Greetings: I’m Mike Rinowski, a retired Golf Course Superintendent - in June I’ll be a published author. Until then, I’m your sit/rep for the 2015 NVAR. We will miss Julie Manner, but her spirit will be with us, and we wish her a speedy recovery from a broken foot.
In October 2012, a chance meeting in a Texas Barbecue joint in Nha Trang, Vietnam, brought me a humbling opportunity. Since 2009, I had been riding my Harley Fat Boy around Vietnam in honor of those lost on a land of beauty, and now a land of welcome. I bonded with their spirits during 41,000 miles across Vietnam, and then brought the Fat Boy home to join the 2013 NVAR. What began as a joy ride turned into an adventure that led me on an epic journey. My story - HARLEY TRACKS: Across Vietnam to The Wall - will be in print in June 2015. For a further introduction, please visit: www.harleytracks.com.
I look forward to everything this ride brings; a journey across this great land representing thousands who wish to thank our veterans, camaraderie among riders, visits to our veterans in homes and hospitals, and the solemn honor to those past and those who gave all. Please check in on our daily events and activities.
Thank you, Thank a Vet, & Never Forget.
Tuesday, May 12 (by: Mike Rinowski)
Early on day one, the NVAR riders rose in their leisure to a crisp California air. Later, Supt. Gary Yee welcomed us to the Bowman Elementary School for the first of our many visits across America. His staff of teachers with over three hundred flag waving students packed a room. Ooos and aaahhs rolled through the crowd while Jerry Conner, the NVAR National Coordinator, narrated a slide show of past rides. At a call for special effects the children filled the room with roars like a motorcycle. Then they listened intently as he explained our mission, which included visits and the support of students just like them.
Jerry kept his story within their patience and span of attention, after which, the children question riders for trail tales and war stories. Then we all move outside in the most orderly fashion where an American Legion Honor Guard ran the stars and strips up an old wooden flag pole. All eyes cast into the flowing colors against a blue sky and the Pledge of Allegiance rose from the crowd.
That afternoon, William Cahill and Kim McClary, Chief of Staff and Chief of Volunteer Services, respectively, welcomed us back to the Mather VA Medical Center. Riders split into groups to visit veterans with greetings and explanations of our mission. Wonder and amazement to our journey crossed each of them, followed with heartfelt appreciation. The ride pins we gave them, along with thank you cards sent from school children in Colorado, brought more smiles.
Our chats covered many topics, and many were quick to praise the care given at the center. Norris, whose life a year ago seemed at end, now looks forward to years into the next decades. A great compliment to that attention came from a staff of volunteers, to include Jacqueline Lucido and Sandra Mullette, a mother and daughter dedicated to support those who gave.
Riders delayed by snow in Wyoming, and others who rode down from Oregon just to see us off, arrived safely in time for another fine dinner at Sweetpea's restaurant. While food settled, Jerry, Buzz, and Tony covered the details of ride protocol through each maneuver and situation we will encounter on the NVAR.
The morning will greet us with what we have all looked forward to for the last year. We will ride our motorcycles across this great land to visit thousands of veterans, and feast on the support from thousands more; and pay our respect to those who gave all. They are not forgotten.
Wednesday, May 13 (by: Mike Rinowski)
While riders rose before the crack of dawn, people at our destination in Washington D.C. probably wondered about their lunch. And Wayne Barrackman, along with his Auburn Jeep Club made sure we would not leave California hungry; pancakes, eggs, and sausages added to our baggage. Wayne Worden, our Road Chaplin, led us in prayer, and after a loop through a cheer filled parking lot at the Bowman Elementary School, we rode easily over the Donner Pass like the organized NVAR riders we are. Peek from attention to our ride formation grasped the beauty of a pine forest standing over mountains of rock, with streams splashing in crevices--just like those on calendars.
Sgt. Joe Robinson, of the Reno Police Department, and his squad of motorcycle patrolmen escorted us to the Veterans Administrations Medical Center (VAMC), somewhere in their fair city. After introductions with Darin Farr and his staff, we strolled into a veterans jam session where two strummed 60's tunes and the center in the trio belted out the vocals. Our group split up to wander in and out of rooms to share greetings and gifts like yesterday. For many, it brought the same smiles and amazement, but that story is only one side of our experience.
As we met Norris yesterday with his blessing of life to come, today we met Lt. Robert, a heavily decorated Vietnam Veteran with multiple tours of combat duty. These days he lies bedridden, by physical appearance a portion of the man he once was. A nurse told us that as of late, he had received no visitors. Illness has taken his ability to speak, frail hands struggle with a pen to write his words, and dull eyes stare with a plea for us to understand. Perhaps he's lost his ability to express emotion, or he simply found the pins and cards trivial. While we struggled with emotion to bid farewell, his last note read: "I have Agent Orange. I die from it." Lt. Robert risked his life over and over again in his answer to a call to duty. He now lies alone in his last days or weeks. Or should we wish him to have months--to suffer the pain brought by that silent killer?
This, too, is a common experience we not only accept in our mission, but one we must embrace with compassion for those who gave for their country. We must let them know they are not alone and forgotten. We must offer our gratitude and wishes for comfort. We cannot let them pass without the respect and dignity they deserve.
Never Forget: A short visit at a VAMC could be invaluable to those who gave.
With respect to Lt. Robert, I will end this report with a request for prayers for him, and others like him. I will include the remaining events of Day One with the Day Two report.
Following an emotional visit in the hospital, Guy Clark, Cindy Wall, and Loren Wahl grilled delicious wild game burgers for our lunch. It was a wonderful reception with flag bearers, veterans, and and Darin Farr's hospital staff. Especially good news was that Del, a veteran I met last year, had gone home in good health.
After farewells, a short ride brought us to the Northern Nevada Veterans Cemetery--a beautiful patch of landscape in desolation. A wreath was placed at a memorial, and then 265 miles of old west laid out for our journey. Thankfully, gas stations sat strategically within our limits, and patches of blue sky spread beyond a thin layer of cloud to hold temperatures for a comfortable ride. A host of riders and police waited ten miles out of Elko for our escort to the VFW Post 2350. After ten years, the people knew our schedule and stepped out to cheer our arrival. Another healthy meal topped off the long day on the road.
Thursday, May 14 (by: Mike Rinowski)
Our ritual of breakfast, a riders meeting, and a prayer started our day, and the last of Nevada spread far and wide beside our path. An endless sea of tumbleweeds covered the land to Wendover, Utah. From there, the UMF Men's Social Organization joined us for the ride into Salt Lake City--153 motorcycles ripped across the Great Salt Lake Desert. A sign noted high winds possible, and almost immediately, 153 riders weaved through gusts that would stop a freight train, and were known to throw trucks off the road. A range of the Rocky Mountains deceived the expanse of Salt Lake City. An escort from the police led us safely to the VAMC and a welcome from Todd Hansen and Noralyn. As always, it was an emotional affair to meet and greet veterans and spouses from last year, and learn the sad new of those who passed on.
A purpose within our overall mission is to meet veterans of the Middle-East Conflicts. Unlike the lack of recognition Vietnam veterans received on their return from a call by their ocuntry, they want to ensure that it never happened again. Here, we met twelve and presented them with a medal of recognition and thanks.
A turtle the size of a small trash can, that looked like a rock, wandered among us while we dined in the VA patio--thankfully it was a vegetarian. It ignored us as it minded its own business, unlike the baby kangaroo they had last year which craved attention. Then, with our fill satisfied we bid farewells and dressed for a rain that never fell over the mountains. Our escort led us to Evanston WY, and more cheers from people along the streets.
The VFW Post 428 provided the place, and the American Legion provided the food. But before dining, the NVAR recognized those who supported our cause, and those of their own. Then, we lined up for another delicious meal prepared by Lexi and her staff.
Thank you & Never Forget.
Friday, May 15 (by: Mike Rinowski)
As National Veteran Awareness riders, we bow to only the harshest of nature's elements. 250 miles of rain from Evanston WY, blown by 40 mph winds more powerful than those across the Great Salt Lake Desert, slowed us slightly. On the Continental Divide, slush, and hail that bounced like popcorn between riders and their windshields--along with the wind, slowed us slightly. The threat of tornados in the region were unknown to us, and consequently, irrelevant--veterans in Cheyenne WY waited.
A host of riders would argue with strong evidence against company claims to their waterproof gear.
Flag bearers stood in foul weather to welcome us at our gas stop in Laramie where two of the veterans received medals of recognition for their service in the Middle-East Conflicts. The last 50 miles of trail was dry for our escort and welcome at the Cheyenne VA Hospital. After introductions to VA staff, riders moved in to greet and chat with the veterans. Frank and Bill, both airplane mechanics in WW II, had lost all sense of hearing, but could still express their joy to our visit. Charlie, at 94 years old, remembered flying a general to Cuba in the mid '50's for R & R. James moved from Hawaii to be close to family and loves to fish. Down the hall, alone in a room, we found an Afghanistan veteran. To his surprise, riders packed in for the presentation of his medal.
Each day, we are honored and humbled by receptions and recognition from many who provide annual support--and the woman who hung out a truck window to salute us as we rode in today's rain. To list and mention all would extend into mega-bytes of text into the wee hours of the morning. I do apologize for the omission of the many names of those who do so much for us. We could not do it without their support. Their generosity comes from their pockets, too, with donations. Because the NVAO is a non-profit organization, all riders join at their own expense. All donations go directly to the cause.
The VFW Post 1818 set out another feast, after which, riders checked into the hotel for long hot showers, dry clothes, and a good night's rest. We look forward to another 400 mile day into Nebraska--and damn the weather.
Your freedom is paid for and protected--enjoy it.
Thank a Vet & Never Forget.
Saturday, May 16 (by: Mike Rinowski)
Riders stepped into sunshine with dry gear and a cheery outlook for a long day of riding. Two had reached their limit and had to return to Oregon. After our mourning ritual, twenty seven riders rolled from a land of giant hills and tumbleweeds into Nebraska, a land of plateaus, pastures, and then the fields. The sixty percent chance for sunshine held true, but the forty percent for rain brought out the rain gear for some, just in case.
With 226 miles behind us, the North Platte Fire Department waited with a Subway lunch at the military memorial. Four NVAR brothers from Grand Island (GI) rode out to meet us, and another twenty riders joined us in Kearney for the fifty miles ride into GI. Officer Shelly, another in the NVAR family, met us on I-80 with her squad car for an escort into her grand city. Fifty bikes rolled into the VA home to a welcome from veterans and staff. Nancy Klemik, of the VA, opened the doors for riders to wander through to meet new residents and greet old friends.
The day's events ended with a feast at the American Legion Post 300. Mongo, the NVAR State Coordinator, led off with introductions to Larry, the post commander, and his staff of volunteers, with two who come from Missouri and Texas each year just for our reception. Dave might have caught more than his limit of fish for our main course, but hungry riders devoured the evidence quickly.
As we reach our half way point across the country, our visits will reach out to more veterans and school children.
Remember to thank our veterans & Never Forget.
Sunday, May 17 (by: Mike Rinowski)
Include in our mourning ritual; breakfast, ride meeting, and prayer, Dan reads a tribute to the men from the state we are entering that were killed in the war on terror. This morning, from the long list, he gave mention to Michael Patrick Pittman of Davenport Ia, June 15, 2007, and Kurt R. Frosheiser of Des Moines IA, November 8, 2003. Both died from an improvised explosive device (IED).
Twenty eight riders rolled from the rugged west into greener pastures, farmland, and forests of Iowa. The contrast of landscape was from the old west was like that from a silent movie to dolby surround sound, and a southern wind brought warmer temperatures with a force greater than Wyoming's winds. While we held our speed over I-80, 9 of the Kanesville Riders Honor Guard rolled into our formation to a wreath laying ceremony in Council Bluffs. The wreath was laid at a statue in the town square, followed by a bittersweet farewell to Norma Saris. Norma has been a key figure in receiving the NVAR for the past 10 years: Thank you Norma - we will miss you.
The Masonic Lodge fed us a hearty lunch, and then we rode to Freedom Rock where Bubba, the artist, was busy painting his annual scene changes. Families of deceased veterans give Bubba ashes to mix with his paints, and one portrait alone contained the ashes of 70 veterans. After recognition and prayers for the fallen, a rendition of Taps was played.
Schnieder's brilliant orange freightliner tractor covered with military murals--known as the Ride of Pride--joined our convoy to Washington D.C. But first, Bart, Director of Volunteers, welcomed us back to the Des Moines VAMC. These visits bring a roller coaster of emotions between riders and patients. The school children's cards we hand out brought deep joy to a terminally ill Vietnam veteran, and when given a ride pin, he wept with appreciation for the recognition. Later in our visit, he was brought out for a look at the bikes. The joy and freedom the motorcycles represent brought the man further into tears with his knowledge that his time was at an end.
On the up side of that roller coaster, Andie and her sons, Dylan, about 6, and Ethan, about 8, were there to visit their cheerful grandfather, Victor. But then, down the hall, John sat alone. His family lived to far away without a means to visit. Sadly, he will be placed in another center for long term care. Yet he, too, expressed a sincere appreciation for the recognition from a simple card and a pin. Just knowing he was remembered brought joy into his day.
In bold blue letters above the entry to the VAMC, it reads:
THE PRICE OF FREEDOM IS HONORED HERE.
Let our veterans know they are not forgotten.
Monday, May 18 (by: Mike Rinowski)
Auburn seems so long ago. It takes a look at the schedule to know what day it is and where we are--and tonight it's Davenport.
In our morning ritual, Dan read the tribute to 74 fallen Iowans to the war on terror. Of those, he mentioned Jason Pautsch of Davenport, 20 years old, killed in Iraq, and Nathan Cox of Walcott, 32 years old, killed in Afghanistan.
We thank the fine people of Amvets Post 2 for rising very early to ensure we didn't leave Des Moines hungry. A chill forceful blew from the northwest to knock us a round a little, but once we were eastbound to Marshalltown, the ride improved. Brad of Resident Services, and Jodi, the Iowa Vets Home Commandant, welcomed us, and Harry awaited our arrival, like he had in years past. For him, our visit is a bittersweet affair. He holds a lifetime membership in the HOG (Harley Owners Group), but Parkinson's disease has robbed him of his joy in the wind. I cannot imagine the turmoil locked within.
As usual, we were guided to residences in small groups and trusted to roam at will. A couple of residents had better memories than I, but I did remember another face from last year's visit. Ken, an NVAR rider, and I, then shared time with Larry: a sharp ex-Navy Corpsman at 64 years old with plans to return to medical school - go Larry. The home is the largest in the state with expansions and improvement for comfort and services; to include accommodations for couples.
Sunshine graced our southbound ride, while that pesky blow hit us on the right side, but I-80 stretched east for a strong ride to the VA Health Care System in Iowa City. Judy Johnson welcomed us, and her staff pointed us down different halls on a multiple of floors. The pins, and especially the cards, brought an unexpected sense of appreciation from the veterans; many accepted them with surprise, and thoughts kept to themselves. Many, like cheerful Bob, were short term patients anxious to go home. But age and illness had taken another, or two, to a point in life where the present, and their presence, seemed lost in the past. It's with those that farewells come most difficult.
The day warmed and the blow dropped to a breeze while we rolled strong past exit 84, where a group of Davenport riders doubled our number to around 60 bikes. We looked good rolling into the Golden Leaf Convention Center under police escort.
The Lima Company Memorial: The Eyes of Freedom, was kept an extra day for our honor to join in the last day of its Davenport exhibit. As the memorials and monuments in Washington D.C., and Marseilles IL, pay respect to soldiers and the fallen, The Eyes of Freedom portrays and artistic dimension with a personal connection. In 2005, the Marines of L3/25 swept through iraq as an offensive unit. Twenty three died in the performance of their duties. They are now honored in 8 life size oil paintings; each portraying them in detail to personal features and in good cheer with their buddies. As a person looks into each group, the eyes of each appear to look with the joy of life. A person cannot help but to be move emotionally by the innocence in their young faces.
At this late hour, it is better that I respectfully direct further detail to the memorial at their web site: www.limacompanymemorial.org.
Remember: Each day, young men and women stand in harms way for our freedom.
Never Forget & Thank a Vet.
Tuesday, May 19 (by: Mike Rinowski)
Spring fell backwards today, and those of us with heated liners were glad for them.
It's rides like this when it's good to wee the police, as we were escorted from Davenport to the shore of Lake Michigan. In between, we had a busy and enjoyable day, which ended with another feast from the St. Joseph Club.
More riders joined the group, and 35 bikes rolled with pride under a low gray sky. The Middle-East Conflict Wall in Marseilles was our first stop; a beautiful setting beside the Illinois River. The folks there helped with a fine ceremony for the wreath laying to honor over 7,000 veterans killed since 1979. Sadly, two walls had been added since last year, each with 7 rows of names, and construction was in progress to accommodate more walls. How many will America build? Present in the crowd was Patrick, who received an NVAR medal of recognition for his service in the war on terror. Ret. CSM William Luff, also known as NVAR brother Mongo, and as the Nebraska state coordinator, could not make the ride. While he served in Iraq, five of his men paid the ultimate price for freedom. From one of them, SSG James Mowris of the 530th MP Battalion, Mongo had held his beret from that tragic day. For reasons of his own, he asked Headdog to place it below his name. In an honorable and silent manner, SSG James Mowris' cover was returned.
While five riders set out on a test run to the Manteno Veterans Home, for a potential visit next year, the rest of us rode to the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery. This year's NVAR is dedicated to Jimmy Proffitt, and a memorial service was held in one of the shelters. His family and friends gathered to remember him, for among other virtues, his concern for the homeless of Chicago. For 25 years he fed them, and gave them money and medicine. His kindness extended into his family who assisted him each step of the way. His wife, Virginia, spoke lovingly of him, his friend, Recon, spoke of a painful loss - with words of humor, and his son, Jim, would continue the mission. Jimmy rests in the company of thousands like him below the green grasses and shade of Illinois landscape.
After that solemn occasion, we rode smoothly through central Portage unfazed. The amount of flashing police lights resembled a major crime scene beside and before us, traffic parted and stopped for our passage--an awesome sight. The high school ROTC Drill Team put on a spectacular display of precision with weapons twirled like batons, and the silent drill was choreographed like a Vegas dance show--without the glitter.
Then we rolled into Michigan City for a wreath laying ceremony at the Danny Bruce Memorial; he posthumously received the Medal of Honor. On my first NVAR, I had the honor to lay the wreath, after which, I did a little research. I had ridden my motorcycle through the province where he made the ultimate sacrifice to save three of his Marine buddies. I often stopped in a mountain village cafe where the people always were friendly to me. A stretch of China Beach, similar to the shore of Lake Michigan, ran along the eastern border. I wondered if Daniel had a moment to see the beauty of the mountains, or had a day to curls his toes in the sand.
We hold life dearly, yet many pay the ultimate sacrifice for freedom, and some make the ultimate sacrifice.
Thank a Vet & Never Forget.
Wednesday, May 20 (by: Mike Rinowski)
Many in the NVAO live within an easy day's ride of Michigan City, which always brings a crowd to the Danny Bruce Memorial, and the morning's breakfast. After recognition and thank you's to "half" the population, Dan read the day's tribute to Indiana veterans lost in the war on terror: 153 killed in action. Mentioned were; James Eric Brown, 20 years old from Owensville, Nov. 2, 2005, and Jeffery Corban, 30 years old from Elkhart, Oct. 15, 2005. Please keep them all and their families in your prayers. The Wall Gang, another veteran support organization, claims Michigan City as their home. Steve "Headdog" Moore, President, announced that they dedicated this year's ride to John Dean Retseck Jr., killed in Vietnam, Jan. 7, 1970. Members of his family attended the dedication.
More than fifty riders headed south on a two lane road with three vehicles, our chase truck and trailer, Schneider's Rid of Pride, AND, (I forgot to mention the other day) the Lima Company Memorial: The Eyes of Freedom honored us by joining the ride to Washington D.C. A police escort led us through and between small towns where crowds cheered us on. The West Central School suspended classes on our arrival for a flag raising ceremony. A few hundred students welcomed us, and within them we reunited with those we met last year. Andrew, and 8th grader, comes from a family of veterans, and already has an intent for the Marine Corps. I hope he serves in a time of peace.
We joined veterans for lunch at the Indiana Veterans Home, rather than visit in their rooms like in years past. That was a large social affair for those lucky enough to get in on the limited seating in the cafeteria. The crowd chatted up a storm, and the pins and cards remain a hit with vets across the country. Too soon we were off to meet our next escort.
We receive remarkable support from troopers and police departments, there's something unique about each, but that of Indianapolis ranks as a special one for it's distance and choreographed movements of troopers at high speed. Eight of them met us at our gas stop, and others sat behind the scenes along our route. While a high volume of traffic flowed west over the interstate and 5-lane expressways, the NVAR rolled like thunder for 62 miles before, beside, and behind vacant lanes--a surreal ride. We crossed into Ohio where its state troopers rolled into the lead with perimeter protection. They guided us into Brookville, where about the only thing missing from a welcome was red carpet over the asphalt. Our hosts at the AMVETS post held nothing back, and as usual, it went the same with a meal. Hungarian was the theme for this years feast; brats, sauerkraut, hot dishes, potatoes, veggies, salads, pies, brownies, and cakes - and they encouraged us to seconds.
Stuffed riders then retired early. At this time in our ride, we've visited thousands of veterans and as many school children. Auburn feels like a time and place long past, and Washington will one day appear on our horizon. Until then, we ride, visit, eat, sleep, and wait for Jerry to call out, "Riders - Five Minutes," and we do it all again.
Please keep our veterans and their families in your thoughts and prayers. Hold the virtues of this great country close in all you do.
Thursday, May 21 (by: Mike Rinowski)
Sometimes military paperwork shuffles through a long-slow-process, but eventually it gets done. A week ago, a Vietnam veteran in the Indiana Veterans Home in West Lafayette quietly received his Purple Heart. Yesterday during our visit, Jerry stepped up to announce a formal recognition long overdue.
In another story, shared to me after my Sit/Rep post; a caretaker told us of a letter left to him after a veteran had passed on. In it, the veteran thanked him for finally getting him internet service so he could arrange his affairs before he died. He knew his time was short, but the director did not. Since then, whenever the caretaker receives an attainable request, he puts everything else aside to make sure they get it, because many may have few days or weeks left. Hip, hip, hooray.
Dan's tribute to Ohio soldiers lost in the war on terror counts 282; among them are Ashley White, 24 years old, killed in action in Afghanistan on October 22, 2011, and Jeffery Rieck, 45 years old, killed in action in Afghanistan on April 4, 2012. Please keep them and their families in your thoughts and prayers.
We rode from Brookville under a heavy sky, and in escort of the Ohio State Patrol who ensured our passage free of traffic. We had to look good from the other lane--the only thing to top it would have been helicopter cover; maybe next year our Ohio State NVAR Coordinator can arrange that. The NVAR made a grand entrance into the Chillicothe VAMC in America's heartland--a beautiful facility with a residence anxious for our arrival. Part of the group stayed to visit with hands full of pins and cards while the rest of us attended a graduation ceremony at the Southeastern School. A provision for those who left high school to join the service, and then paid the ultimate sacrifice, could now be posthumously awarded an Honorary Diploma. These were awarded to the families of Shelby M. Long and James William Lunsford Jr. who were killed in Vietnam. Their names will be carved in stone markers and set beside the school entrance, alongside those of Brad Clemmons, son of David and Brenda (NVAO family), and Aaron Reed (whose portrait stands in the Lima Company Memorial: The Eyes of Freedom), both killed in the war on terror. Like everywhere we stop, the school has supported the NVAR like one of the family we are. Speeches were spoken, certificates passed out, and the high school band played some lovely renditions; and then came a buffet with enough food to feed a battalion.
Lunch settled into most on the 88 mile ride to the next gas stop. It was comforting to be under escort. After a quick coffee, the Ohio patrol left us at the border, and in the care of the West Virginia patrol--what a way to ride. We must do this more often!
Next on our schedule was the Louis Johnson VAMC in Clarksburg. Beth Brown, the director, announced her retirement after 38 years of service to our veterans. Three cheers for Beth. Hip, hip, hooray! She will be missed for years to come, and we wish her pleasant time for however she chooses.
Riders strolled through the center, and the pins and cards remained a hit among veterans--gotta love those kids who sent those cards. After that, we found veterans in the crowd outside. As I mentions to some extent earlier, but worth repeating with expansion; Vietnam veterans, which many in the NVAR, are, wanted to make sure the disrespectful, or neglectful, reception they received never happened again. At each stop across America, we searched out veterans from the war on terror. They were called into our group and the Vietnam veterans reception, or lack of one, was explained, and then a medal was presented to them. On one side it says, "Ever Vigilant - Freedom is not Free", and on the other, "Global WAr on Terrorism - America Thanks You."
We visited many schools on this ride and talked to hundreds of young men and women intent on serving their country. An obligation will pass from today's recipients and citizens to tomorrow's. Never Forget.
Friday, May 22 (by: Mike Rinowski)
Thirty seven men from West Virginia have made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror. Mentioned from those was William Bradley Fulks, 20 years old from Culloden, killed in action on May 18, 2006, and Richard W. Hafer, 21 years old from Cross Lanes, killed in action on November 15, 2003. Two young lives cut short in the name of freedom. Remember them.
The morning warmed quickly, so I turned the thermostat down a notch on my heated liners. We rolled steady over mountains and through valleys. Riders held a secure and comfortable formation that offered glances across the forest, which contrasted a blue sky we had not seen much of lately. We arrive at the Rocky Gap Veterans Cemetery as the sun crested overhead. Forty students of the Allegany High School 9th grade class had set flags on the thousands of grave markers--a steady wind held them proudly over each. After the wreath laying ceremony and a beautiful rendition of Taps, the class president spoke of their recognition and respect of not only those buried there, but for those who stand in the name of freedom today--deep and wonderful words for a man of his young years.
The day warmed and another escort led us to a welcome from Tim Cooke, director at the Martinsburg VAMC. This was our first visit, and one we hope to repeat. An honor for a couple riders was to meet Mr. Clark, a WWII Army veteran. AT 107 years old, he's the oldest in the VAMC system. Hip, hip, hooray, and we'll expect to cheer him on again next year. On the patio, John and Joe sat with a friend chilling out to tunes on a portable cd player. These guys were so happy for the visit and recognition. A lot of laughs were shared between new friends while Gladys Knight and Marvin Gay crooned in the background. An hour there worked wonders for us all.
We rode into Washington D.C. with a great appreciation for the escorts we enjoyed across the land, and wished we had had another--because we were on our own, creeping along with Friday afternoon traffic. Relief rolled with us into our hotel parking lot. Ten days, three thousand miles, sunshine, rain, hail and slush, thousands of veterans and school children, plates and dishes of food, and memories--after a couple of days rest it would be great to turn around and do it backwards.
The ride began at every rider's home, but from Auburn it was a pilgrimage. We rode with pride, and humility--emotions and compassion flowed freely, and there was support. Riders bonded as family to bring gratitude to those who served our country, and we shared that with the youth, who in turn passed that on to us.
Somewhere on this Memorial Day weekend, a man or woman will pass with some notice that they are a veteran, or a supporter of veterans--it may be on a hat, a pin, or the sticker on their car--take a moment and thank them. If you are near a VAMC, or plan to be near one at any time through the year, contact them to request a visit. Let the veterans know they are not forgotten.
At The Wall - Saturday, May 23 (by: Mike Rinowski)
What a relief to wake up and not have to pack the bike, and the Comfort Inn complemented our breakfast in comfort. After our morning ritual and tribute, the riders mounted their bikes for a short ride into a beautiful day. In minutes we rolled onto a grass lot across the street from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial - The Wall.
We were among the first riders to arrive. Under a blue sky, dense shade lied through the landscape with brilliant sunshine warming names on the west wing. Few people wandered the perimeter, and our riders strolled along The Wall with a crowd no larger than our own. It was a peaceful atmosphere for brothers to reunite with brothers lost. I knew non of them personally, but carry their spirits with each ride. As I read the posters for those Missing in Action, I recalled the character and features of the provinces they were lost in. I had been through all but one province, and it's difficult to imagine the tragedy they endured in a landscape of beauty and a land of welcome. But they did suffer the horror of man, and efforts must never cease to account for them and return them to home soil. We rode to the Tomb of the Unknowns before sunshine crept into the east wing. Before the changing of the guard, Patrick Martindale, Fred Young, Tony Jackson, and Richard Combs were instructed on the procedures for a wreath placement at the tomb. Each listened intently, and tensely, as a guard explained the procedure; then at the end he told them not to worry because during the ceremony they would be directed by words unheard to the crowd. Dressed sharp, they stepped onto the plaza and performed with professionalism, followed by a rendition of Taps. With that, they joined a special group of twenty other NVAR riders bestowed that honor.
From there we rode to a welcome from the D.C. Ramblers Motorcycle Club and a fleet of screaming fire engines - what a welcome. It was a perfect annual lunch reunion to culminate the ride. Each morning on our ride we held a 50/50 drawing with cash and gifts for prizes--luck was with Terry Hoops on more than a few occasions. Silver Top had donated a Henry Rifle for a special raffle with a limited number of tickets with a winner to be drawn at the D.C. Ramblers lunch. It was not a surprise when Terry's name was pulled. Congratulations Terry. At mid-day, a few riders headed west, for home. Their mission continues, but their ride was closer to an end. Tomorrow, the rest of us will join more than a few hundred thousand riders in the roar for Rolling Thunder, and then find our ways home with great memories and excitement to do it again next year.
I thank all of you for following the 2015 NVAR. At each stop we told our veterans that we represented thousands of people across America. They were not forgotten. That pleased them. Each of you represent the same thousands through the year. Thank a Vet & Never Forget.
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Final Photos - Sunday, May 24 (by: Mike Rinowski)
Some riders rode off on Saturday, some Sunday, and this morning the remaining NVAR riders head for home--to prepare for next years ride.
Thank you for following our 2015 mission, and we look forward to returning to our own personal missions through the year, and then the 2016 NVAR.