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.