Welcome to the 2019 National Veterans Awareness Ride, aka The NVAR.
Freedom, by simple definition, is the absence of repression or personal restrictions by a government. Our colonists' battles with the Red Coats was the birth of our free-spirited and patriotic nature, the essence of American character. We are a compassionate people, and Americans have sacrificed not only for our freedom, but for that of people in other countries as well. People in nations across the South Pacific and Europe enjoy freedom and a free-spirited nature because of the sacrifice of Americans. In Southeast Asia, I witnessed the growth of that nature in Vietnam; a nation with a generation who emulate the American Way.
People in few countries around the world honor their veterans as we do, and fewer with motorcycle events. We take advantage of our freedom, and that's okay, but we must never forget those who sacrificed for it; and that sacrifice must not be in vain.
Riders, and others from around America, came in their roundabout ways, first, to Virginia City NV, and old west town that retains an old west culture. The patriotic owners and patrons at particular establishments generously welcome the NVAR each year; and what happens in Virginia City - stays in Virginia City. From there we converged on Auburn CA to join others for our annual mission to honor our veterans.
We are a blessed group to afford this opportunity. Although our numbers are small, we represent thousands of people in cities and along rural byways from coast to coast who not only cheer us along, but provide the much needed support it takes to fulfill our mission. We tell those veterans about the mass of gratitude from across America, and that they are not forgotten.
Through the year, the National Veterans Awareness Organization, aka NVAO, fulfilled a variety of projects to benefit veterans and their families, and educate school children. Above all else on the NVAR, safety is a priority. In preparation for this pinnacle event, about sixteen riders attended a First Responder training course provided by Emergency Medical Technicians and Nurses. Those professionals taught the guys lifesaving techniques and procedures specific to motorcycle accident victims; great training to have with hope not to use
Once you've made a ride on the NVAR, it's hard not to return, again, and again. The fulfillment, receptions, and camaraderie humble riders year after year. Many regular riders are absent this year, to name the known at this time; Trick, Big Daddy, Quacker, Dirty Mike, Mongo, and Rainman. There will no doubt be others who can't for their own reasons and responsibilities. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers for comfort, recovery, and resolve.
One who will join others who ride with us forever in spirit is Mike "Buff" Manthey, to whom this year's ride is dedicated. On May 6th, the dirty work of cancer took Buff from us. Mike had a lot of love and was all for God, Country, and Family, and a member of noble organizations, such as The Purple Fish Motorcycle Club and the NVAR. We now ride with Buff watching over us on our mission. We'll smile with memories of him, and twist our throttles in his honor, too.
I'll post each days events with photos through Memorial Day weekend. Please return to this page and follow our journey across America.
Thank you & Never Forget
Mike "Track" Rinowski
2019 Ride Day One (Tuesday, May 14)
California sunshine and crisp mountain air greeted us this morning with the promise of a beautiful day. Our schedule began with a brief riders meeting, followed by a prayer from our Ride Chaplain, Wayne Worden.
Included in Wayne’s prayer was a request for thoughts and prayers to Sandy and Ed Kintzel, and their family. This morning, Sandy received the worst news a mother could ever receive; her son passed away unexpectedly from an unknown cause. They flew back to Indiana in the afternoon. Please pray for their comfort.
Gratitude from those who received none!
Vietnam Veterans returned from their tours of duty without the welcome they deserved, which sadly was quite the contrary. They don’t want that to happen to another veteran, ever again. The Vietnam Veterans of America give us medals of recognition to present to veterans we meet who have served in the War on Terror; to thank them for their service and welcome them home. Not to forget the many spouses left at home to carry on with wait and worry, we have a Spousal Ribbon for their sacrifice, also.
The bond between NVAR riders creates a family environment, but there is no bond greater than blood. Don Jenkins - Quacker, and his son John have been regulars on the NVAR. Don’s grandson, Curtis Hannevold, a veteran from the War on Terror, joined the ride this year. Unfortunately, Quacker was here to see us off, but before he returned to Oregon, it was right for him to have the honor to present that Medal of Recognition to his grandson. It was a grand family affair with a weight of pride equal to the depth of emotion.
And Chris had something special to bring to our mission!
Imagine the energy of 500 students reverberating in a new gymnasium! The energy inside the Bowman Elementary School reached a nuclear level, yet, Principal Kelly Graham calmed them for our annual visit. Along with a certificate of appreciation to Kelly, he was presented with an American flag that Curtis flew in Iraq, to include a photo of Curtis and three of his buddies. Principal Kelly will place the flag and photo for permanent display in the school trophy case. Whoohoo Curtis & Welcome Home.
Jerry, then, narrated a slide show about our mission with a message of respect for family, teachers, and veterans, after which, he took questions. The youngsters had a lot of curiosity about riding motorcycles, and some bragged about grandfathers who served in war. Following was a flag raising by the Honor Guard from American Legion Post 84. Thank you gentlemen.
From Bowman, we made a ride for appreciation to Superfast Copy & Blueprint, who support Rick Dyer and Wayne Worden, the State Coordinator and Co-Coordinator respectively, with the bundles of print needed in their duties. The staff at Superfast have been long standing supporters of the NVAR and we do appreciate their service.
From an interview I had with KAHI radio, via phone last Veterans Day, I was invited for an in studio interview to share the NVAR mission. Mary Jane Popp, the host, and wife of a Vietnam Veteran, was full on interested what we do and requested another phone interview when we arrive in Washington, D.C. Spread the word Mary Jane — Never Forget.
At almost 12:30 sharp, two California Motorcycle Highway Patrolmen escorted us safely to the Veterans Administration Medical Center, VMAC, in Sacramento. It was a blessing to have their protection through multiple interchanges and across multiple lanes of congested traffic. Thank you guys.
The staff at the VMAC gave us another warm welcome. After Rick Dyer presented certificates of appreciation, we got down to the business of visiting veterans. About forty of us split into groups for a guided visit through the hospital and clinic. As usual, many patients were surprised to the nature of our visit, and the extent to which we carry it. In our tour, it was nice to meet many with plans to be home in a few days, and there were guys like Alvin and Johnny who waited for that good news. However, they were both in good spirits and in our chat Alvin mentioned a few times about his retirement at eighty, when he didn’t appear to be a day over 72, and yet, he was a young 92. Rock on Alvin. Johnny looked forward to getting out with hope his wife will let him buy another Harley Davidson. The best of luck to you, Johnny, & enjoy the ride.
Our visits always seem too short, and it’s hard to say goodbye, but we do with well wishes to all.
Despite the absence of our very own contact with Mother Nature, and I speak of Big Daddy the weather man, we enjoyed a beautiful day. But Mother Nature may play some pranks in his absence and the miles ahead. Not to worry though, Mike Tipton has stepped under the cloud, or sunshine I hope, and taken the task of forecasting the elements we will enjoy, or endure, each day. However, I suspect Big Daddy will try to twist the winds of fate in our favor from Nebraska. Thank you Big Daddy.
The staff at Sweet Pea’s restaurant prepared another great feast for our fill for a good night’s rest before our big journey tomorrow. Thank you Sweet Pea.
A special note here: all riders on this year’s NVAR join Paul Need, aka Buzz, on his fifteenth ride All The Way, plus the rides he made before the NVAR, for a total of twenty one (21) rides across America for our veterans. The man is a legend with an iron butt!
Tomorrow we ride east, where thousands of veterans await our visit.
Thank you & Never Forget
2019 Ride Day Two (Wednesday, May 15)
I failed to mention that during the feast at Sweet Peas last night, we held our regular meeting, which included introductions from each rider, followed by information relevant to the ride, given by Jerry Connor, aka Five Minutes, (the President of the NVAO), followed by a safety meeting given by Patrick Martindale, aka Jackwagon, (our Road Guard Captain), to include warnings if anyone fails to comply to the rules of the road. One never has too much information. Generous donations followed; to the NVAR, and from the NVAR to support individuals and groups helping veterans and others in need. There’s a lot of good Karma on the ride.
The weight of a hearty meal at Sweet Peas settled through a deep sleep, just in time for a hearty breakfast provided by the Auburn Jeep Club at the Auburn American Legion. Those guys loaded us down with pancakes, eggs and sausage like grandma used to make. Rick Dyer then presented certificates of appreciation to the great support of the American Legion, the Legion Riders, and the Auburn Jeep Club. And I apologize if I forgot any of the many who support us. Thank you all.
After our fill, Jerry briefed us on events of the day and Patrick briefed us on safety. As a tribute to fallen soldiers in the War on Terror, Dan, aka Sweetness, read the names and specifics of two soldiers who sacrificed their lives for freedom and the nature that goes with it.
Sgt. 1st Class Mihail Golin, 34 years old, of the 10th Special Forces Group Green Beret was killed on Jan. 1 in Afghanistan. He had been deployed three times and was awarded Purple Hearts, Army Commendations Medals, and Army Achievement Medals. The guy was a warrior. He is survived by his parents and a daughter. A great loss for them, and all Americans.
Master Sergeant Jonathan Dunbar of International Falls MN, was killed in action on Mar. 29, in Manbij, Syria. He was deployed six ( yes, 6) times during which he was awarded the Bronze Star, the Army Commendation Medal, and the Army Achievement Medal, among others. He left behind his mother, a wife, a son, two daughters, and another daughter born after his death. Another warrior and another great loss to his family and America.
Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.
Then, before the daily prayer, Wayne Worden, aka Wayne Worden, our Ride Chaplain, shared his story about how he and Rick Dyer learned of the NVAR some 10 years ago, which is similar to many who learn about it, by strange coincidence, or, perhaps from a higher direction!
Mother Nature plays with us this morning; a light rain falls on our parade. But, the wind is light and the temperature is favorable; all things considered. There is promise for better elements this afternoon.
The Auburn Jeep Club and local police escorted us through Old Town Auburn where business owners, patrons, and passersby cheered our parade. We could not leave town without a ride-by at the Bowman Elementary School, where cheers from hundreds of kids waving American flags drowned out the roar of exhaust.
And then we rode into a very heavy drizzle. Mountain scenery is quite interesting and entertaining under those conditions. The steady rain and fog obscured pine, spruce, or cedars which stood like sentinels on their rugged terrain. The heavy dark clouds over the mountain tops seem to send slow swirling whiffs of vapor into hollows, which held them captive. The rain poured down, and the fog laid dense on our trail. Had it been about 70 degrees warmer, it would have reminded me of riding through the monsoons in the Central Mountains of Vietnam. But temperatures at 5,000 feet in elevation made that memory an abstract.
A steady spray shot from the back of each motorcycle and mirrors reflected the dotted lines of headlights as we slowly wound our way up, and down, and up, and down the mountains, while trucks shot sheets of water from each of their 18 wheels. I didn’t wear my heated liners, and at low elevation felt overdressed with leather and rain gear, but soon wished I’d have worn them. But once over the Donner Pass it warmed, and by Reno it was comfortable and dry. All part of the adventure.
The Reno Motorcycle Police met us for an escort to the VMAC, where the Patriot Guard Riders, PGR, honored us with a Flag Line. That is something special. Thank you.
Our regular schedule was changed to allow more time to visit veterans, and that was special, too. After certificates of appreciation to the PGR of Nevada and California, the Reno Police, Sy - whose staff grilled about a quarter of an elk for burgers, and of course, staff at the VMAC, we got down to business of visiting the veterans.
A bunch of us pushed veterans confined to their four wheels on a tour of our two wheeled vehicles. William Daily, a Navy Veteran, was a long time rider with his sons and looked into memories as he gazed at each bike. He left Vietnam in the mid-60’s, then returned in 1971, only to be shot in Saigon— by cupid. His wife was waiting for him on our return from the bike tour.
The veterans and their stories are amazing, entertaining and humbling.
Gary Croft, aka Mr. Wizard met James Rhodes, and once I was introduced, I forgot to ask what branch of service he was in. James is an established book author with 24 westerns, mysteries, and children books to his credit; and he has more to write. We had a lot to talk about, of course, and time was not enough.
Jerry met a fellow who loved motorcycles, as any young man would; although, he never owned one. But his brother did and often lent it to him. In 1957, the handsome young man rode the streets to pick up chicks who loved guys on motorcycles. Some things never change!
Too often, we are humbled in our tracks on introductions to the veterans we meet. Jim Newman, a FNG, aka Fine New Guy (first time rider on the NVAR) reached out to shake the hand of a veteran in a wheel chair and thank him, but the veteran refused to shake. Instead, the man struggled a bit to stand before Jim and salute him in gratitude for the visit. Scenarios like that happen often; the guys we pay tribute to turn the table on us! How do you react to such an act of appreciation? You Never Forget, and ride the NVAR.
Although our time was extended, it was still too short of a visit; as they all are. After the feast on elk burgers we bundled for a potential of rain, which never happened. Courtesy Mike Tipton, our weather man.
There was a bit of emptiness as we rode past the Fernley Veterans Cemetery on the spacious beauty of Nevada, but that stop for a wreath laying was the sacrifice we made for extra time in Reno. They are not forgotten, and I hope they would understand.
Interstate 80 laid looooong through valleys and over a few passes, and back onto distant stretches that seemed to go on forever, and ever, but our gas stops in Lovelock and Battle Mountain broke the continuity. We shared the lanes with occasional rigs, pickups, and very few cars; and we all got along well. An easterly breeze switched to a strong blow from the south, which brought a southerly temperature with it, and a peek of sunshine, which made for a pleasant ride into Elko.
A police escort and a band of bikers from the Elko met us about 25 miles out for an escort into town. They gave us an honorable and royal treatment with unrestricted passage to the VFW Post 2350; at each intersection Police Officers’ stood beside their vehicles with a salute to us as we passed. Traffic stood at a standstill in the opposite lane and pedestrians stopped in awe of our passage.
Social time at the VFW was the first order of business after a long ride. On the patio, VFW guys and gals grilled burgers, franks, and brats for our fill, till breakfast.
As we rode into Elko, a dense cover of snow capped peaks high on the eastern horizon. The fore-cast doesn’t look too favorable for a sunny day, but the weather always changes; for better or worse.
That ends my report of the days’ events. Please check back tomorrow to hear about our ride across the Great Salt Lake Desert, and our visit to the Salt Lake City Veterans Home where they always prepare a great welcome, and have two unique service animals.
Thank you & Never Forget
2019 Ride Day Three (Thursday, May 16)
I left the VFW Post 2350 early last night, and there is a lot of news in my absence!
Les Brown, of the VFW, who is in charge of NVAR activities (thank you Les), and more important in his charge, is as the head of the Nevada POW/MIA Association. In June, Les will go to Washington D.C. for the 50th Anniversary of the association. He will welcome dignitaries from a host of nations, to include; Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. He will also honor families who celebrated the homecoming of loved ones who were Missing in Action. Thank you Les; Forget None.
Also, a Korean War Veteran who had been MIA for 67 years will be honored with internment at Arlington National Cemetery. Welcome Home Veteran. May his family feel closure.
Jerry met a 97 year old WWII veteran, who had a successful career at Heller Financial. He raised a family in Naperville Illinois, and now lives happily at the Utah State Veterans Home—a full life that gets fuller!
Another gentleman who is President of the Resident Association waited outside the VFW waving an American flag. He had toured the motorcycles and shared with Jerry his love of motorcycles; and the fate that followed. As a young man, he introduced his girlfriend and her family to motorcycles. Her parents didn’t like the motorcycles, but they liked him. He was batting 50/50 there, and he had his choices—and the young woman became his wife of 70 years. Wow!
We listen to so many fascinating stories, and usually, all one has to do is be respectful, ask questions, and listen. Everybody likes to hear a story!
We woke to mostly gray skies, but better temperatures. Our morning ritual began with a briefing of the day’s events from Jerry, a short comment/reminder about safety from Patrick (way to go guys, let’s keep those comments short), and then, a reading of the tribute to a soldier who sacrificed his life in the War on Terror. And with that said, I was ahead of myself last night and mentioned Master Sergeant Jonathan Dunbar who died on Jan. 1, 2018, in yesterday’s report. Along with MS Dunbar, United Kingdom Sgt. Matt Tonroe was also killed in action, along with five others wounded by the improvised explosive device. Americans are not alone in this war. Please keep the coalition in your prayers and thoughts, too.
After a prayer and wise words from Wayne, we rode below a few patches of blue, which broke through the layers of dark gray clouds with white edges, which blended in well with a huge snow capped mountain range on our horizon. Some of us dressed for an attack from a rogue rain cloud we were warned about, others rode in defiance of it; and nobody got wet!
I was honored this morning to ride beside the Headdog to our first stop. That is a special position at the front of the NVAR formation, which is its own formation known as the Missing Man Formation. Headdog and another, myself this morning, ride in front. Another rider is chosen to ride behind Headdog, beside an empty slot which is behind my position, in which rides the spirit of the soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice. Behind that are two riders protecting the rear. The Missing Man Formation rides every mile of the ride. It is a great honor to ride in that formation.
The expanse and beauty of the west is unique, and on a motorcycle, it’s an experience to behold. Our formation ran over Interstate 80 like a meteor through the cosmos, and all too soon, the first hundred miles had slipped by.
As we came over the hill before Wendover, the Great Salt Lake Desert came into full view—a vast area of white. The two lanes of I80 laid across it and disappeared in a distant white haze; which we would encounter later.
About seventy riders from the UMF Social Club waited at our gas stop; a reunion we have each year. Their President, Jason, welcomed us, and Headdog and Jerry welcomed them. Among them were veterans from the War on Terror, to whom we recognized with medals provided by the Vietnam Veterans of America, VVA.
Our greetings were brief, and onto the desert we rode. A gale force wind blew strong enough to blow all but a battleship of the Great Salt Lake blew. It swept off the desert into great clouds, which crossed our path for an overdose of sodium. However, it wasn’t strong enough to slow the NVAR, although, it tossed us around as we rode a little off plumb through the gusts. And that was before we rode into the High Wind Area, where it shifted to our front quarter, which demanded a little more twist on the throttle to keep our pace.
After a hundred miles of salt, sunshine, and the gale, we met more riders and our motorcycle police escort for our ride to the Salt Lake City Veterans Home. In route, the Salt Lake City Fire Department parked fire trucks on an overpass with a large American flag attached to a fully extended ladder. It’s awesome to see such displays of patriotism and support. Our escort waltzed us through interchanges and from lane to lane without the slightest threat, confusion, or hesitation. Those guys were good.
One hundred and twenty some riders rode into the parking lot at the Veterans Home to a warm welcome from many veterans and staff anxiously waiting our arrival. Jason and Jerry presented numerous certificates of appreciation to staff at the Veterans Home, the police escorts, and the fire department. Unfortunately, the certificates are not large enough to express the expanse of our appreciation; we could not do what we do without them all. Thank you all.
We met more veterans from the War on Terror, and Fred, Rick, and Larry made the honorable presentations.
Our group was too large for a mass visitation, so, half were to feast on another great grilled lunch, while the other half mingled with the veterans outside, some strolled through the beautiful home to visit others in their rooms, and some of us went into the Memory Care Unit.
I had never met a tap dancer until I met Doug McKendrick, a cheerful chap at 92. He was a guest dancer on the Ted Mack Show; and knowing that show, shows my age! As a Navy Veteran, he also danced on the deck of a destroyer, too. Doug’s memory was sharp when it came to names as he rattled off family and friends, and other show hosts, and wondered if I knew them; but I couldn’t remember!
Then we met Don Robison, whom I did remember from last year. I never forget a face, a motorcycle, or a hat, and his cowboy hat gave him away. Don’s a biker from way back and still owns a Victory, which he last rode at the age of 86, from West Virginia to Utah. His daughter showed up as we were talking, and she told a few humorous stories about her dad. His son rides a Harley, too. It’s always great to meet a Veteran’s family, who are always glad for what we do.
Tony, an NVAR rider, became an instant buddy of Don’s, because Tony rides a Victory, too. They went into the parking lot where memories flooded back when Don saw Tony’s bike. When I asked if he met his wife on his motorcycle, he says, hell yeah.
The threat of rain moved the dining inside, although, it didn’t rain, but in the shaded courtyard crawled the Veterans mascot, a huge turtle. He moves at a pace that makes one think it’s 250 years old, and it may be. I think I interrupted his meditation in the corner, or he was just taking his time moving in, or out of it. A dog has replaced the kangaroo, and it would chase the tennis ball all day if somebody would throw it. The Salt Lake City Veterans Home is unique with a fantastic staff who are passionate about their responsibilities; which come natural to them.
All too soon it was time to bid them farewell, until next year. Another rouge cloud threatened our passage to Evanston, and some defied it. And once again, none got wet as we rode over the pass, through the valleys, and crossed the border into the great state of Wyoming.
Another police escort and a contingent of bikers met us twenty some miles out for a grand entry into sunny Evanston. A wreath laying ceremony was held at a memorial to all veterans, and nine students from the high school choir sang America the Beautiful as well as any American Talent!
Roland Otte, aka Sparky, and his wife, Puppy, along with Dennis and Linda Stucki, known as Dennis and Linda, picked up the duties of merchandise sales in the sad absence of Ed and Sandy (please keep them and their family in your thoughts and prayers). They parked the trailer tight to the Eagles Club curb for some serious sales of shirts, hats, patches, and decals. Inside the club, the cooks prepared another feast of pork, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, bread, salad, and of course, desert. Sometimes they switch out the pork for beef, but whatever, it’s like a turkey dinner!
I had responsibilities to attend to, so I ate quick and left as the certificates of appreciation were given to many deserving people who provide endless support to the NVAR. Tomorrow I may have late news to report, and another exciting day on the NVAR, so, please check back.
Thank you & Never Forget
2019 Ride Day Four (Friday, May 17)
A late story from our visit at the Salt Lake City Veterans Home regarding our presentations of the Medals of Appreciation to veterans from the War on Terror. Among the 22 they gave, one was to a young female who served in Afghanistan. The presentation and recognition put her in a state of confusion, or perhaps, even shock. She was overcome by her emotions. Her brother was there to tell Fred, who made the presentation, that that was the first time she felt welcomed home.
After all the patriotism we see and feel across this great land while on the NVAR, we are stunned that such a lack of recognition could, and did, happen. After all that has happened; since the Vietnam War and then after 911, how could any veteran feel so, unnoticed, unwelcome, that they would be deeply and emotionally startled to receive recognition for their service?
Situation’s like that push us to reach more veterans, and to remind others; Thank a Vet, and Never Forget. Unless you’ve been in battle, one can’t possibly or clearly imagine the turmoil or trauma a soldier endured. They must never feel unwelcome for their service.
Last night’s rain lay frozen on the ground, but brilliant sunshine shone with promise for a good day. Breakfast would be had down the road, so our morning briefing was short.
We rode east into the brilliant glare with a light breeze at our back, however, with a combination of the earth’s rotation, the movement of a weather system, and our direction of travel over the surface of the earth, we were soon shaded below an expanse of stratus clouds. After a few miles we were under a partly sunny sky. Big Daddy explained the simple difference between partly sunny (more clouds than sunshine) and partly cloudy (more sun than clouds). Or was that vice a versa?
We rolled on in a perfect formation, each rider acclimating to the low temps, some better than others thanks to heated liners and grips. Most were dressed to the max for warmth and the potential for rain. Soon, I noticed the air had become calm, but it still felt windy at 70 mph! Early in our day, a meteorological phenomenon occurred, perhaps for the first time ever, in my eyes. Unfortunately, I didn’t stop to take a photo, so I hope my description makes the picture!
The stratus clouds merged with higher altostratus clouds to cover the Wyoming horizon. Our surface winds kicked up again, but high elevation winds must have blown with a super gale force, which formed wisps of cirrus-verticulus clouds below them. (Since I was the first to discover that new type of cloud formation, I named it.) Those vertical wisps blowing below the darker shades at higher elevation had an appearance of a sky full of witches brooms, for lack of a better description, and it was quite ominous. The sky got darker, and soon, electronic signs over our lane warned of winds to 40+ mph. Our tight formation rolled on in defiance to any elements, and I will speak more of that as you follow us to Cheyenne.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and the police escorted us to ours. They picked us up (not in a legal sense) about twenty miles out of Rock Springs, and along with the fire department, gave us a royal entrance to the Archie Hay American Legion, where the American Legion Riders stood tall and sharp in a flag line. A fantastic welcome! Thank you.
Mike and Kat Tipton did a marvelous job, again, with arrangements for the escort, and the cooks—artists in the kitchen. Thank You. What we feasted on would have pleased a cattle rancher after chores. Then, after many gracious certificates of appreciation, Tony, from CA, won the Lucky Draw to put $90 in his pocket.
Wayne shared words of wisdom about complacency; we become static to our surroundings and take things for granted, and forget to see God’s glory in every day. Then it was time to go to lunch. Ooops! I mean get back on our track to the next gas stop in Rawlins.
Laramie WY was the gas stop after that, where a wonderful reunion was had. Rick Dyer makes the ride from Auburn, and his wife follows in their truck for further adventures after D.C. A buddy of Rick’s lives in Laramie, and the last time they saw each other was on their tour of duty in C Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, Air Mobile Infantry in Vietnam—48 years ago. Wow! Terry Cook, known as Laramie to his Nam Buddies, stood in anticipation as we rode in. Rick barely got his kickstand down for an embrace with his old buddy. I can’t imagine the thoughts and emotions that passed between them. What they had gone through, what only they among us knew and saw during their time in battles; to reunite after that time with one who had your back on the battlefield. That’s gotta run pretty deep.
Our schedule is rigid, and, unfortunately, the reunion was at high speed, but the smiles on those guys was like a child's at Christmas. After a series of photos, they bid heartfelt farewells. Rick sent me two photos of them when in Nam. In the first, Laramie is pointing the finger at the guy next to him and Rick is straight across from them. In the second, Rick is squatting and Laramie is standing next to him with a cigarette.
The clouds were dark over the pass before Cheyenne, and that early promise from brilliant sunshine let us down when a few sprinkles splattered the windshields. They splattered a little more as we closed in on the capital city, where another police patrol picked us up. It’s always nice to see their flashing lights in front of us, instead of in our mirrors! But soon, the rain came down as hard as it did when we left Cheyenne last year. (That’s not funny Mother Nature.) The escort’s lights faded in the deluge, but we slowed and other patrolmen blocked every intersection for the residents to know something big was happening in their town. The rain eased as we rode into the Veterans Administration Hospital.
Sue, who has joined us for a few rides ALL THE WAY, works there and met us inside where it was warm and dry. We sloshed into a day room to store helmets and dripping rain gear, and then split into groups to visit the vets.
Jerry’s family came up from Colorado, and during their visits, his grandson of 10 years and knowledgeable about ships, asked a sailor if he ever got seasick. A very good question. The Old Salt said he never got sick on his ship, but he did get seasick on a cruise ship. He said it was something about the roll of the big tub with so much bulk above the waterline. But, no doubt there were plenty of land lovers aboard whose lunch ended up in the little brown bags, too.
Mike, from Oregon, asked an army veteran what made the best day in his military service. He was sent to Spain, and besides its history of sailors searching for the new worlds and sinking with gold bullion in battles, Spain is known for bull fighting, and this soldier wanted to see a bull fight. He stood on a street in a bit of confusion, and when asked by a stranger what he was doing, he told him. The stranger offered to take him in to the bull fight, which he enjoyed, then the stranger took him on a tour of the town, and then to a very good dinner. That stranger was Earnest Hemingway! A great day indeed.
John, an army veteran, waited for results on tests—the veterans are always tested. After his service in Germany, he spent the next 49 years in construction, and raising a family. He wanted to make 50 years but heart issues put a halt to that. He looks forward to passing his tests and going home to sit on the porch to look out over his ranch and whittle.
Ed, next door to John, had a few successful careers after his military service. Banking, which didn’t afford him enough to help his son through medical school, so, he went back to school, then started a health food company. He named his price when somebody wanted to buy it, and then sold real estate in Florida, sadly, until his wife passed away. He returned to Wyoming, and loves to play and watch golf. When I told him I was a retired Golf Course Superintendent with experience on over a dozen U.S. and Asian PGA Golf Championships, our conversation rose to a new level of excitement for him. We could have talked for hours, but time was too short, as usual, and I’d been left behind before, for similar conversations.
Never turn down an offer for a Milk Can dinner. It’s kinda similar to a crab boil, if you’re familiar with Cajun cuisine, but not as spicy. However, that could quickly be seasoned! Bill Breeden, from the VFW Post 1818 and our NVAR Wyoming State Coordinator, made all the arrangements for our visit and a feast like we’d never had; a boil of whole potatoes, cobs of corn, carrots, cabbage, and tender lengths of sausage. We certainly eat well on the ride, and if you don’t come of it heavier than when you started, you’re a wonder of nature!
We leave at 6:20 for breakfast before we ride into the great state of Nebraska.
Please check back tomorrow.
In the meantime; Thank a Vet & Never Forget
2019 Ride Day Five (Saturday, May 18)
A Vietnam Veteran and his wife, riding a Harley Trike pulling a trailer, were standing at the hotel check-in. I thanked him for his service and introduced myself to meet Felix and his wife, Evelyn. They are on their way to Washington D.C. and hoped to find someone to ride with. Ha Ha! Have I got an invitation for you, and to make a long story short, they are with us to about West Virginia, where they’ll head up to Pennsylvania where they have reservations. By the end of their first day, they were amazed with our mission and want to ride with us again. The NVAR has a way of doing that to people!
About 48 people, on about 32 bikes, with a few in the chase/merchandise truck and a car, rode, and drove, to breakfast at the Eagles Club in Cheyenne. About 15 years ago, they were supposed to provide breakfast for the NVAR’s first visit, and they forgot. A quick decision sent someone to Dunkin Donuts for you know what, and coffee. Since then, they have made up for the donuts every year with a fantastic Wyoming feast. They’ve been a great support for the NVAR in every aspect of our visit to the Veterans Hospital. Thank you guys.
We had our regular ride briefing and words of faith from Wayne. To use riding as an analogy; if a rider looks only at the obstacle he wants to avoid, he most often hits it, and as it is with our problems, look not so deep into them that you are lost in them, look to God for resolve.
We cut through brisk air under the glare of brilliant sunshine across a mostly blue sky. There was only one small sheet of thin cloud, which we quickly put behind us. The Wyoming prairie rolled over hills that spread far and wide in all directions. On our distant horizon, a thin string of puffy, mostly, white clouds stretched from a little south or the highway to Montana, maybe. It appeared as though they were pushed up from the edge of the earth and we would eventually ride straight into them, and off the edge. But, we know that didn’t happen!
We crossed another state line, where a contingent of riders and drivers and passengers from Grand Island met us at the first gas stop in Sydney Nebraska. Their fearless leader, Bill “Mongo” Luft was the first to greet us, and then it turned into a reunion with all of them. Grand Island is home to the Purple Fish Motorcycle Club (PFMC) and many others who have been long standing support for the NVAR, and we love them for who they are and what they do, not only for us, but for their community.
Our first act today was at the interchange of Interstates 80 and 76. At that interchange on the first NVAR, in 2005, an accident took the life of Kathleen “Lovie” Kintzele, wife of Ed Kintzele. Lovie was so named because of an abundant love she had for life and everyone in it, with a special love for veterans. It was a tragic loss for Ed, and all who knew her. Since then, she is remembered and honored with a wreath, but it’s not possible for the whole of the NVAR to perform a regular type of ceremony beside the interstate. Instead, a squad of rider leaves Sydney ahead of the NVAR for a wreath laying ceremony at the modest memorial beside the highway, next to a giant light post. The grass around it is maintained from spring through fall. With the wreath laid, the squad stands at attention to salute the NVAR as it passes, in which Ed has either been riding his bike, or driving the chase truck. I sense a great loss, still, in those who knew Lovie and feel sad not to have known her myself. RIP Lovie, you are not forgotten.
The NVAR rolled eastward under partly cloudy skies, that was mostly sunshine with a rise in temperature. However, the north wind blew, but at less than a gale. The deep green of spring growth covered the prairies like a carpet, and laid softly over hills and on the slopes of buttes. We had become spoiled a bit without much traffic to interrupt our ride, but that was changing in the Central Time Zone, for some odd reason!
More riders met us for our second act of the day; another wreath laying ceremony at the All Veterans Memorial in North Platte. It’s a beautiful creation built by volunteers, and a solemn place of remembrance, and reflection, for those who served. Mongo led the squad for this act of gratitude. They are not forgotten.
The fire department supplied a nice lunch of super subway sandwiches, chips, and cold drinks for our pleasure in a park beside the memorial. The few tables filled quickly, but John Jenkins found the best spot beside a tree, where he would have enjoyed a nap had we not a schedule to keep.
Moving on under a partly cloudy sky, with lots of sunshine, and lots of riders, too, we arrived in Kearney for a police escort to the Central Nebraska Veterans Home. On Jan. 16 of this year, they moved from their home in downtown Grand Island, where they had been for generations. We rode in on the sidewalk around the fish stocked pond to the front of the home. A dozen residents were outside to welcome us, and a few dozen more to visit inside.
Before we split up for visits to residents in their respective neighborhoods, known as; Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Echo, and Foxtrot, Bill “Mongo” had plenty of recognition and gratitude to pass out to the police department, the fire department, the Combat Veterans Association, and the PFMC. I apologize if I forgot anyone. Grand Island was the home of Mike “Buff” Manthey, and yesterday his family had a Celebration of his Life, so there was a deep sense of loss in the audience. But Buff’s life carries on in his family, which extends into many grand children and great grand children. He was a good man who loved being a Grandpa.
We set off in groups to visit:
Trina, from Macedonia (old Yugoslavia) sat in awe of our arrival. A knitted shawl kept her comfortable in light cool breeze coming off the pond. When asked, she said it was a long story from Macedonia to California, where she met her husband, who has since passed away, but her three children live nearby for regular visits.
Inside, Dave Clemmons chatted with Wilma, 99 years old, sharp witted, and knows how to pick the lucky bingo cards. She felt very blessed to live so long. Wilma was a nurse in Europe during WWII. We look forward to a reunion in the dawn of her second century.
In a group to visit those in the Memory Care Unit, half chatted with residents on the patio, and inside, Avery and Delbert were quite sociable in short conversations. Andy, who in a better time, lived life in the fast lane on Harley Davidsons. He had a collection of photos in his room with lots of great memories. He had few words to pass in conversation, until Linda Stuki showed up—then he had lots to say. It’s amazing what the presence of a woman can do.
Time passed too fast, and it was time to go, but it was great to visit them in their new home. We were happy to hear from them how much they liked it. They have private rooms with personal amenities and common rooms for dining and social time. The layout is efficient, and each neighborhood is connected so they don’t have to go outside. The design is tasteful with a strong homey atmosphere. They deserve the best, and they have it. We look forward to many reunions.
Did we eat yet? Ha! No, but dinner was only 55 miles away at the American Legion in Doniphan. Waiting out front was Kay Luft, who is directly, or perhaps indirectly, responsible for all the NVAR coordination in Grand Island, because she is the one who brought a little Bill Luft into the world. A wonderful woman who is known to hang with the big boys till the band stops playing.
The American Legion has supported the NVAR in all ways possible, and Bill had a handful of certificates of appreciation to hand out, and they are only a small token of our gratitude. The photo of the buffet line speaks about only part of the meal, and our appetite, because there was another table like that behind me, beside a desert table! Thank you American Legion.
About ten, perhaps fifteen, Medals of Recognition were presented today to veterans from the War on Terror. Mostly to those we met at the memorials and the vet home, but we meet them everywhere, to include the convenience store of a gas stop. We found a husband and wife who were traveling, and both were young veterans. We surprised them with our award for their service, and we made the presentation inside the store.
This ends my report for Saturday. Tomorrow, we cross another state line with some heavy weather forecast for Des Moines, which is nothing we haven’t been through before. All part of the mission!
Thank you & Never Forget
2019 Ride Day Six (Sunday, May 19)
In our regular morning briefing, Dan - Sweetness, read two tributes to veterans who lost their lives in the War on Terror.
Staff Sgt. Alexander Conrad, 26 years old from Mesa, AZ, was killed on June 8 by indirect enemy fire from al-Shabab militants in Jubaland, Somalia. The goal of his mission at the time was to liberate villages from al-Shabag control. No family was given, although, he no doubt had family and friends who felt a great loss.
Cpl. Joseph Maciel, 20 years old from South Gate CA, died July 7 from an apparent insider attack in Afghanistan. He was an only child, survived by his parents. We kept those men in our thoughts as we rode today.
We were, sort of, on our own for breakfast, but the truck stop gave us a discount, and even when we ordered small meals, they gave us large ones.
Winter blew its relentless wrath over the central plains; but at least it wasn’t raining, or worse. It was above 40 degrees, but the north wind blew with a passion. The defining line between cloudy and partly sunny is for another to determine, but, within the sky’s expanse of dark puffy clouds, each identifiable by their light gray edges, were some patches of crystal blue sky.
We rode south to I-80 to the nearby on-ramp, and when we turned east, the wind hit us like a small freight train. There was a little wobbling to acclimate to the conditions, but as seasoned riders we were fine by the time we left the highway. Even though I wore full leathers, heated liners, and have heat pads on the grips, I felt an occasional chill. The cold is as pesky as a mosquito; if it can find the tiniest hole, it’s going to get in. Svein Lebbreck rode slightly ahead and beside me in the formation. Svein comes from Norway, on about his 10th ride. He sat on his Gold Wing like he would in his lounger at home, except he wore an Open Face helmet, light jacket, leather pants, boots, and NO gloves. (Only in the last couple years did he start wearing boots; before, he wore flip flops, All The Way). Anyway, he leisurely cruises along, and that pesky chill creeps around a little more, but the elements don’t faze him. Then, as though he remembered something, he stretches his arm out with a twist of the wrist to expose his watch. He seemed content with the time, and the elements. The man must have frigid fjord water flowing in his veins!
Seventeen years ago, Svein met Crazy Larry in his internet search to ship a motorcycle from the U.S. to Norway. He’s a retired Major in the Norwegian Army, and likes to pull triggers on moose and other wild game in Scandinavia. He likes motorcycles, of course, and shares deeply in our mission to honor our veterans. Thank you Svein.
At our first gas stop, Bill “Mongo” Luft, the NE State Coordinator, presented a Medal of Recognition to a police officer he served with for four years in the military. As a retired police officer himself, Mongo has a very good relationship and support from law enforcement across the state. His friend was married during his tour of duty, and still is, and was given a special pin for his spouse.
Those patches of blue were filled in by the time we arrived in Council Bluffs IA for our a wreath laying ceremony; and the winds persisted, and it was a little misty, too. We always receive a great welcome to a wonderful veterans memorial, and their memorial is set in the middle of the old downtown, in a park across the street from the library. Normal Ferris has graciously welcomed us for many years, and today we shared honors with dignitarys and families.
Retired Air Force Col. Steve Aimet teaches ROTC cadets, 130 of them, and a squad of four followed strict protocol to raise the American and POW/MIA flags. And then, we sang the Star Spangled Banner, which was heart felt throughout the crowd, despite half of us about 1/4 verse off pace!
The ROTC is a wonderful program to prepare young men and women for advancement military service, and a patriotic life. Col. Aimet recalled President Roosevelt’s comment about Dec. 7, 1941, that it shall live in infamy; and if we don’t teach it to our students, how will it live in infamy? He plans to take cadets to Pearl Harbor and Normandy. We need more Col. Aimets, and more cadets.
A wreath was placed at the statue of a Vietnam soldier killed in battle. The statue is life-size and has an uncanny resemblance to Phillip, the son of a local resident who gave a photo of his late son to the sculpture. Three similarly lifelike statues stand at their memorial wall, also; each pulls the viewer into thought of the young man with a folded flag, and an elderly couple looking at a name.
Mayor Matt Walsh then read a proclamation to commemorate 100 years of the American Legion.
Lunch was at the Masonic Lodge; through the park and across the street. To greet us, I met Edith Petersen, 99 years old and WWII Navy Nurse, who served in the South Pacific. Her husband was in the navy, too. Also, she lost a 23 year old brother, Robert Evans, while he was with a special unit, Merrills Marauders in Burma. We expect to return next year to meet another veteran who’s age hits the 100 year mark. (The other is Wilma, back in Grand Island. And there is another female veteran farther back, in Salt Lake City UT, who holds a similar age and respect.) Wonderful women who answered a call to duty long before our generation’s liberation epoch! Thank you ladies.
After another fine and reasonably portioned meal (Thank You), Jerry had certificates of appreciation to award, and there were more Medals of Recognition to present to veterans from the War on Terror. Also, the American Legion Riders, the Vietnam Veterans Association, and another group of multiple donors, made generous donations to the NVAR. All donations go to the veterans and projects to help veterans and their families, educate school children, and promote patriotism. All riders on the NVAR gladly make the ride at their own expense.
The Council Bluffs Police escorted us to the highway, where we were all quite comfortable with the elements by now; and for Svein, that is never an issue. After the solitude of I-80 out west, we felt the abundance of traffic infringed on our trail, but we got along well and move like a well disciplined unit. And I will have more to say on that with regards, and respect, to our Road Guards who are doing a fantastic job of watching over us. Thank you guys!
The patriotic Ride of Pride, a Freightliner courtesy of Schneider Trucking, sat next to Freedom Rock, where we held our annual memorial to all veterans. Bubba was in the process of painting the rock, again, as he repaints it every year. I think he said he has 99 rocks around Iowa. To add weight and a unique form of respect to his murals, he is often given the ashes of veterans to mix with the paint. Thank you Bubba.
And then we were off to the Des Moines VMAC. The blustery conditions keep our usual outdoor welcome and introductions to a minimum, but that was ok, we were all anxious to get in and visit. I must not A small group of us went into the Memory Care Unit, where dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other matters take a dark toll.
I’ve spoken with joy about the veterans we’ve met who have shown and expressed their joy to see us. They often seem to turn the tables on us! To visit a Memory Care Unit gives any compassionate person a sense of gratitude for their health and well being, and there was one veteran in particular who brings our mission full circle. I say many times this ride is an emotional roller coaster with great joy, and there’s great sadness.
We meet many with joy to see us, and return to learn they have passed on, we meet terminal patients with weeks, or days, to live. We meet patients and residents with physical disabilities and medical ailments who are, yet, sociable. But Mike, from Oregon, was taken alone with a hospital staff to meet a veteran with the most tragic of all disabilities.
The Vietnam Veteran was diagnosed as schizophrenic and cowled on his bed; in his mind he was trapped in Vietnam. Mike spoke to him, but there was no response, and the staff didn’t expect there would be any. Of all disabilities and ailments, to be confined to the solitude and eternal trauma in your mind would be hell. That man answered a call.
Two more riders joined us here. Friends of mine from the Mpls MN area. Hack, who’s been with us the past two years, and Ike, a first timer. Both Vietnam Veterans. Welcome Home & Welcome to the NVAR.
Remember the Vets & Never Forget
2019 Ride Day Seven (Monday, May 20)
Svein thought it was a little chilly this morning, but he still grabbed the throttle with bare hands!
A group of local partnerships spent a lot of time in a grocery store, and donated it all for our breakfast. The fine folks at AmVets Post #2 rose early this morning, as they do every time we’re in town, to begin preparations. As always, the juices and fruit buffet was a healthy choice.
Mary Van Horn greeted and humbled us with gratitude for our mission; but it’s such a great reason to ride, Mary, and as long as we’re riding, we want to thank those who make that possible—our veterans. She then told us of the many programs they’re involved in, and to name a few; the veterans home and hospital, hosting dinners, outreach programs, homeless veterans stand downs, and next year, they will associate with the new format of local Rolling Thunder events. To help their goodwill, the NVAR made a donation to the post.
Bob MCarthy’s ROTC cadets then performed the honor of posting the colors, and the Pledge of Allegiance was made by all. We need more of that!
Our regular briefing followed with a tribute to two fallen soldiers.
Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Celiz, 32, of Summerville CA was killed in action on July 12 in Paktiya province Afghanistan. He was on his seventh deployment. He left behind a wife and an eight year old daughter. 7 times to the battle zone!
Sgt. 1st Class Reymund Transfiguracion, 36, of Waikoloa, Hawaii. He died Aug 12, five days after he was wounded by an improvised explosive device in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. He immigrated from the Philippines and became a U.S. citizen before he was 18 years old. He started with the National Guard in Hawaii in 2001 and went with them to Iraq in 2005-06. He transferred to active Army in 2008 and deployed to Iraq, and was later selected for Special Forces. He left behind a wife, son, and a daughter. Raymund wanted to be an American, and he was all an American could ever be. America owes a debt of gratitude to his family. Never Forget
Wayne then shared wise words for thought, and action; understanding God’s ways are higher than ours.
Our police escort led us through morning traffic, further detaining those late for work! The highway to Marshalltown, for our visit to the Iowa Veterans Home, runs in a northeast direction, or southwest—depending on where you’re coming from and where you’re going. It was not just chilly, the north wind carried an arctic tinge, for all but one rider. Thankfully, fifty miles passed quick and we enjoyed a warm welcome at the Vets Home. This is one of the top ten Vet Homes in America with 500 residents on a 150 acre state facility, and tremendous volunteer support. Marshalltown is a large rural community with an early American flavor surrounded by—Iowa. Each veteran at the Vets Home has their own room and amenities, with showcases beside each door to display each resident’s hobbies, likes, and photographs.
Because of the home’s expanse and the two hours we had for our visit, we split into a half dozen groups to meet as many veterans as we could. Our group entered the Memory Care residence to meet with some veterans in their room and others in the day room.
Contemporary western music of the 60’s played on the radio in John’s room, sing-a-long kind of stuff. He appeared to be asleep, but a light rap on the door found he was just lost in the music. John was surprised to know of our visit, especially on motorcycles across the country, and was quite humbled by the purpose of our mission; especially by the Thank You cards we brought from children. After a short conversation, the music took John back.
We met some fellows in the day room watching tv. When we told them we were motorcycle riders, they quickly lost interest in the program. Al, in the red cap, was a Snortin Norton rider, a 750 Commando. He liked to go fast, and who doesn’t like to go fast on a Norton. His pal rode a Harley Davidson Shovelhead and partied hard at Sturgis—back in the day! It’s fun to meet other riders in the homes and hospitals, but sad to think that their riding days are gone. However, there is comfort to see their joy in talking about the old days, and hearing some of our stories, too.
Gary (Mr. Wizard) met a WWII Veteran who thought he was gonna die a half dozen times; either from gun shots in many battles, or on the operating table. On some island in the South Pacific, his unit was pinned down by snipers and outnumbered. When he shot one of the snipers he thought for sure the other one would shoot him, but he reloaded fast and shot true. After the battle, he found two bullet holes in his shirt, but he had not a scratch. Sadly, his unit suffered many casualties. He wasn’t so lucky in other battles, as near fatal wounds just about put his name on a wall, but it wasn’t his time, and he lives to tell his stories.
We hear many stories of heroism, yet, many keep those kinds of stories to themselves. Someone, maybe General Patton, said it’s better to make the enemy die for his country, however, there’s an inherent in our nature, and that is a value for life; regardless.
As we visited veterans in a hallway of the main building, we met the Veterans Home Commandant, Mr. Tomin. He walked up and addressed the husband and wife veterans by name, and then introduced himself to us. As other veterans walked nearby, he addressed each by name. While we had lunch, he spoke to us all while other veterans sat around or passed through; again called them by name and told us fantastic stories about their service, or something about their family. The commandant knows his charge, and respects them.
The vets home in Marshalltown is the largest facility we visit, and it’s always a great visit. After lunch, we bid farewell until next year and followed our escort onto the rolling farmland. The wind abated, the temperature rose, and for awhile, our fair weather friends (our shadows) mirrored each rider.
A steady mass of traffic pounded I-80, but we arrived on time at the VA Health Care System in Iowa city. Judith, the director, welcomed us and introduced staff to lead groups on our visit.
In the Memory Care Unit, we overwhelmed a veteran with our visit. He didn’t seem to comprehend all that came at him from three riders happy to see him. I stayed back while the others moved on, and one on one, the man began to open up to conversation. He served in Vietnam in places I lived and knew well. I’m cautious, to reluctant, to tell Vietnam Veterans in hospitals and homes about my life and travels over there. When I do, I’ll make a brief mention of something to decide from their response if I want to, or should, share more. This gentlemen immediately showed an interest. Although he didn’t remember details about the places, he had some chuckles about my stories.
Our guide then wanted me to meet May, an 80 something woman who served in the military, although she didn’t remember which branch. I forgot to ask our guide about that, but that’s not relevant. May spoke as soft as a Southern Bell, with confidence, her hands were as soft, and her heart was pure gold. She had the compassion of Mother Teresa, and our guide confirmed that she like helping others, and doesn’t like to be bothered when she is.
From my chats with others, which our guide overheard, she knew I should meet Jim Fleck, the nephew of Jack Fleck. Jim loved to play golf; he had two stacks of hats and a pile of visors from different golf courses. When it comes to souvenirs, golfers buy shirts and hats like Harley riders buy tee shirts. In his golf bag in the corner he had a Titleist driver with an 8.5 degree loft. Only an accomplished golfer hits with that loft, and Jim’s best score was a 63. I didn’t look at all his clubs, but I wouldn’t have been surprised to find a 1 iron, too. Uncle Jack was his mentor, no doubt, and hero. In 1955, Jack beat the great Ben Hogan in an 18 hole playoff for the U.S. Open Golf Championship in San Francisco. Because of a bum right arm, it was sad to see that Jim would never swing a club again. But like those riders in Marshalltown who will never ride again, but still liked to talk bikes, Jim would have talked golf for hours, but sadly, our time ran out.
We returned to the traffic, without our fair weather friends, for an escort to the Davenport Memorial Park All Veterans Memorial. Along the way, we picked up a dozen or more riders from different veterans riding organizations. The memorial sits in the distant corner of a cemetery, in a serene setting at he bottom of a hill against the trees. The NVAR has an extended family, and many of them were there waiting our arrival; so it was a bit of a reunion before the program began.
Mike Kline, known as Dirty Mike, and as the NVAR Iowa State Coordinator, prepared a fantastic program; as well as detailed spot on coordination for every move the NVAR made from one end of Iowa to the other. At the memorial, a ROTC squad was at ease along the walk, the Vietnam Veterans of America rifle squad stood in fatigues off to the side, formal dressed members of the American Legion stood ready for their roll, and two stood back behind the podium ready for their readings. A table set for five sat at the entrance to the memorial, and a huge crowd gathered on the perimeter.
Mike graciously welcomed us with news his health issues had improved, but time on a motorcycle was not in the doctors orders. After certificates of appreciation were handed out, the program began with the ROTC posting the colors. The Pledge of Allegiance by all followed. Then the U.S. and POW/MIA flags were set left and right of the table. A story was read about a POW at the Hanoi Hilton who made a small American Flag from scraps, for which he was severely beaten by his captors. But the beating did not deter him from starting another flag. These colors do not run! The table was set to represent the five branches of the military; of which, would remain untended to represent those who are no longer with us, or MIA. While the Madam from behind the podium stepped up to read a story with the message to remember the fallen and missing, five members of the American Legion approached the table slowly and individually to place the military branch flag at the empty chair’s setting of plate, inverted wine glass, candle, vase, and a rose. After the ceremony, the rose was presented to Steve “Headdog” Moore in honor of Mike “Buff” Manthey, originally a resident of Michigan City IN, and to whom the ride was dedicated.
I've seen similar settings and heard similar readings, but never as thought provoking and moving as that one.
The NVAR set a wreath at the memorial to end the program.
Our mission through Iowa was a fantastic and flawless success. Thank you Mike & Thank you veterans.
Our escorts left us on our own to find the American Legion Post #26 for a hearty steak dinner, deserts, and refreshments. Fills from the bars taps were complimentary in celebration of the American Legion’s 100th Anniversary. Thank you all.
That ended another great day on the NVAR, and the end of my report. Tomorrow we make a highlight stop at the Mid-East Conflicts Wall.
Thank you & Thank a Vet & Never Forget
2019 Ride Day Eight (Tuesday, May 21)
The veterans in homes and hospitals hold volumes of stories, and I’d like to share one Jerry passed on to me from yesterday.
While we ate lunch at the Iowa Vets Home in Marshalltown, Mr. Timon, the Commandant, pointed out Mr. Lindsey to share a story. As I mentioned, Mr. Timon knows his residents, perhaps all 500. Anyway, he thought a story about Freddie, Mr. Lindsey’s uncle, would interest us.
On June 5, 1944, Freddie was a 1st. Sgt. in a Combat Engineer Brigade in Southern England preparing for the invasion of Europe. His job would be to clear explosives from the landing beaches after the invasion in preparation for landing supplies as they moved inland. He had time to kill, and shuffled through thousands of soldiers with hope to find an officer who would sell or trade a special Fairbairn-Sykes combat knife. As he squeezed through the G.I.’s, he walked into a gathering around General Eisenhower, (Ike) talking with the troops. The General asked one of the men what kind of job he had back home. When the soldier said he worked for Sears-Roebuck in Fargo ND., Ike stomped his foot and said, “I hate those Sears sons-of-so and so.” He explained, when Ike prepared to marry Mamie, she didn’t want him in a uniform, so he went to Sears and bought a full get-up with a hat. Mamie laughed when he put it on, because somebody cut the brim off the back of the hat. He went straight back to Sears and demanded a refund, which they refused, and he never went into a Sears store again.
A famous photo was taken of Ike that day, which appeared as though Ike was giving his men a pep talk in preparation for the invasion. Freddie is in the photo directly behind him. But, actually, Ike just wanted to talk and be one of the guys.
When Mr. Lindsey’s unit hit the beach immediately after the invasion, they found many of the mangled crashed gliders and dead soldiers hanging from trees and buildings. So many who trained for years for the invasion never touched the ground in France alive. Freddie was proud to serve his country, but will never forget the loss of life, the destruction, and the pain of war. That was 75 years ago, and we still have war today. He hoped and prayed that someday we can find a way to keep the peace once and for all. God bless the nation, and God bless the soldier.
Later, off the ground floor at the Iowa City VA Health Care System, Steve Wandt, a Vietnam Veteran and an NVAR rider, was called to make a Medal of Recognition presentation to a veteran who recently returned from the War on Terror. Steve’s a big guy, and wrapped the guy with hug and gave his heartfelt thanks as the emotions overwhelmed the veteran. The tears flowed. Steve stepped from the crowd to allow others to thank the vet and welcome him home. Some minutes later, Steve was told that before the presentation, that veteran was on the verge of suicide. Steve was deeply disturbed and hopes to connect with him, or staff at the hospital, to follow up with help.
Twenty two veterans commit suicide every day. We need to save twenty two veterans every day. God bless the soldier.
It must have been cold this morning, because Svein wore gloves!
The days tribute was to Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy Bolyard, 42, of Thornton WV. The top enlisted soldier of a unit advising Afghan troops died after an insider attack on Sept. 3. He was on his seventh deployment. He is survived by his wife, three children, and three grandchildren. He was in our thoughts as we rode in the spirit of freedom.
Wayne had words with regards to our looking to God, and questions for God when things go wrong, and his lack of credit for when they go right.
Forty three bikes, seven trucks, and the Ride of Pride rolled out in blustery conditions. They would cross the Iowa - Illinois state line between two wet and chilly weather fronts. I would be the 44th bike after I filled in for Headdog on a phone-in radio interview with a Michigan City station fifteen minutes later.
I caught up to them at the gas stop a few miles from our first, and one of our favorite, visits; the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial in Marseilles IL. Blustery conditions didn’t dampen our spirits or the fine program Gary Croft (Mr. Wizard) prepared.
This beautiful memorial is a tribute to veterans who gave their lives in the Middle East War on Terror since 1967. It was dedicated June 19, 2004. It stands on the edge of town below a dam on the Illinois River. The steady rush of the raging river adds serenity to the atmosphere, and the forest across the river adds solitude. Sixteen granite walls with over 7,000 names cut into it curve above the river’s bank. There’s room for more names on one wall and room for more walls. Will America ever stop building war memorials?
Gary began the program with a Pledge of Allegiance, and the National Anthem sung by the high school choir. He then asked a question. What does it mean to be an American? He considered many answers, and to be free was it. But freedom isn’t free.
James, the mayor, spoke of what it means to be a public servant. He’s been doing it for 45 years in law enforcement, the fire department, and now, as a community leader. He spoke of life and death decisions, and of responsibility, and he’s taken those proudly.
Buzz took to the podium to read a speech Ronald Regan made at Arlington National Cemetery in 1985. In it, he said when a soldier dies they give up two lives; the one they lived, and the one they didn’t get to live. They didn’t get to be fathers and mothers, and grandfathers and grandmothers.
Jim, a Gold Star Father, whose son’s name is on one of the walls, was killed in 2003. There is nothing more painful for a parent to have a knock at the door, and hear, “we regret to inform you that son or daughter has died.” He said a person will die twice. Once when life is taken from them, and again when their name is spoken for the last time. But all who are named on the walls stay alive in memory if we work as a community.
Jim counsels Gold Star Families, and families of veterans who’ve committed suicide, who always ask, why. He has no answer. We must find a way to reach, and save, twenty two veterans each day.
What comes around goes around, and the NVAR gave a donation to the director of the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial Museum.
When Mike Buchan, Curtis’ neighbor in Oregon, heard Curtis was going on this ride, he gave him an American flag he flew in Iraq in 2009 - 2010, along with a photo of him and his buddies, (the same as Curtis had done earlier on the ride). Mike wanted Curtis to donate it to the museum, which was formally presented to the director.
Before the ceremonial wreath laying, Gary had a special presentation. From the Department of Defense, he awarded all Vietnam Era Veterans a Vietnam War Commemoration and Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pin. It took our government, and the public, a while to bestow recognition and respect to our Vietnam Veterans, and that must never happen again!
The American Legion Post 235 laid out a fine dining buffet to satisfy the most finicky and hungry appetite, as they always do.
An Illinois Motorcycle Police squad escorted us to the Indiana state line, and we appreciated that security. It wasn’t far to our exit, where the Portage Police and Fire Department escorted us to the high school for the Junior ROTC program.
Master Sgt. Ed Bowers has done an excellent job in training the students in marching and rifle drill, and preparing them for life after high school, in which ever direction they choose. We were honored to witness the last rifle drill the seniors would perform. They awed us with their skills, timing, and courage to twirl and toss rifles like lightweight batons. About half the team has already enlisted in the military. The Master Sargent has been a master mentor.
The fire engine’s lights flashed and the siren whined as it lead us back to I-80. Drivers pulled over everywhere along the way, and perhaps they were confused when fire engines blew past in the opposite direction with lights flashing and sirens whining.
We pulled into the Harley Davidson store in Michigan City for a reunion with NVAR family and supporters. It’s also a time for service that any bikes need, and for shoppers to buy souvenirs.
We rode from the Harley store with waves of American, POW/MIA, and military branch flags flying from the back of trikes and bikes for a parade through town. Our destination was the Danny Bruce Memorial on the lake front for a wreath laying ceremony.
Danny was a young man when he left Michigan City for Vietnam, and in March of 1969, men came to the door of his parents, with regret. Danny never got to be a father, or a grandfather. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for the sacrifice he made to save his fellow Marines. A man has no greater love for his country or his brothers than to lay down his life for them. Danny, you are not forgotten.
The day ended with a feast, of course, at the St. Joseph Club. Thank you.
Tomorrow we ride south on two lane highway through the farmland of Indiana to the Indiana Veterans Home, and then east through Indianapolis, to Brookville OH.
Thank you & Thank a Vet & Never Forget
2019 Ride Day Nine (Wednesday, May 22)
We woke at dark, and it was raining; but any day to ride for our veterans is a good day.
After a quick sleep at the hotel, riders in rain gear packed their bikes for the ride to breakfast at the VFW, at which time the rain stopped. A few riders had the privilege of sleeping in their own bed! A line started at the front door of the VFW, where riders shuffled through the buffet line for hearty helpings of another healthy breakfast. The room was packed, and as the plates began to empty, Lugnut took to the microphone to start the morning ceremony with an introduction of Julie Manner, the First Lady of the NVAR, to sing the National Anthem.
Her soft voice filled the room with the patriotism it carried. She’s sang it countless times. About half way through her solo performance, she hesitated, for a loss of the next verse—the look on her face was priceless. A moment of silence and embarrassment followed. Then someone spoke the first word or two of the verse, and all in the room joined Julie in the finale. It was beautiful, and Julie was wonderful.
Carla (Clutch) Loydd followed with the story of how she got her road name, and to this day she carries the clutch lever in her purse. She then presented a belated breakfast birthday cake to Svein, whose bday was out west!
Steve “Headdog” Moore is President of The Wall Gang, a non-profit organization that helps veterans and their families. As the NVAR dedicates this year’s ride to Mike Manthey, The Wall Gang dedicates this portion of the ride to a fallen veteran from Michigan City. This year the honoree is Donald Harper, who served four years and made the rank of E-5. He died from a grenade booby trap in the Thau Thien Province in Vietnam on Mar. 16, 1967. He was 25 and married.
The Wall Gang made two laminated posters with photos of Donald and his wife, along with pertinent information. One poster was given to his friend, Greg Hanke. The other poster will be signed by all riders and placed below his name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial “The Wall” in Washington D.C. Donald lives on in memory.
Gary “Mr. Wizard”, who prepared a fantastic program at the Middle East Conflict Wall Memorial in Marseilles IL yesterday, told us about a veteran to whom we presented a Medal of Recognition. He was excited; hey, did I show you my medal; well, do you want to see it, again!
Dan “Sweetness” then read the day’s tribute.
Sgt James Slape, 23 years old, from Morehead City NC died on Oct 4 in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. He was one explosive tech responding to an incident and died from a secondary improvised explosive device as he was sweeping around a vehicle. He married the love of his life immediately prior to his deployment.
We ,on the NVAR, have a lot of appreciation for the fantastic, tireless, and endless support from all our friends and family in Michigan City. Thank you.
We left with 50 motorcycles, 6 trikes, 10 cars, the chase vehicle (now driven by Bruce Manner), and the Ride of Pride covered our back. The sky over Indiana was pretty dark, so most riders dressed in leather and rain gear, but, amazingly, it cleared up in about 20 miles. The same people, all a year older, stood beside the highway, nearby their school, and on the sidewalks in towns ,waving flags and cheering us on. It was great to see the patriotism across America.
A deep green color sank into the trees and grasses beside our trail. An expanse of farmland surrounded us, but the only thing working in them, or more accurately, on them, were the wind generators with blades slowly cutting through an invisible source. The largest coyote I have ever seen stood in corn stubble, looking back at us. Jackwagon saw it, too. It appeared to wonder what we were, and if it should retreat, or eat. Two turkey buzzards were a couple miles farther down the trail, they’d eat whatever a coyote left behind.
We stopped at West Central School fifty miles into our ride. The students were happy for the interruption of their final two days of school. We dropped kickstands beside them and chatted about our mission and their summer plans. Each year the NVAR raises a new POW/MIA flag for them, and the old one is placed at the Vietnam Veteran Memorial in D.C.
In another forty miles we rode into the Indiana Veterans Home in Lafayette; a beautiful facility with brick buildings in an old Indiana forest, finely landscaped with flowers and flags, and acres of fresh cut grass. They have a fish pond on it, also, but the fishermen I talked to said its been to cold for fishing; but a summer-like sunshine covered their home and soon they will bait hooks. Our time is always short there, but we shared stories before and during lunch.
Lugnut met a fellow with a trigger finger that would not bend; it was stuck straight. When he tried to enlist the day after the attack on Pearly Harbor, the Army rejected him because of the finger. He was a bit upset. When a recruiter overheard him say he had a pilots license, the recruiter had a job for him. He became a bombardier instructor, and trained over 3,000 pilots; but never left the U.S.
A bundle of dogtags hung on the neck of a Korean War Veteran, of Porto Rican origin. Among them he kept a P-38 he was issued in 1948, and the tip of it wasn’t rusty!
Another who’s seen us come and go times before, looks forward to our return next year, God willing.
We filled with gas down the road and blazed a trail through the traffic of Indianapolis without the aid of the Indiana Patrol this year. Traffic was a bit pesky, but we came and went.
The day became the warmest we've had on our ride, and it felt great to ride with only a tee shirt.
About a dozen Ohio State Motorcycle Patrol and a car met us at the border with their lights flashing. They held traffic back for solo NVAR passage over the interstate. We had to look pretty good from the westbound lane.
That parade rolled into a joyous welcome in Brookville. There’s a short route to the AmVet Post 1789, which always give us a great welcome, and feed, but we took the long way through that fine old town. The fire department hoisted a giant flag over the street for a grand entrance to the post.
After parking, and a few riders rushed for refreshments, formalities began with Tony “Squirt” Cunningham, the NVAR Ohio State Coordinator, who gave appreciation and thanks to the many who support us each year. Then John Childers, the Post Commander, welcomed us, and gave a donation to the NVAR, and Assistant to the Mayor and a few fine words also. Before the band played the national anthem, the high school choir sang a beautiful song as the band stood silent; some great vocals and harmonies. Then instructions came for the feeding process, which brought an organized rush to the side door. The AmVet Post prepares one of the best buffets with a covered patio for outdoor dining.
Our stops were few today, but we touched the hearts of veterans, enjoyed the cheers of patriotic residents across Indiana, and shared the purpose of our mission with school children. It was a good day in Indiana.
Tomorrow we ride to West Virginia, and along the way we have some mission work to do. Please check back.
Thank you, Thank a Vet & Never Forget
2019 Ride Day Ten (Thursday, May 23)
We had a lot of tracks to lay today, and a lot of veterans and school kids to visit, so, the kitchen staff at VFW Post 3288 rose long before us to prepare a great buffet. Thank you very much!
Tony, (Squirt) handed out a handful of certificates of appreciation to half the law enforcement officers in Ohio, almost. Those guys go all out with support for the NVAR, and we do appreciate their assistance.
John Meeks, of the VFW, made a generous donation, which is greatly appreciated, also, I forgot to mention the other day, or a few days ago (the days and miles have slipped into another realm. If it didn’t happen today, it seems like it was long ago) but we want to thank Virginia Proffit for a generous donation in Marseilles IL. Thank you. And the NVAR made a donation to the JROTC in Portage IN.
Dan (Sweetness) read the tributes.
Army Major Brent Russell Taylor, age 39, from North Ogden Utah, was killed on Nov 3 while training an Afghan Army commando battalion in Afghanistan. It was another insider attack. He was on his fourth deployment. His loyalties were to God, Family, and Country; to serve one was to serve all three. He is survived by his wife and seven children, ages 13 years to 11 months. We keep them all in our thoughts as we ride today.
Dan read a special request in tribute to Clifford Swisher, 20 years old. Cliff was born July 27, 1948, in Connecticut, and moved to California in 1960. He was the oldest kid on his block where everyone looked up to him. Cliff was in Vietnam four months when he was killed in action in March 1969 in the Quang Tri Province. We kept him in our thoughts, also, as we rode in freedom.
Wayne (the NVAR Chaplain) spoke about perseverance. When you struggle to finish a task, or achieve a goal, when it seems hopeless, don’t give up. Start over and you will preserver with God’s help.
Mother Nature entertained us this morning. High in elevation, light grey, almost white, altostratus cloud covered Ohio. Below that, on an angle directly overhead, a nimbostratus cut a dark ominous edge, and behind it, a battalion of its cousins the cumulonimbus churned to push the edge eastward across Ohio, the direction we headed.
The police escorts and riders dressed for a deluge and hit the highway. We twisted our throttles over our zig zag route below, away from, back into, and behind the leading edge of the storm, for only sprinkles to hit the ride. We picked up more riders and arrived at the Chillicothe VA Medical Center on time.
The VAMC complex sits in the middle of Ohio, surrounded by a mix of farmland and forest. It’s been there since, a long time ago, and covers a lot of acres. They have a golf course next door, too. As soon as kickstands hit the ground, we thought the storm had caught us, but the drizzle fizzled, and that was the last of that stuff for the rest of the day. Whoohoo!
There weren’t enough aids to lead groups around to visit, so dozen of us stayed while the others went to fill with gas. The vets were happy to see us, and many were amazed we rode from all across the country to meet in California to ride back across America, then ride home again. Are we crazy? No, the visits are just great rides, we tell them. The Marines on the ride were drawn to the Marines waiting for us. Those guys are a proud bunch. One of them talking with Tony, the one on a Gold Wing from Florida, (we have a lot of Tony’s on the ride) said he was at Khe San for 77 days in the spring of 1968, through one of the most controversial battles in the war. He was anxious, and upset, to talk about someone claiming to have been there, too, but he was a fake. His unit never was in Khe Sanh; another case of stolen glory.
Our time was short, but the quality of the visit fulfilled the mission. Eddie Shien, the West Virginia NVAR State Coordinator, lead us to meet up with the rest of the ride. Eddie rode over to meet us, and help out Squirt, the Ohio State Coordinator.
From the gas station it was a short ride through rural Ohio to Southeastern School for a program, and to celebrate the last day of school. Principal Mr. Leonard Steyer welcomed us, again. He’s been there a long time as a teacher, then an administrator, and now, as the Headdog! No offense. After the choir harmonized for the Star Spangled Banner, the McClain Cadet Corps presented the colors. Jordan Smith read about the history of Memorial Day, and I wonder if I was the only one that learned something on the last day of school!
The choir sang more songs, and the youthful voices were absolutely pitch perfect. The band played and the batons twirled. After more certificates of appreciation by Squirt, Jerry (Five Minutes) told the students how much the Thank You cards meant to the veterans. Those cards from school kids around the country bring more tears of joy and comfort than anything we do.
Mr. Steyer closed the program and directions were given for right’s and left’s through a maze of hallways, to get to a mile long buffet! (Well, it was at least 100 feet long, and loaded).
Our escorts cleared our trail and we laid tracks through glorious sunshine and 80 degrees. We appreciated that, too. We rolled over rolling hills with lots of curves through thick green forest to the WV border. It humbles us when our escort stands at the bridge to West Virginia with a salute as we pass. We appreciate their support and security very much. Thank you.
Our next escort waited a few miles up the road to lead us in and out of a gas stop with ease. We love those guys! And from there, drivers dared not get near us; actually, they didn’t get the chance with all the protection we had! We had to look pretty darn important going down the highway!
There were no signs warning us to be quiet, so we pulled into the Clarksburg-Louis Johnson VMAC with horns blaring and engines reving. The place sits in peaceful forested hills on the edge of town, above a river with lots of parkland. The director had a lot of nice things to say about our mission, and Jerry reassured all that although this year may be the last for Rolling Thunder in Washington D.C., the NVAR will continue its mission for at least another 50 years. The director gave us an extended invitation!
Aids lead a half dozen groups through the VAMC, whose staff and volunteers attend to the veterans needs with commitment and respect. To visit those in the Memory Care Unit is a humbling experience. Although dementia and alzheimer’s disease takes parts of a persons life from them, it’s interesting to challenge them to think. Many recall dates, names, and places, and stumble in frustration when they can not. Their frustration often turns to a laugh at themselves. Others recall them as they wish; to them it’s real, and that’s all that matters.
Beside the door to their individual rooms is a shadow box to display photos of the veteran with family and friends, photos of the veteran with his Harley Davidson or playing his banjo, small memorabilia. They all had exciting lives and it's sad to know that many will never relive those memories.
VFW Post 573 welcomed us for a heavy dinner of tortellini with a special sauce and tasty meatballs, and salad, and desert. Some of that may settle through the night, but some riders may wander a little slower to breakfast.
Tomorrow, we have things to do, places to go, and people to meet, before we ride into Washington D.C.
Thank you, Thank a Vet & Never Forget
2019 Ride Day Eleven (Friday, May 24)
The NVAR arrived.
3,200 miles, thousands of veterans visited in homes and hospitals across America, thousands more who are no longer with us were honored, we shared the purpose of our mission with over a thousand school kids, and we welcomed home dozens of veterans from the War on Terror. We’re not done, yet, but I’ll talk about that tomorrow!
To back up a few days to Marseilles IL: The veteran who was excited to receive a Medal of Recognition, and show it to friends, again, felt the courage to make a life changing decision. He sought help PTSD. There are many veterans out there who don’t know how much they are appreciated, and the NVAR has fortunately reached a few.
Yesterday, Dan “Sweetness” had a reunion with Bernie Linn at the Clarksburg VMAC. Bernie is a 94 year old WWII veteran. He told Dan that his Sgt. always seemed to call him for jobs others didn’t like to do, because the Sgt. knew Bernie didn’t like to do them, either, but Bernie was dependable and got the job done right, regardless.
The morning sky was a brilliant sapphire blue, and the weather was a bit balmy! Quite a shock after a couple thousand miles of cold wet weather. But any day to ride for our veterans is a good day.
It was kind of normal to eat a meal we had to pay for at the restaurant across the street; and they had a loaded buffet. But coffee and toast was fine, too.
We gathered for the final briefing before the final leg of our journey. Jerry, Headdog, and Patrick covered the specifics of events and traffic; of which we should expect a lot as we approached D.C.
Dan read the days tributes.
Army Sgt. Leandro Jasso, age 25, from Leavenworth WA died Nov 24 after being accidentally shot by Afghan troops fighting with him during an assault on al-Qaida. He was on his third deployment. No family was noted.
On Nov. 27, three service men were killed when their vehicle was destroyed by an improvise explosive device at Andar in Ghanzi Province, Afghanistan. The Taliban claimed responsibility.
The killed were Air Force Staff Sgt. Dylan Elchin, age 25 from Hookstown PA. He planned to marry Jordan Stagers on his return. Army Sgt. 1st Class Eric Michael Emond, age 39, from Brush Prairie WA, was on his seventh deployment in his 21 year service to his country. He is survived by his wife and three children. Army Captain, Andrew Patrick Ross, 29 years old of Aberdeen NC. He is survived by his wife, who he recently married.
Army Sgt. Jason McClary, 24 years old, from Export PA, died Dec 2 at a military hospital in Germany from his wounds. He leaves behind his wife and two young sons.
We think of them as we ride today in the spirit of freedom.
Wayne had words for us regarding our wants; in particular, wanting to be like someone else, in which you will fail; it kills your spirit and personality. Be who you are and follow the path God has given you.
About 60 motorcycles, a half dozen trucks and cars, the chase vehicle, and the Ride of Pride rolled through the Allegheny Mountains. Our first stop was at the Rocky Gap Cemetery to place a wreath. The cemetery covers a slope of land cleared long ago and melds well with the countryside.
In preparation for our arrival, and Memorial Day events, area youth groups and school kids were up before the glorious sun shined to set flags on every grave marker, and wreaths on particular ones—a great act of respect from our young patriots. Michael Gregory, Director of the Rocky Gap Cemetery, made a fine welcome speech and read a thoughtful poem.
Cemetery on Memorial Day
Each little flag means someone brave
lost a life and with it gave
Breath to freedom
Watch them wave
Soldiers died to save your right
to speak your mind
Don’t look away
Read each name
carved cold and deep.
Touch each flag and if you weep
let the salty tears you taste
remind you what our soldiers faced.
One sacrifice from every grave.
Feel their breath.
The flags still wave.
The author is known only as: Amy L V
Steve “Headdog” spoke to the young in attendance about remembering those who sacrificed for our freedom, and why it’s important to remember; then he introduced the six youth on the NVAR with parents, grandparents, and uncles. The support for Rocky Gap is commendable, and Steve had more certificates of appreciation than I could keep up with, but to list a few; the Allegheny High School, a cadet corps, the Maryland Youth Services, and the local Sheriff’s office, and to those I forgot, my apology and my thanks.
The wreath was placed, and with a moment of silence for an introduction, taps was played. That moment of silence is powerful for the notes to follow.
We rolled back into the beauty of Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia, (there are a lot of borders in that neck of the woods). A police escort led us into the Martinsburg WV VMAC. And was it hot there!
Tim Cooke, the director, was proud for the center to serve 37,500 veterans. We were all given a complimentary tee shirt with a Crisis Hotline phone number. On any give day, we all walk around like a billboard with somebody’s advertisement, mostly some Harley Davidson store, or brewery, but that Hotline number is one ad that could reduce the number of veterans’ suicides each day. Wear it often.
Mr. Duncan was wheeled in to speak with us. He’s a WWII veteran with concerns about his generation’s legacy. He served in close proximity to General Eisenhower as an accumulations and distribution specialist (a morale booster department, as he described his duties). He shared stories about how things were done back then. If something was needed for the men to fight, or relax, he was told go get it and not worry about paying for it. Mr. Duncan became very serious and passionate about people remembering those who sacrificed their lives. On D-Day, 9,000 men died to secure the beach for the invasion of Europe. The British were fine fighters, but without America’s sacrifice, they would not have stopped the Nazi’s. Mr. Duncan implored us to remind people of those who died for our freedom; from the present war, back to the revolutionary war. We must unite to remember and honor them.
Terri, a staff psychologist, then read our second poem of the day; more thought provoking words in rhyme to the tune of patriotism. Thank you Terri.
Paul, “Buzz”, who I mentioned previously as the Grand Daddy of our ride with 21 rides total, bid us farewell to return to Michigan City in time for a speech on Memorial Day. We wish him fair winds, no rain, and safe travels.
The staff then took riders around to visit the veterans. In the Memory Care Unit we met Estelle, who drove one hour every other day with her daughter, Andrea, to visit her husband, Edwin. Alzheimer's disease slowly takes her from him, or him from her—the last of his recollections of them fades. They showed strength is accepting the matter, but there was pain and anger about it, too. Edwin is a WWII veteran, 92 years old. He suffered as an American of Jewish descent in a German POW camp. He’d been shot in the neck, and the shot blew his dog tags off, so for a long time his status was listed as unknown. But now, hopefully, at least those traumatic memories are gone forever.
On December 24, Estelle and Edwin will celebrate their 72nd wedding anniversary. Certainly a day to remember.
Wilbur owns some land over in Deep Creek. That’s were he learned to fish, hunt, and smoke meat (in a slow cooker)! He spoke in detail about the seasonings, the right wood, and the time in the smoker; the timing was very important.
Dan met a submariner, and few of us ever meet submariners. Those guys are a special breed of sailor. Like their stealth underwater, they mingle among us in silence. This sailor was assigned to a sub that floated out of Pearl Harbor. I was going to say, anchored in Pearl Harbor, but I’ve never heard of an anchor on a submarine! Anyway, He wasn’t too angry to tell about his fiancé, who sent him a Dear John letter, and then married his best friend. He laughed about it!
The veterans are in great hands with staff and volunteers who do a great service to those who served. Our two hour visit seemed to pass in about ten minutes. Jerry reassured them the demise of Rolling Thunder has no effect on the NVAR mission, and we will return.
From Martinsburg, we were beat with heat. Two days ago we were dressed in full leathers, heated clothes, and rain gear, but today, it was like a summer day in tee shirts—and traffic.
Fortunately, the exodus of traffic exited Washington D.C. There were few gaps in twenty miles of cars and trucks on the northbound lane. Our convoy merged into a few congested stretches in the last 10 miles, and that was about as much as we wanted to handle in 85 degree heat, after 3,200 miles. To great relief, we arrived at our hotel in time for social hour, or hours. Somebody always has to be the last one, and this time, it won’t be your’s truly.
While the well deserved celebrants carry on, many have given in to their exhaustion, and in about 10 minutes, your’s truly will, too.
Please click in tomorrow for more from the NVAR.
Thank you, Thank a Vet & Never Forget
NVAR 2019 Epilogue: (Saturday, May 25)
Our longest, and slowest, ride today was to lunch!
But first, the morning started with the usual briefing from Jerry and words from Wayne.
It was a wonderfully warm morning with a clear blue sky, and a comfortable ride to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (The Wall). We arrived a few minutes after eight, and as usual, we were the first group to arrive, although, minutes behind us thousands of riders started rolling in.
The Wall is most striking in the early morning when sunrise ignites the West Wing of it, and as the earth turns, the shade creeps up and over the East Wing. From a distance, it’s also quite striking in the afternoon with the walkway packed, and again late at night when few people are around, and the light beams up from the walkway onto the panels with the names of the fallen. (The most serene and surreal time.) I’ve not seen it in the winter, but it’s likely a striking sight then, also.
The Wall sits in a realm of its own for the families and the buddies of those named on it. The emotional intensity of a visit varies among visitors; from the picture taking tourist who knows it only as another attraction, to the curious, to those who remember, but didn’t go, to those who were there, and to those who are still there, every night.
58,479 names of men and women who answered a call, and gave all. The number grows as Agent Orange continues to take its toll, and of those named, approximately 1,600 are unaccounted for—Missing In Action (MIA).
A fair number of NVAR riders were there, at The Wall—and back in Nam at the same time. The visitors were few, and it was pleasant to have the space to visit comfortably with other veterans and visitors.
David Buck, the driver of the Ride of Pride, once worked at Camp Butler National Cemetery, one of the first national cemeteries proclaimed by President Lincoln. Those cemeteries don’t have room to store the many mementos left at grave markers, and sadly, are discarded. One day, David found the cover (hat) of a Green Beret that was bound for a trash can, but he intervened. He’d carried that cover about four years, and gave it to Steve Wandt, a Vietnam Veteran on the ride. Steve showed me how the liner of the cover had been cut out and the inside sanded, so it would lay softly to one side of the soldiers head, and rise to a high rounded crest on the other. The beret is a sign of one with special skills and an elite nature. That cover belonged to the soldier where it was left, or to a Brother in Arms who left it for him. That cover was true, and Steve felt an obligation to bring it to The Wall for the spirit of its owner to find.
Yesterday I spoke of the stealth and silence of submariners. Today I met one, and some submarines do have anchors! We talked a bit about their elite and secretive nature, but he didn’t tell me anything he would have had to kill me for.
Mementos from family, friends, and others sat at the base of The Wall, although few this early in the day. Also, many photos of a veteran with specifics of their life, service, and status; Killed in Action (KIA) or MIA. Steve (Headdog) and other Wall Gang Members placed the poster of Donald Harper below his name. He, and all his Brothers and Sisters in Arms are not forgotten.
Bikers by the thousands parked on the sacred perimeter of The Wall, and before the crowd moved in, we got out to go place two wreaths in Arlington National Cemetery.
Traffic was jammed at the entrance, but the NVAR was expected, and privileged, and security allowed us to bypass the jam. We had priority parking, and promptly cleared security. Our first wreath was placed at the final resting place of Brad Clemmons, son of Dave and Brenda Clemmons, NVAR riders. Brad served in the Air Force in the Persian Gulf and Operation Iraq Freedom, in which he was awarded the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. He was 38 years old. Our respect to Brad is a deeply bittersweet event each year. Dave and Brenda’s pain for the loss of their son equals the pride they have for Brad as a son, and a soldier. Brad was laid to rest with a barren field of bluegrass before him. Since 2006, that finely mown grass covers the remains of thousands of Brad’s Brothers in Arms. They are not forgotten.
It was a slow and solemn walk back to the tram, which would take us to the Tomb of the Unknowns for our second wreath ceremony. Selected to place the NVAR wreath this year were, Mike and Kat Tipton, Steve Wiseman (Babyface), and Mike Rinowski (Track). The Tomb of the Unknowns is the most sacred ground in America, perhaps in the entire free world. Few people ever step within its proximity, and to be chosen for that privilege is truly an honor of a lifetime.
The Tomb is guarded by soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Regiment, “The old Guard”. They’re not as stealthy or silent as submariners, but they will stand tall and charge into any threat to Washington D.C. Through rain, snow, hurricanes, and blizzards, they’ve guarded the Tomb every hour of every day since April 6, 1948. We, chosen and honored riders, met with one of the guards for a briefing on our placement of the wreath. Their speech is strong, concise, and with authority. He explained every step we were to take, and when to take it, or not take it.
We four took our place at the top of the steps before the Tomb, and waited. It was hot outside, and reflections off the white amphitheater and white granite and marble base intensified the heat, and the anxiety of the moment drew a little sweat, too. While others watched the change of the guard, I leaned back against a wall in the shade, with my eyes closed, thinking about all the people more deserving than me who should be here, but they are no longer with us. So I would be proud to stand in for them.
The guard changed, and a guard then came up and ordered us inside the restricted zone. In a strong, concise, and authoritative voice, he asked how we were doing today and where we were from! Then he was more serious when he asked if we had any questions about the event. We all said, no. And the placement began. We walked in unison down the steps and onto the threshold of The Tomb of the Unknowns. I was amazed at how large the Tomb was as I stood less than thirty feet from it. I’ve forgotten if we had the wreath when we walked down the steps, or did the other guard bring it to us! Was I a little nervous? Anyway, as Kat and I held the wreath, another guard held it from the other side and ordered us to follow him a as he backed up to the wreath stand, where we lifted it to the hanger, and returned to our formation with the other guard who walked us down.
Then he ordered all to “Present Arms”, and because I’m a veteran, I saluted, while the others put their hands over their heart. Then came that powerful moment of silence, before Taps. I stood so close to the bugler, I thought I heard his breath blow into the horn with each note.
After a successful ceremony, all the NVAR riders gathered beside the amphitheater for a pin ceremony. Last years wreath squad at the Tomb pinned a special Tomb Pin on each of us. Mike, Kat, Steve, and I were beside ourselves with emotion, and wonder. It was an experience of humility to honor a soldier known only to God.
We departed Arlington National Cemetery with the same privilege as when we entered, but traffic on the highway to lunch didn’t much care who we were, and it was every man and rider for themself. But we stuck together, and eventually arrived at the home of the D.C. Ramblers; one of the oldest motorcycle clubs in America.
They cooked our last formal meal on the ride, and they must think we don’t eat enough! After spaghetti and meatballs for a main course, Mike, the Past President gave thanks to us, and all the local support for us and our veterans. He then introduced a guest speaker, B. J. Penn, a retired Navy Pilot. B. J. thanked us for our mission and called for more unity from communities on that matter.
After he finished his talk, Steve heard a bell, somewhere deep in the matrix of his mind; it had something to do with paperwork on his desk back in Michigan City IN. He asked, and B. J, confirmed his last name and spelled it, Penn, and the light came on. B.J. is from Peru IN, and Steve has paperwork on his desk to nominate B. J. for the Indiana Military Veterans Hall of Fame. We have so many coincidences of this nature on the ride.
This was our last meeting of the 2019 NVAR. Jerry made an emotional speech about the camaraderie and fulfillment of our mission. The NVAR will continue to ride and reach thousands of veterans each year, to visit schools and promote the growth and expansion of patriotism, to pay our respects to those no longer with us, and to honor those who serve in present day conflicts. Long live the NVAR.
Tomorrow, Sunday, is the final Rolling Thunder National Freedom Ride from the Pentagon, past the White House, and by the halls of Congress. If this is truly the last one, I expect enough roars from engines to rattle their windows, and hopefully rattle a few in their shoes.
It’s been an honor to share the 2019 NVAR with you. I hope I’ve brought you into our world, and that has enhanced your appreciation for our veterans, and that you will share that with others. Please make Memorial Day a little part of everyday.
Thank you, and until 2020,
Thank a Vet & Never Forget
Mike Rinowski "Track"
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