg of the day, only 97 miles. As a RG I got to do several things. The last thing was to stop along the road before a light and slow everyone down. There were a couple of quick turns to make here and slowing down was important. After everyone got thru, I headed for the Agricultural Center for another donated dinner. I was one of the last to arrive.

For dinner there was two choices, either pulled pork or catfish. The pulled pork was already gone so I grabbed catfish. They both came with fries so I thought I would eat that for supper. Well, as I grab my meal, one of the other RG’s comes up to me and asks if I could do him a favor. Of course I say yes. He needs to take two meals, two desserts, and two drinks to the Merchandise Trailer. They are open and working and never get to eat. So I grab another meal, scratch gets the two drinks and another dessert and we head down to where the trailer is. We give the ladies their supper and they were so happy. Like I said, they usually don’t get to eat until late on their own. So back up we go. I decide to just have the dessert which is banana pudding (delicious) and skip the catfish.

One other thing they do for us here. They collect all our dirty laundry and by the morning, they have it cleaned and folded and ready to go. I didn’t get it done. I would have had to walk down to my bike to collect it all then walk back up the hill. I just didn’t have the energy.

SgtMaj and I headed to our hotel. I had every intention of getting something to eat but by the time we got back to the hotel and settled, you guessed it, I was too tired and didn’t eat. I will take this up after the next leg of our journey.

Rich 'Yankee' Martin
Viet Nam Vet

Monday, May 23, 2011

Run For the Wall May 22, 2011

Today’s journey takes us from Grand Prairie, Tx. to Monroe, La. After 3 days we will finally get thru Texas. Our morning starts with a donated breakfast by Starbucks. I needed more than coffee and donuts so I ate in the hotel where they had eggs, toast, and bacon. Since today was Sunday they also held a non-denominational Church Service. Our Chaplains put it on. I will talk more about the Chaplains at a later time.

After the usual morning meeting, we mounted up for the first let of our journey. This is a short 47 miles to Terrell, Tx. This small town has snacks, water, and sandwiches waiting for us. We gas up and then we dismount and head for the snacks. The town is always well represented. In addition, they present us several checks for our use. Money like this is put toward donated gas down the road.

The people of Terrell are always glad to see us and make sure we know it. In the past, we used to do registration for day riders here. Last year we picked up about 400- 600 riders just in Terrell. That was just way too many to handle. So this year they all had to pre-register. I don’t know how many we had but most of them just ride for the day. That is just fine. They all show how much they support RFTW and our mission by riding with us.

We depart Terrell for Longview, Tx. This is a 99 mile leg. As a Road Guard, I had to stop traffic on the main road. I did have help that was greatly appreciated. A Terrell Fire Dept engine blocked most of the road. I just had to stop the right turn lane from turning into the bikes. A woman in an SUV kept wanting to go and I kept stopping her. I went over to talk to her and what she told me was she had to pick up someone at her church. I gave her a card that tells her what is happening. I talk to her to let her know why I can’t let her turn at this time. I told her that about 300-350 motorcycles were about to go by and she would not be able to get by. After that, she kind of shrugged and accepted her plight. After all bikes and Chase vehicles went thru, I waived to her and went on my way. I had to get to the front of the pack to continue with my RG duties.

About 30 miles from our next stop, the Road Guards as a group take off ahead of the main formation. This is something we do at each stop. Our duties are to get there and set up Guards at the exit ramp and to direct the riders to staging after they had fueled. Just after we crossed into Louisiana from Texas, we saw some flags and signs along the freeway. At the overpass, there had to be at least 100 people standing there cheering and waving flags. They also had a Fire Truck set up with a large flag flying. It was a sight to see. Needless to say, it affects us all. Our Road Guard Captain, “Cajun” keys the mike and says how proud he is of his home state. In my three years of riding, this is the best greeting we have gotten from La. Many of us responded with just how beautiful it was to see. We reached our next gas stop and got set up for the main formation.

Our gas stop at Longview was different. We gassed up and kept the bikes together until we had a count of about 40 bikes then sent them to VFW Post 4002 for a donated lunch. The difference here is that the Advance Team stays here and lunch is brought to them. That is one of the disadvantages of the A Team. You don’t get to mingle with everyone on the ride. You leave before the pack to get to the next stop and set up again. They do a fantastic job.

Our next fuel stop is at the Quick Draw Casino. This is going to be a pretty fast turn around. It is 104 miles from the last stop. Along the way we see many people on bridges, along the freeway and they are all waving flags and cheering. Once again, this has the same effect on me that it always does. I am ambivalent about this as I explained earlier, but it is what it is.

Once again the A team had everyone fueled quickly. And everyone was able to take a break and get to use the facilities, hydrate, and eat some snacks. You get time to stretch your legs before you get back on the bike. This is also the time for everyone to socialize with each other. Other than breakfast, lunch, or dinner there is very little time to get to know those who you are riding with. After this fuel stop, we head out for our last leg of this day. That will take us into Monroe, La. This is a short 72 mile leg,

There is a change in the route from last year. Instead of taking I20 all the way, we bypass using I120. However, that turned out to be easier said than done. I was sent ahead with three other RG’s to set up a push. Our first RG stopped at the split to show the way. The rest of us set up the push. While we waited, we had a LA State Police Motor Officer show up and block the ramp. This is always good. However, after the lead element and the rest of the RG’s went by, he took off. As soon as he did, all the waiting cars took off also. So we kept waiting for the rest of the bikes. After some time, 7th platoon, the chase vehicles, and 9-Ball rolled by. That was our signal to leave. Before we did that, I asked a couple of the guards if the other platoons had come by. Nobody saw them. Two of us waited for a few minutes then when no more bikes came by, we decided to leave.

After getting to the final destination, we found out what happened. First of all, platoons 1, 2, and 3 stayed on I20 and went thru Shreveport like we used to go. Platoons 4, 5, and 6 headed away from Monroe. Platoon 7 followed the correct route and went by us. One of the things that all platoon leaders are required to know. That is the route. The first three platoons followed the old route. Platoon 7 went the right way and platoons 4, 5, and 6 flat out screwed up. Or should I say the platoon leaders screwed up. The other problem is they rely on RG’s to show them the way. We can’t be at every intersection or exit. There just are not enough of us.

Everyone finally arrived at the Shriner’s Hall in Monroe. Another donated meal here. They really put on a spread. Fried catfish, (not for me) hush puppies, fries, and all kinds of rich desserts. I loved the banana pudding. I probably had several of them in addition to whatever other desserts I ate.

Breakfast is on our own this morning. The hotel had a continental breakfast so that worked fine for me. I just ate several muffins and a bowl of cereal. Being diabetic, it is important for me to eat breakfast.

In the morning, we head Meridian, Ms. It is a short riding day of only 221 miles.

Rich 'Yankee' Martin
Viet Nam Vet