Southern Route 2009 All the Way
Today we started out by visiting the Riverside National Cemetery. At the cemetery we visited the Medal of Honor Memorial. Every listed Medal of Honor Recipient is listed there. We were greeted by three MOH Recipients. Remember, you don’t win the MOH, you are a recipient of it. Greeting us were Col. Millet (Army), who was a WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam Veteran. He was awarded his Medal for actions in Korea. Also John Baca (Navy), a Viet Nam Vet. Also there to greet us was Rick Pittman (Marine), who was awarded his Medal for actions in Viet Nam. I have met Rick before.
To meet these men is, for me, a humbling experience. These men put their lives on the line in a manner that most of us can’t or won’t do. They epitomize the reason this country is so great. As I walked around the Memorial, I spotted names that I
knew. William F. (Buffalo Bill) Cody received the MOH. There were legendary
Marines, like Dan Daly and Smedley Butler who were both awarded 2 Medals for
actions in two different campaigns. I saw John Basilone, who received the Medal
for actions on Guadlecanal and instead of staying safe in the states, said he wanted to be with his men. He did not come home from Iwo Jima.
(Photo added later...)
After that we went to the MIA Memorial on the grounds that was designed and built by Col. Millet’s son. He told us about the Memorial and what it means to him. It is touching to listen to him. Thank God for sunglasses. Part of the Memorial is something that was written. The government would not allow what he wanted (by the way, he did the work on this gratis) and made changes. In the part that says,” and some were lost, gone forever from their families…” should have said, “and some were left behind” A minor change of words but a major change to the meaning.Master Sgt. Rick Pittman
After that we went to the MIA Memorial on the grounds that was designed and built by Col. Millet’s son. He told us about the Memorial and what it means to him. It is touching to listen to him. Thank God for sunglasses. Part of the Memorial is something that was written. The government would not allow what he wanted (by the way, he did the work on this gratis) and made changes. In the part that says,” and some were lost, gone forever from their families…” should have said, “and some were left behind” A minor change of words but a major change to the meaning.
(Photo added later...)
The statue itself was inspired by a POW. I can’t remember his name but the face of the statue is the POW’s face. This man saved the lives of at least 2 other POW’s. They had given up until they saw the torture that this POW had endured. He was the only POW that not only attacked his guards and escaped for 4 hrs. by crawling away, but he also told them he would kill them. The other 2 POW’s both decided to try and live so that they could tell his story. They did. That is how we know this. Here is the statue and remember, the face is his face.
The statue and the sculpter
One of the things you can notice is the brown color on the chest. The statue is bronze and used to be all brown. He is kneeling in water. Over the years everything has changed color but the chest. As we were told, his heart is still beating strongly for all POW’s. Inside his chest are six suspended stones in a heart shaped container. Each branch of service is represented plus the sixth is for the civilians killed. Hearing this was incredible. I know I had tears streaming down my face. So did many others.
After returning to the hotel, I had the distinct pleasure of being introduced to Karoni Forrester. She is the Texas State Director of the MIA Families. Her father was shot down in 1972 over N. Viet Nam. He is still Missing in Action. She was heading to Phoenix and I had the honor of having her ride with me.
Today, we headed out on the first day of the journey. I had Karoni on the back of my bike. Getting out of Rancho Cucamonga was real difficult. A lot of traffic (what else) so we had a lot of stop and go. Most of the drivers knew who we were so they tried to stay out of the way. But it was still taxing on the nerves. Plus I was told by other MIA families that I had “precious cargo” and to get her to Phoenix in one piece. Just what I needed but it sure helped me stay alert. Plus I asked her if she felt comfortable enough would she take pictures on the road. She was and she did. I still haven’t had the time to look at them. Everyone on the ride was great to her. Since this ride is to remember the MIA’s of all wars, the riders all talked to her whenever we stopped.
As we are progressing along Rt. 10 in 100 degree heat, we get off the freeway in the middle of nowhere. After a few minutes I start wondering what is going on. Nothing, nowhere to be seen. A small airport comes up and I think we are going there for a ceremony. Not there! Then all of a sudden, there is this woman standing by the side of the road with a flag waving at us. Then we see some buildings and more people. They lined the streets of this small town. We pulled into a gas station to fill up and the gas was free! This happened in Blythe, Ca. a small town in the middle of the desert. They supplied gas. But they were not done. All along the main street, people where standing and cheering and waving flags. How do I describe the emotions running thru me. I can’t really do it justice. All I can say is that I wish every Viet Nam Vet could experience the absolute chills this gives you.
Again, Blythe was not done. We went to the fairgrounds where the town fed us lunch. But they didn’t just feed us. As we walked into the barn ( that is what they call it) the local High School ROTC was there. We got to not only walk through a column of raised swords, but the people who were putting this on, were cheering and yelling and telling us welcome home and thanks for what we were doing. I am getting teary eyed just writing this down.
Of course, they had a ceremony. They introduced the people who worked to put this on. Then, our Southern Route Coordinator whispered something to the MC. Remember, Karoni was there. Next thing you know, they call her up and introduce her to everyone. They explain who she is (the daughter of a MIA Marine aviator) ask her to say something. I don’t know what she said at this point because I am trying not to just start bawling. She came back to the table and you could see the tears in her eye. Later she told me that it is never easy for her to speak but if she knows it is coming she can prepare herself.
We headed out onto the freeway again with a lot of memories of this wonderful town. As we headed to Phoenix, there were some incredible sites. I was told I would see this but it was still a thrill. You would be in the middle of nothing, and all of a sudden, someone would be off the freeway or on the overpasses waving and carrying an American Flag. It may be one person or many people. Nothing around but these people. We got into Phoenix after a long, hot ride. Tommorrow is another day.
The last segment of the ride, we started using a “Missing Man” formation. It consists of a formation of 5 bikes. The sixth bike is missing from the formation. It symbolizes the missing warrior. Well, I was asked to participate in this. It was an honor that was special since Karoni was my passenger. We lined up next to the missing man. Karoni was just blown away by the experience. It is something she will remember for the rest of her life.
This is also the end of Karoni Forrester’s journey with us. She had friends pick her up in Phoenix and the she was flying home. Before she left, she told me how much this meant to her and that she was just overwhelmed by everyone. Many of us felt the same way about meeting her. She was really an incredible young woman who, we all hope will someday, get her “Daddy” back.
Texas State Director of the MIA Families
The link below will take you to a location that has my SPOT account and the
tracking map for this leg of the journey.