Getting there

Today we left Roseburg OR. and drove to Sacramento, California. The actual ride to the wall starts here in the morning.  There are seven of us from Oregon, five from Roseburg and two from Cottage Grove.  So far, about fifty riders have arrived from various points, and I hear even more will be here in the morning by the time we leave.  The plan for the official Day One is to visit VA Reno Medical Center as our first stop.  We’ll be visiting veterans there in the facilities’ Community Living Center.

Last night we had dinner together at a “meet and greet” gathering.  Lots of these veterans have done this run or joined for a portion of it in the past, so it felt more like a family reunion than anything else.  Lots of laughs and hugs, and the newbies were welcomed with open arms. Very cool. During the get-together, we went over some of the important details about the ride.  Safety is paramount, and I learned a lot about the rules of formation.  A group of bikers of this magnitude have to be very careful.  They are supposed to ride staggered and about three bike lengths behind the one in front of them.  Specific hand signals are used, and the riders learned what is expected when we all come to an intersection.  The logistics are well planned, and the NVAR coordinators are impressively organized.   I also learned about the missing man formation that is consistent throughout the trip across the USA. 

Those of you with Military background, of which I am not one, know about the missing man.  Since some of you may not know about this as I didn’t, allow me to explain.  It is a placement in a formation that is dedicated to and represents those lost in war, or missing in action.  The NVAR has a spot designated behind and to the side of the ride leader for the missing man.  That spot is always left open and the location is highly respected.  The rider who is next to that spot is the protector of that area.  When we park, no one is to walk into that area, and as the riders travel in their formation, no rider crosses into that area either.

Later, as I visited with many of the veteran rider participants, I was fortunate to meet the NVAR coordinator for the missing man formation.  His name is Head Dog.   He told me stories of the protector rider often feeling a sense of a presence in that open location.  He said other riders will most likely tell me about their experiences when they ride in that spot.  I look forward to hearing more about that.

Riders ask Head Dog to be placed in the protector position, and they are placed on a list and are accommodated by a schedule.  The kicker here is that Head Dog asked me if I wanted to ride in that location.  One of the riders standing by us offered to take me as his passenger and together we would protect the missing man.   I told him that I felt so honored to have such an opportunity.  I teared up just thinking about that opportunity, and Head Dog noticed my eyes. He said, “Don’t worry ‘bout that.  For the next two weeks you are going to be on an emotional roller coaster. One minute you’ll be crying, the next, laughing. That’s what this trip brings out in all of us.” 

I’ll talk to you all later.

Carrie Lee

Day Two

The bikes and riders lined up this morning about 7:30 am.  Each morning, same time, we have a meeting.  All riders must attend.  Steve Mulcahy, this year’s ride coordinator, reminds all attendees about the safety rules, talks about the scheduled stops  and answers questions.  The meeting complete, he hollers out, MOUNT UP!!!  Everyone scrambles for their bike.  Helmets and gloves on quickly, and start your engines!

Wow.  Maybe I’ll get used to the rumble that ensues once everyone has their bike revved up, but I kind of doubt it.  I wasn’t quite sure if my heart was pounding from the excitement of it all, or my heart was literally being rattled from the vibration that forty-some bike engines create in a close setting.   Whatever it was, I loved it.  Big grins and a few photos later, I jumped in the chase truck with Ray.  Off we  went – following behind the last rider and the NVAO official van.

Our main stop for today was at the VA in Reno, NV.  The bikes filled the extensive main entrance cul-de-sac   parking area. Our arrival made quite an impact.  We were greeted by the public affairs officer.  As part of our welcoming, VA Reno staff member Shan Arcobello, sang the National Anthem.  It was beautiful! We all sang along. Welcoming complete, we were guided to the Community Living Center (CLC) where more than sixty Veterans are living at this time.  The riders converged on the many fellows in wheel chairs and others that were resting in their rooms or lounging.  What a site to see.  The patients loved it!  The noise level immediately increased several octaves, and it seemed to me anyway, the whole place got warmer!  Riders were telling stories to CLC patients; patient were telling stories, shaking hands, laughing, and they were all thanking each other for their service.   This beautiful chaotic verve continued for well over an hour.

I met a sweetheart of a guy at VA Reno today.  His name is Marshall Thompson.  He is a Navy Veteran, having served on the USS Black from ’58 to ’62, and was in Vietnam in ’64 and ’65. He was moving along the hall using a walker with an attendant close by his side, Tiffany.  (Sorry, I didn’t catch her last name.)  He wheeled himself to the window where he could see some of the bikes.  I approached him, took his hand, introduced myself, and thanked him for his service.  He smiled, and looked at me with a determined eye. He said, “Come on honey, we’re going outside.  I want to touch one of those bikes.”   Me beside him and with my hand still resting atop his, and with tiffany right there on the other side, we traversed the hall, and slowly made our way down the ramp to the bikes.

The smile on his face confirmed he was feeling especially entertained by all the goings-on, and as we snaked our way through the bikes, he touched some of them.  He’d lean over close to get a good look, and then gently run his hand along the bike. He’d look back at me and grin.  I took his picture, and he liked that too.  He started talking more and more as we moved along.  He told me he’d been using the VA’s around Nevada and also in Palo Alto California for more than ten years.  He’d become very ill in October of 2009.  “I had an MRI,” he explained, “and I found out I had a brain tumor.  When my VA doctor called me, he told me to come to the hospital NOW. I did, and that’s the last thing I remembered until February of 2010.  I had surgery, and I’m recovering still, but I am so much better.  My experience here has been magically positive.”

I told him it was magically positive for me to get to meet him and visit.  We worked our way back up the ramp and through the double doors back into the CLC.  He told me he wanted to rest, so we sat down on a bench in the hall.  He held my hand again.  It was a great feeling.  He looked at me and said, “Come back and visit any old time.”  I said I’d love to.

And just think, I get to do this for days to come.  Life is good!

The VA Reno Voluntary Service team provided us lunch.  Many of the staff stopped by to thank us for coming and before we left, Shan Arcobello sang us another song, America the Beautiful.  The visit was great.  The hospitality was greatly appreciated.

On another note-

I am so enamored with all the NVAO planners.  To better explain how this all comes together, NVAO is the group that puts the ride together each year for the northern route.  The Run For The Wall Organization puts together the central and southern routes.  All of the routes are scheduled around VA hospital visits, stops at various Memorials to lay wreaths, and to schools to teach about Veterans and what they represent and keep the POW/MIA issue alive.   I already touched on that in an earlier note to you all, but now that I’m actually doing these things and partaking in the run, the impact of our mission has really hit me.  Simply put, it’s a beautiful thing.  Sorry about the cliché’.  I couldn’t help it.

I can’t wait until tomorrow!

Carrie Lee

Day Three Blog:

You know that special friend  you have that from the first time you met  you knew  they were good-hearted, kind and gracious and you’ve been great friends ever since?  Well, guess what?  I was with 52 or so of them today.  Yes, that’s right; we’ve picked up several more riders through the three states we’ve worked through today. As we zipped down the freeway through Nevada, Utah and into Wyoming our little group takes up more than a quarter mile of roadway.  And that’s when the riders are staggered.  If we were single file, Ray tells me we’d take up a full half-mile. 

It all appears to be, (and is) organized and smooth when we are on the freeway and the bikes are in formation in one lane, but once we exit, like we did today to  get to the Utah State Soldiers Nursing Home, it gets a little dicey. 

The NVAR group, as I’ve mentioned, is as dedicated to rider safety as they are to honoring Veterans. In addition to CB radio contact between the leader and other riders, the team has designated attendees that perform an extra duty. These guys help to ensure that riders get on and off side roads or on/off  exit ramps safely.  They wear bright green reflective striped vests that read, ROAD GUARD. We have six riders in our group who either volunteered or were asked to be designated in that role, and I’ve been keeping an eye on these guys.  They are amazing.

Allow your mind’s eye to maneuver your vehicle through four lanes of Salt Lake City urban streets, with busy turn lanes, congestion, road construction and bumper to bumper styled drivers at about 4:00 pm.  Feel the elevated nervous tension that intensifies when you are in those driving conditions. Now, try to envision or think of a group of 50 bikers together in the same conditions.

I want to talk about and explain further about the Road Guard duty, but first, I have to say this:

Jimmy Buffett has a line in a song-The cosmic bakers took us humans out of the oven just a little too early.  Now I mean this in a good way, but to be a Road Guard you have to have just a bit of crazy in you.  I have great respect for those that take up this role, and I had an opportunity to speak with one of them, Rick (The Lion) Dyer.  I told him watching Road Guards in action made me think of that song line above, and he started laughing and said I was pretty much right.  All in good humor, but on a serious note he told me the duty “is not for the timid.”

Rick has performed this duty in other venues, so he is comfortable in the role.  He provided me an example of the process.  “We use hand signals and radios to communicate with each other.  Let’s say we come to an intersection with a traffic light.  Road Guards ease into traffic and stop in the middle of the intersection.  One Guard on each side of the road- We wave our hands and have on our flashers to get the attention of the vehicle driver.  I try to make eye contact with them so they actually will STOP.  {Note-See what I mean about dicey!}  Once we get the traffic stopped, we start waving the bikes through.  If we are lucky and everyone is together, this doesn’t take too long.  Often cars will try to cut in the middle of the bikes as they see that our group is moving, and their lane isn’t.  The other Road Guards station themselves along the outside of the group to try and avoid that scenario from happening, but it does once in a while.  That breaks up the pack so assertively encourage that vehicle to move back over. Anyway, once the chase truck has passed, we run quickly down the center of the road or the side between the cars and catch up to the pack and place ourselves back in formation.   It’s intense, and one must stay alert and focused. We want all riders safe and together.”

My hope is that you get an idea here of how well orchestrated this trek is, and an idea of how involved the logistics are each day.

I have provided a couple pictures of our visit to the Utah State Soldiers Nursing Home.  The Veterans and staff were waiting for us. We waved and they waved back as we pulled into the parking area.  We all approached them together.  It’s so awesome to watch the faces of these patients as they receive thanks and handshakes and stories from fellow Veterans and Veteran advocates.  One of my pictures is of a rider who goes by the name of Top.  He was in the Marines, and the patient in the picture was a Marine also.  Look at that picture, their faces, and you will see how much joy the visit brought to both of them. 

Talk later,

Carrie Lee

Day Four

I got to bed the evening of day four at 10:00 pm, the earliest yet. However, my subconscious rattled my conscious mind awake at 4:00 am-feeding me and filling me with thoughts of writing to you.

It’s a challenge already to cover a day’s events and they tell me it will get even busier each day as we go along.  I’ll try to highlight as much as possible without boring you with details or getting too wordy on one part of the day:

We woke up to snow in Evanston Wyoming.  Nervous energy and tension presided over of the morning’s safety meeting, but the leaders gave great advise to the riders.  The group as a whole is well prepared for all types of conditions, but slick roads are slick roads and it’s scary on a bike.

The group did awesome.  The snow  let up after about 40 miles, and although VERY cold, the near 50 bikers traveling at about 7000 ft. elevation did well and arrived at Rock Springs Wy. gas stop without incident.  That changed there thought--- our first breakdown.

This is where the chase truck driver, Ray Adams springs into action.  Luckily the bike didn’t break down on the side of the road; it simply wouldn’t start after the gas stop.  Ray and the rider loaded the bike in the back of the trailor and we took off for the Harley Dealership. The procedure is organized, and after we drop the rider and bike off, the chase truck’s job is to catch up with the pack just as quickly as possible.  The biker catches up after repairs.

The Harley place was huge.  And they had Harley gear in the showroom-fancies and leather everywhere. And they were having a SALE.   Women’s clothing SALE.  I looked at Ray. He said, “Ya, you have a few minutes before we go.”

I bought a coat in about three minutes flat.  You see, the plan was for me to ride in the afternoon.  I brought a coat from home, but besides it not being heavy enough for the weather, it is BROWN.  I was already concerned about sticking out like a sore thumb with my pink helmet, so at least I fit in little better.

My first ride- To Cheyenne VA on the lead bike for ceremony and Veteran visit:

Day 5 blog

Hi all. Compared to yesterday’s snowy take-off, the 72 riders that left Cheyenne with temperatures in the high sixties were much more relaxed, and the mood ; light and breezy.

At the safety meeting and yummy breakfast provided by and taking place at the Cheyenne American Legion Post 6, I learned a few tidbits that I found interesting.

The youngest  passenger rider traveling with us for a couple days is an eleven year old boy, Cole Lenington. He’s from Illinois, and will be with us until we reach Davenport, Iowa.

Each morning Ray, my chase truck driving buddy, sells raffle tickets.  The drawing that takes place is called 50/50.  The winner of the raffle gets ½ of the money, and the other half goes toward fuel for the chase truck.  Most of the winners donate their half toward fuel too.  These fellows are so generous. This trip is expensive for fuel for a big truck, and this really helps to off-set that cost for the NVAR organizers. Cole did the ticket drawing for us and he seemed to be enjoying himself completely.

Next, the youngest rider going all the way to the wall is a 52 year old, Gary Croft, from Illinois.  The oldest, is 74.  Think you’ll be riding a motorcycle at 74 across the country?  This fact, and given my learning curve on how grueling this ride can be, blows my mind.  His name is Jug.  He’s from Illinois too, so that means in addition to his start in Sacramento, he had to ride from there to get to the start of the ride.  I asked him his full name and he said, “I already told you.  My name is Jug.”


At North Platte, Nebraska, the fire department provided lunch and we had a short Veteran Honoring Ceremony there.  We picked up a TON of day riders, and we all headed for the Nebraska State Funded Nursing Home in Grand Island NE. for a Veteran visit and formal program.

The roar and length of our procession was unreal.  From the chase truck’s view on long straight roads, I could not see to the front riders.  It was a highway filled sea of bikes.  So beautiful.

The State Veterans Home was lovely.  Rich green grasses and trees frame the expanse of buildings dedicated to housing Veterans.  Patient/residents were waiting for us outside, and the rider pack gave them  all pins and handshakes, and lots of hugs.  We finally got a bike count there.  We had 168 riders all toll.  AWESOME.

Day Six Blog

I’m overwhelmed right now.  So many stops and events yesterday that I’d like to write about, but I think it would end up being a book.  Suffice it to say I apologize to those wonderful American citizens, Veteran Service Organizations and VA and State facilities if I don’t write about them.  We, as a group of Veterans and Veteran Advocates, salute you for helping us to make this mission a safe and successful one.  This event could not happen without them, and we have been welcomed with open arms in every single place we’ve stopped.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Debi Crawford, a rider who started in Sacramento and is going all the way to DC is also writing every day.  She is posting what they call “sit reps.”   Her writing paraphrases each day, and is available on the NVAR web site.  She is working hard to identify and thank those who have assisted us.  I commend her.

One story from the day is about a stop in Council Bluffs Iowa. 

I take notes during the day and shoot pictures.  In the late evening or very early am, I take out that    dog-eared, coffee stained and scribbled on notebook and decipher my written thoughts.  Here’s what I wrote while sitting in the park after the Council Bluffs event:






America the Beautiful

I guess this is why I wrote that-

It seemed like the whole town of Council Bluffs came out to great us.  The tidy streets were blocked off, and folks lined the walks, waving and taking pictures of the bikes as we rolled in.  Lots of hugs and greetings ensued from those who know the Masonic Temple members of the town and the other service organizations that help out the NVAR team year after year.

The ceremony included a wreath laying in honor of Private First Class Phillip Grego who was killed in Vietnam on August 23, 1966. His father, Ross Grego, was present.

He is 95.

So grief consumed was Ross from the loss of his son, he decided to have an exact replica of him built into a huge cast statue.  He paid for most of it himself, and it took three years to complete.  The statue stands tall right in the center of town, adjacent to a beautiful park with an ornate fountain and tables all around.   Looking through my lens to frame my picture, I had to pull away for a second.  Phillip Grego is wearing glasses and the eyes behind them seemed to be gazing right at me.  Whoever created this masterpiece is an amazing artist.

I have provided pictures of the statue, father Ross, and a few others below.  Hope my shots tell the story for you:

Our next stop was “The Rock” in Iowa.

A famous young artist, who simply goes by the name of “Bubba”, paints an enormous rock each year as a Memorial Day tribute that includes war memorabilia and Veteran and active Military related works.

If I were you, I’d minimize this website and go to your search engine:  The Freedom Rock Iowa.  Read his story about why he paints this rock each year.  Then come back to me, and read the rest of this story.

Thank you.  Now read on: 

As you all know by now, Terry Mooney, Roseburg Oregon Veteran rider is carrying Mike Rucker’s ashes to the wall.  I think this story is best told in photos, but just so you know, Terry got permission from the family to do what he did and what we all witnessed at The Rock.  Some of Mike’s ashes were painted into the rock to remain there, forever.  He is the 21st Vietnam Veteran to be mixed into Bubba’s paint.

I have to include here that this was not a sad occasion. It felt like the end of a day of great accomplishments.  Part of Mike now rests with his brothers on a beautiful rock in rural Iowa.

Heart-felt and uplifting experience for all of us.  Thank you to the family members of Mike Rucker for your trust in us. You were all with us there in spirit.  No doubt about that.  We felt you.  It was good.

See ya on the flip side,

Carrie Lee

Day Seven Blog-

Before I drop into story mode, a word about what I have done to the passenger side and the back seat of Ray’s (the chase vehicle) truck.

You know the saying; every man loves his truck, or something close to that?  Ray Adams is that man.   He was a truck driver for fifty years, and he gives love and care to his vehicle consistently.  He’s been telling me trucker stories and I’ve been learning the “lingo” from hearing CB radio conversations along the way.  Anyway, I digress.

My side is a mess.  Cords strew everywhere.  As I glare down at the heap below, I see notebooks, coats, folders, one uneaten apple and one eaten one…(yuck), and some empty water bottles rolling around.  Turning to the backseat….backpack, helmet, camera gear, more cords… get the idea.

Ray has been very patient with me too.  He helps me and lets me read him my rough drafts of these blogs and he provides input.    He’s done the ride so many times he’s like a NVAR dictionary.  I really appreciate him and all he does “bringing up the rear” of the pack and towing that rolling bike garage- the big trailer.  Thanks Ray!!!!

More thoughts from Day Seven- Des Moines to Davenport

The AMVETS Post #2 out of Des Moines provided breakfast and the CCJROTC performed maneuvers for us. These kids are dedicated and their teacher, Steve Cockrell, is an Army instructor for the Des Moines Central Campus.  He volunteers his time, and the kids get up and train at about 5:00 am so they can get to school on time. Their performance was impressive.  I’ve sent a few pictures for you.

Next- We were off to visit the 650 patient/residents of the Iowa State Veterans Home. Another impressive facility, and it’s expanding-about 92,000 sq. ft. of growth is under construction now.

As we have traveled to and through the varieties of facilities, VA’s and State Homes alike, I have seen construction in many all of them.  Why?

Just to name a few, our Korean War Veterans are about age 70 or so now.  Our Vietnam Veterans are around mid-late fifties to sixties.  As we all know, as we get older most people’s medical needs increase.   In addition, our medical technology has increased our life expectancy considerably.

The number of Veterans using these facilities and medical services is on the rise.  Makes sense right?  Think of the many thousands of men and women we’ve either sent or they joined the Military during war time or served in a non-combat timeframe over the last (just) sixty years.  Again, think of the numbers. I wish I knew it, but I don’t.  Millions I’m sure.  And now, our Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom (OIF/OEF) Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans are slowly coming home.  They too, as the Vietnam Veterans experienced, have a unique set of issues that must be addressed.  Traumatic Brain Injury, (TBI) is one.  I’m not talking about that yet though because I’m trying to make a point.

I had the good fortune last night to visit with one of the riders.  He is a Vietnam Veteran.  What he told me, hit me hard, like a face slap.  Later, a stronger understanding came to me. Nearly an epiphany.  I hope my words explaining his words will “hit” you too.

He said and I paraphrase:

A gang of motorcycle riders comes with a stigma.  It’s one of roughness, toughness, rebels, and even outcasts.  This stigma in comparison/contrast to how we felt when coming home from Nam is appropriate.  So, a bike group of Veterans going to The Wall on a mission that includes challenges, trust, and commitment to safety, fits perfectly.   (Not that they fit that rebel description now- please understand that.}

He talked further:

Coming home, we felt like outcasts; left behind to heal our own wounds.  And our wounds were many. We felt lost.  Trusting civilians was especially tough.  They had not been there and they didn’t understand.  Trusting a Veteran- now that did work.  The fellow Veteran who had experienced similar circumstances knows. They made a commitment to die for their country, and they were willing to die to save each other.   And they did. There was no question about trusting each other.  This story teller explained to me, “We are brothers. We love each other, we trust each other, we are bonded and we will protect each other until our dying day.” 

My thoughts:

The job of the federal government is to answer to the demand for Veteran services by increasing  budgets to supplement the much needed expansions to accommodate the commitment we made to service Veterans.  As President Lincoln expressed, for those who have borne the battle.  Our job as American citizens is to make sure that happens.  Are we already expanding services?  Yes.  Do we need to do more? Yes.

As you know, I work for the VA in Roseburg Oregon.  I’ve worked with Veterans there for more than three years.  I thought I understood.  I’ve learned so much at my facility over the last few years and I’ve felt pretty confident about how I am serving our Veteran population.  Now that I’ve listened and heard even more of their stories, it’s different.

My drive and commitment to my mission in serving Veterans has increased even more.   My desire is a result of the NVAR coordinating team and this event, and with my stories, hopefully your commitment will increase too.

Thank you.  More on day seven coming in a little while.

Carrie Lee

P.S.   I saw a TV screen this am showing people washing off oil coated pelicans around Louisiana somewhere.   I was thinking that if you are just hanging out, not doing anything, maybe you could go there and help.  They were calling out for volunteers. 

Day Eight:

Just outside Portage, Indiana we picked up so many riders it’s impossible to count them.  It must have been at least a 100.  We had an impressive police escort by both Portage City and Indiana State Police. Sirens, flashing lights, police bikes racing all the way along our mile or so string of bikes.   We arrived at our first school there, and we were blessed with a wonderful, professional and exciting program by the Portage MCJROTC.

I might be one of those great things that you had to be there to fully appreciate, but suffice it to say these kids were awesome.  They performed with their M16 replica guns to rock and roll and even rap songs.  Many of this large group is bound for the Military post graduation.  The team had a great “together” spirit.  I think meeting the Veterans was inspiring for them, and the NVAR group members gave them a long standing ovation at the end. 

We picked up even more bikes at a gas stop, literally hundreds with us now, for the parade and ride into Michigan City, Indiana where this ride originated.  The Wall Gang riders joined us. 

We are getting a lot of press, and I was watched a newspaper photographer try to get a shot of all the bikes.  Fat chance.  It takes many frames at this point.   I had to smile about that.

I have lots to say about Michigan City, Indiana and what all transpired there, but I need a chance to gather my thoughts, and I’ve decided I’m going to do that behind the driver of a beautiful motorcycle today.  I’ll catch up later, I promise you that, but for now….I just gotta ride!

Carrie Lee

More Day Eight;

Rolling toward Michigan City, Indiana we stopped at a gas stop where we were met by about 100 riders, many of which are part of the Wall Gang.  My best estimate is we had 200 bikes parading through the town of about 35,000 residents.

Michigan City has five very active Veterans Service Organizations, and the town-folk lined the streets, waving flags etc. on our route to the St. Joseph Club for socializing and dinner. 

There was such a mass of bikes and well-wishers I was once again in awe of the amazing support we have received crossing the USA.

Watching all this, my pride in being an American citizen expanded yet again.

Crossing the USA, I’ve watched, witnessed, experienced, listened, learned, held others, others held me, marveled, cried, laughed, and physically felt my heart puff up with feelings of pride and joy.

In the hearts of the residents of Michigan City, I strongly believe by my experience there, the town itself includes a dedication and understanding for the Veteran and his plight.  It appeared physically on their faces, and their participation, assistance and generosity in working with the NVAR, and the NVAO itself has greatly supported the group leaders in bringing this cherished event for all the Veteran riders to fruition year after year.

This brings to me to discussion about, Steve Moore, AKA “Headdog.”  He has led the ride many times, and this year he is the Missing Man position coordinator.  He is from Michigan City, born and raised there.  One of his best buddies who grew up with him told me that every year Headdog dresses up as Santa Claus at Christmas time and rides his Harley through town entertaining the residents.  I wanted you to get an idea of what kind of a person he is, because yesterday I rode passenger on his bike for quite a while and I want to tell you about that:

For the record, this puts us into Day Nine:

I am not complaining, but the work I’ve been doing has been taxing. Attending the events and visiting with Veterans and taking pictures all day keeps me very busy.  At night, often after about 11 or 12 hours on the road, (this includes our visits, gas and ceremonial stops) I am beat.  When I get to my hotel room, I download pictures, do some editing, read over my notes, and start to formulate what I would like to tell you.  Most of the time, I’m too tired to write, so I do that from the truck in the morning with the inverter plugged in and my laptop balanced on Ray’s pillow.  Works pretty good, except for the big bumps!

My head was so full yesterday that I decided to take a break.  No camera on the bike this time.  Nothing.  Just ride as a passenger.

Headdog said I could ride with him.  He is in the 5th position in the pack.  I learned more from that experience why bikers are bikers then ever before.  It’s a great way to clear your head!

His is a big Harley. He told me I was riding on the Cadillac of the bikes.  Looking at it, I’d have to agree.  The seats are lined with sheep skin, and there are more gizmos on the dash (Is that what they call it?) then imaginable.  He also has a stereo and speakers.

We were singing and head-bobbing our way down the highway.  Headdog handed me back a cellophane wrapped candy.   I opened it, (a bit of a challenge with gloves) and saw that it was a lifesaver.  A green one.   I ate it, and while sucking on it I was thinking about the symbolism of it.  For so many riders, this event is a lifesaver.  I’m not talking about them being suicidal or anything, I’m talking about the therapy involved for the Veteran riders.  Taking part in the Veteran’s Home visits, the formal ceremonies, the VA visits, all of it conglomerates in their minds, and helps them in their healing process.

Another gas stop.  I didn’t want to quit.  Headdog said I could keep riding with him.  I went and got my camera.

Back on the road-another lifesaver handed back.  No words spoken.  What I thought about after the first one given was exactly what he was implying. I guess I really am starting to better understand this mission in raising awareness for Veterans.

I shot about 200 pictures back there in the passenger seat.  It was an awesome experience.

We collected more bikes, and when we arrived in Brookville, Ohio we paraded through the town before arriving at the Brookville AMVETS.  Headdog was playing patriot music with his stereo cranked up.  I was waving to the people there lining the streets and taking pictures like a maniac.  I felt so fortunate to be in the front area of the pack.  And so proud to be an American- and so proud of all Americans for their support of our Veteran population.  Hats off to all of you.

Thank you USA!

Carrie Lee

More day Nine later.

The Rest of Day nine:

The AMVETS Post 1789 provided a meal fit for kings and queens.   The post commander talked about how they look forward to the NVAR visit each year.  The generosity and their hospitality was unsurpassable.  The meal included a six foot table piled high with steamed red potatoes and huge shrimps.  Deserts, salads, assorted casseroles….we all stuffed ourselves. 

A member of City Council spoke to us, and a resident of Brookville Ohio, Bindy Herkins, told a story in front of the 127 bikers in attendance.  She lost her brother in Vietnam.  She told us details, but I can’t remember what year he was killed.  I was so engrossed in her story telling that I didn’t think to write anything down.  She explained to us when the family finally received his belongings, they received a sweatshirt.  He had signed the back of it, and she has cherished that shirt for all her years since receiving it.  With tears in her eyes, she looked from one end to the other of the large crowd, and asked if someone from our pack would take that shirt, and leave it at the wall.  We have it with us now.  A rider carries it with him on his bike.

On another note-  I have made errors in my writing…some spelling and extra words that don’t belong it my work.  I am normally extremely particular about this, and I edit and re-edit and edit again.  I do read over my work, but as other writer’s know, often the author does not see his or her mistakes.  Given the circumstances and busy schedule each day, I don’t have the time to be as particular as I usually am.  Please accept my apologies.  I am a little embarrassed about that. 

Carrie Lee

The rest of day 10:

127 hot and sweaty bikers arrived at the Southeastern School of Ohio.  If I remember this right we had a police escort leading us- Ray and I were a little behind the group that morning.  

When we have the forces with us- lights flashing and intersections blocked, our traversing though the towns goes quickly.   We have our amazing Road Guards with us, and I am not compromising what an efficient and effective job they do when we don’t have police, but still, I can’t say enough about how nice it is when we do have police along in the busier areas.   I want to thank them all for the amount of support we have received from both State and City Police across the USA.  They took great care of us.

As we pulled into the school grounds, the children (all grades) were waiting on the sidewalks-waving flags.  So nice to see our children involved.

The principal of the school greeted the crowd formally.  The band played music, and the two seniors that are bound for the Military June 7, 2010 spoke to the audience about why they joined the Military, talked about the meaning of Memorial Day and moved the crowd emotionally by their heart-felt words speaking of how proud they are to serve their country.  They both thanked all the Veterans present.  It really was nice.  In addition, Kurtis Allen, Active US Army, who attended the same school, spoke strong and heart-felt words to the kids and especially speaking to the two that were to be leaving for the Military soon, about his pride in the USA, his dedication to USA in protecting it, and talked about boot camp.  He told the two that it will be tough on them, but offered encouraged words.  He said, “trust me, it’s all worth it.”

A whole team of kids and teachers created a BBQ luncheon for the riders.  The NVAR group coordinator presented thank you certificates to those involved in the program that the school provided.  What a grand occasion is was.

And then we were off to Clarksburg West Virginia for our next stop at the Louis A. Johnson VA Healthcare System.  The VA’s driveway displayed their Avenue of Flags proudly, and the Public Affairs staff of the 101 bed, acute care facility along with many other staff and patients greeted the riders with open arms.  This is one of the annual stops, and the staff and patients in the long-term 120 bed State facility right next door also look forward to the visit.

The Veteran visits make a lot of people happy.   I know I’ve already said this, but it is wonderful to watch the smiling faces of the patients, the smiling Veterans and the happy-faced staff at the assorted facilities as they watch their patients enjoy themselves.  I especially get a thrill when allowed to photograph the event.  Those faces together forever, framed or not, captures that moment and freezes the time for those on the other end of my lens.  It’s great because lots of the riders can’t carry a bunch of camera gear on their bikes, or they chose not to.  I am going to make a huge photo CD for them when I get home.   

And like I already said, I save some of the visit time for me to visit patients.  There I met a lady who is former Military and a huge advocate for Veteran services.  She was instrumental in getting the long-term facility built there, and suffice it to say it was great to meet and visit with her.

See what I mean?  It doesn’t matter where you are in the USA, Veterans are there.  Veteran service organizations, VA’s across the states, Veteran advocates….no matter who you are or what you do, we are all somehow, someway, involved with our Veteran population.   That fact really hits home when you witness it crossing the USA.   And, the volunteers at the VA facilities are present in every one of them.  Working for the VA, I know how instrumental volunteers are in the everyday services we provide.   One of the volunteers at this facility works full time assisting and providing services.  The day we were there, an article, (front page of the local paper) told a story about his volunteerism.  I’m providing a picture with the two public affairs staff and he is on the left, Bernard Ash. Hats off to all the volunteers …they are appreciated by each and every one of us.

More to come,

Carrie Lee 

Decoration Day- Number 11

I rode with Terry Mooney, Oregon into DC and the special visit to the Arlington National Cemetery was not photographed because I didn’t take my camera on the bike that time.  Ray, in the chase truck had all my gear with him, and he decided to head straight for Alexandria and our hotel.  Parking is a nightmare at Arlington, and he was pulling our trailer.  Sparky, and many other riders are going to provide me with photos when they get home.  Hopefully, my blog will still be available so I can provide you a few pictures of the special wreath laying ceremony honoring the Unknown Soldier that the NVAR group leaders took part in, and we all silently witnessed.  Many, many of you have seen this before, but I had not.  Another very emotional and sobering time for all of us.

We had a tour of the whole cemetery with a great tour guide.  Two of them actually.  When you see the 270,000 grave sites, and hear the stories and the history involved, it is a moving experience to say the least.   I spent much time that evening reflecting on the experience, and I felt grief, but also proud that we have created a location that honors our soldiers in such a dynamic and beautiful fashion. 

Before we got to Arlington, we had a very special Wreath Laying Ceremony along the way.  I didn’t get to attend it.  I could of, but I couldn’t.  I was in the middle of writing the story to you about my missing man experience, and I couldn’t stop.  I took one picture on the way out of there, and I think maybe this tells you a story in the photo.  I have pictures of the event coming, but again, the riders who photographed for me are still traveling and I don’t think I’ll get them until they get home.

Tomorrow we go to the wall.  We will do what we traversed the USA to do.  I will be telling you about that very soon,

Carrie Lee

Going to the Wall Day 12

At our morning safety meeting, the last one for all of us, the NVAR coordinators asked all the riders to raise their hands if they had never been to the wall.  There were quite a few of us.  Mike Mulcahy and Headdog told the group that had been to the wall to stick very close to those that had not.  Headdog said we would need the support of those who had been there before, and he wanted to make sure the first timers had the support around them that they needed.  The mood at the meeting included an air of tension.  Nervous energy all around.  We had decided the day before that we would go as a group.  All bikes and riders were ready, and we pulled out in a huge cluster at 9:00 am.

Once upon a time….a  lifetime ago or a minute ago….

I think it was about day four or five and I think we were in Nebraska- not sure now, it’s all a blur.

One of the riders, Ricky (The Lion) Dryer, who is a Vietnam Combat Vet brought with him a cd of pictures of his time in Vietnam.  This one hot evening many of us were gathered around Ray’s pickup truck in the parking lot of the hotel….visiting, getting to know each other, telling stories, laughing, joking.

Ricky offered to bring out his cd so we could all see his pictures.  Ray drug out his laptop, flopped it on the rail of the truck, and Ricky popped in his cd. 

I have seen pictures of Vietnam before.  In many of our VA facilities there are similar pictures.  I’ve seen pictures on TV too, but I had never seen pictures with the man that was in them standing right next to me, telling his story, telling the names of the soldiers in the pictures, explaining about the camps, talking about how they tried to heat their meals, about the drinking water, about the constant fear, about the guns they carried.  More, but that is enough.  The crowd around us increased.  I looked.  Some of the gathered there had tears.  Some gazed.  I saw the thousand mile stare.  I felt their pain.  I was with them.

Ricky was replaced after ten months in the combat zone.  He was wounded.  His replacement didn’t make it home.  His name is on the wall.  Ricky had not ever been to the wall.  He said he was ready, but nothing could prepare him for the emotion and feelings that came to him when we got there.  He knew that.  He was surrounded by all of us. 

They all have stories.  There were about 80 of us at the time.  We went in huge clusters, together, walking slowly, in silence.

Down the paved path along the wall-

The air cools as you slowly drop down the walkway and the wall becomes taller.  I started looking at the carved names.  At first, I said nothing.  Then, without real awareness, I started murmuring out loud, Oh my God,,,Oh my God.  I realized that I was saying that out loud.  I stopped.  I touched the granite.  I looked beyond me.  So many people.  All with stories.  All touched, moved; affected.  Tears.  More tears.

We found Ricky’s comrade’s name there along about the middle.  We did a rubbing.  We cried.  We held each other…all of us.  It is not for me to say the emotions and grief that Ricky experienced there but I will tell you this.  One of those men who had been to the wall before- I overheard him talking.  He was hugging Ricky and he said, and I quote,” This is the beginning my brother.  This is where the healing starts.”

We left wreaths, we did more rubbings, we ceremoniously placed Mike Rucker’s photo there at the wall.  It was a hard day emotionally, and very good day in our honoring of our Veterans, and the NVA riders all did some beautiful work there.  For themselves, for those 58,000 we lost in war, and for the completion of the mission. 

Much later, we were lighter.  We were even closer, even more bonded if you can imagine that.  We rode in groups around the city.  We ate.  We laughed. We loved, and we hugged a lot.

We felt good.  We did what we set out to do. Mission accomplished.  Amazing experience all ‘round.

I’ll sum up with a final story later.

Carrie Lee

In closing:

I wanted to write a last note to all of you in thanks for reading the stories I’ve written over the last couple weeks and thank you for helping to raise awareness for Veterans across the USA.

One of the many needs that were satisfied by donations was money for bottled water for the riders.  The other was items for the raffles we did each morning that helped fund the fuel for the chase vehicle.  Abate, Treats Highway 42 Café in Ten Mile OR, Charlie’s BBQ in Roseburg OR. and many others provided funds and items for that purpose. There is so many that work to assist the National Veterans Awareness Organization in making the National Veterans Awareness Ride a success that I can’t begin to name them all.  I wish I could, but again, I hope all of you will accept my heart-felt thanks on behalf of all that crossed the USA on this annual mission.

I might as well tell you what happened at the airport.  It struck me, so here I go again:

We all separated that morning.  Many riders were moving off toward home-heading west in groups.  Most had a long trek. Ray, still pulling the chase trailer with his pick-up, was driving to Detroit to visit family.  I was flying home.  I ordered a shuttle to take me to Maryland because I flew out of BWI.  Maryland is pretty.  Glad I got to see it.  I left very early because I knew that Ray wouldn’t take off until I was safely on that shuttle and I also knew he was anxious to get going down the road.

I was about 3 hours early for my flight, so after the smoothie order and some wandering aimlessly, I settled in with my laptop on a laminate covered table complete with plug-ins to write about the Wall experience.   There were lots of people, flights going in and out, and so the B4 gate at Southwest Airlines was really buzzing.  People eating sandwiches, reading books, kids playing, moms shuffling toys and entertainment for their little ones, folks on cell phones, blackberries, laptops, conversation, the usual. 

I was pretty absorbed in my writing- in the zone is what I refer to that state of being; re-living the day before events; my mind’s eye right there so I could accurately tell you the story.  There was a big screen TV in the corner, blaring away, but the sound was somewhat muffled due to the chaotic activity below it.   As I mentioned, I was into my laptop, so my ears were not hearing it all, but I wasn’t completely missing it either.

Truly before I knew what was happening, I slid off that high stool, turned, stood tall as I am, placed my hand over my heart, and started to voice the Pledge of Allegiance.  I was staring up at the TV.  It seemed the formal ceremony at Arlington Cemetery had started and it was being televised.  They had started with the Pledge.  I reacted.  When my conscious realized what I was doing, I looked around the cove of chairs full of travelers.  A few glanced my way, maybe watched me before…I don’t really know.  Most didn’t notice, I could tell that.  I felt a little embarrassed, odd.

So, why do I tell you this anyway?

I sat back down, and thought about what I had just done.  After some pondering, I realized that those few moments summed up my experience and helped me to understand what I had learned over the last couple weeks. I realized I was embedded.  I was still living with the habits that were normal for the last many days, but not normal for me before.  The focus on patriotism, the NVAR group, the mission, the drive, the emotions, the healing, the unique feelings that Veterans experience from their time in the Military- I was still with them.  I was different.  I reacted to the environment in which I was previously in, but I wasn’t there anymore.  I didn’t fit in at the airport. The people there. The others.

I thought of the Veteran coming home.  His or her mind trained a certain way.  A specific way to be, to react, to survive, to fight, to be willing to die for our country.  Feeling odd, being a different person. Not knowing who they are anymore, not understanding their own reactions, fighting to forget, hiding their nightmares. I got it.

Like they say about PTSD-A normal reaction to an abnormal situation. Not all Veterans lived a nightmare.  But, many did.  I wasn’t living a nightmare.  I was simply enmeshed in their world for a short time.  But, I reacted at the airport without thinking.  Patriotism became a habit in a short amount of time.  Not that I wasn’t patriotic before, it was intensified by my environment and spending those precious days with the NVA riders and coordinators. And so, they react to their previous experience.

I can still only imagine what it must be like to return home from some place of war.   By traveling across the USA raising awareness about Veterans, and listening to their stories, I do know that my compassion and awareness has increased.  I do believe I have a better understanding now of the Military experience.  I know about the over-all sacrifices they so willingly gave and are still giving for the benefit of all citizens of the United States of America.  And, I understand their pain-why they have trust issues; the challenges they face to heal from their experiences… the difficulty in forgetting…the impossibility of that.  A war may end, but not in the mind of a Veteran.

I know we must provide patience, assistance in healing, elevated participation and research for best practices in their unique care needs, and embrace our Veterans in unison. I know my heart is even more open to them now, and I hope through my stories I have told you along this journey, your heart and mind will embrace our Veterans in a more powerful way too.

Share the road my friends,

Carrie Lee