Louis Johnson VAMC – Clarksburg, West Virginia

Thursday May 26th, Brookville, OH (Day Ten) Displays in Right Frame

Rise and shine, cupcake! The schedule called for breakfast at 05:15. Cooks at VFW Post 3288 were in the kitchen at 03:00, and their time was well spent for a full house of hungry riders, to include the motor police escorts. 

Brookville OH has a large and generous population with regards to veterans support, and Tony “Squirt” Cunningham, the state coordinator,  had plenty of certificates of appreciation to hand out; the post commander, the cooks, the mayor, half a dozen police and sheriff departments, and a few absentees to pass out later.

Due to a reduced number of five motorcycle escorts, an officer briefed us on our routes and their methods of management; and to stay out of the left lane, as they will be full throttle back to the front of the pack.

The VFW made a generous donation to which Jerry replied graciously and explained the use of donations; new ride pins each year to hand out to veterans, the staff in veterans homes and hospitals, and many others who support veterans and the NVAR, like the police officers. It’s also used to supply fuel for our chase truck, which is donated and maintained by its owner,  Ed Kintzele. The NVAO is a non-profit organization and donates to veterans and veterans causes.

Today’s tribute went out to:

Sgt 1st Class Dustin Ard, a Green Beret, 31, who died from wounds sustained in combat operations in Afghanistan, Aug. 29, 2019. He is survived by his wife and daughter, with a son born, never to meet his father.

Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, 34, born in Puerto Rico, was killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan on Sept. 5, 2019. He was on his third deployment. He is survived by his wife and children.

As we ride today, we will remember these men and their families. Let them not be forgotten.

In Wayne’s story before morning prayer, he presented an analogy of a parents promise, to their children at bedtime, to defeat any monsters in the night, as God’s intention is to be present to those he loves and protect them.

After all words were said, we dressed for a forecast of rain on our ride to Chillicothe. Once again, I dropped off for that phone interview, not once, but again an hour later, because I forgot we crossed into the eastern time zone!  If anyone thought the rain would miss us, they were wrong, but at least it came down at a reasonable rate; not a monsoonal blast like yesterday. 

The Chillicothe VA Medical Center was on a lockdown, and the best the NVAR could do was pass before the buildings with horns blaring and engines revving. Residents and patients looked out from windows with bittersweet expressions; thrilled to see us, and sorry we could not visit. But, we still let them know they are not forgotten, and we will return, again, and again.

The Southeastern School was next on our schedule; always an entertaining and hearty visit. Beside the entrance are memorials to five veterans who attended Southeastern, and made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. One of them is Brad Clemmons, son of Dave Clemmons, NVAR Pacer, and a graduate of Southeastern himself.

It was unusual that no students were outside to greet us; and a surprise was to be had. As we entered the school, hundreds of students, from elementary to high, lined the exceptionally long and high hallway, clapping and waving flags as we walked to the gym for a program. An echo increased the intensity and had everyone laughing. In the center of the long hall, adjoining tables reached about a hundred feet in length. We knew that after the program, the table cloths would not be visible.

Mr. Andy Graffis, the school principal, began the program with appreciation to the NVAR’s return. The band played the Star Spangled Banner, and an ROTC team presented colors. Student leaders took turns at the podium to share their recognition to our mission and its success. Dave, “Double-D” Clemmons, as Asst. State Coordinator, passed out certificates of appreciation, and then introduced Jerry Conner, Ride Coordinator, to say a few words. What followed was the band playing a Fleetwood Mac (I think) rock tune from about 1972, and that drew some cheers. 

At this point in our day, on our journey across America, we received bad news. One of the riders who dropped out yesterday with a sense of unease tested positive for Covid. With that news, we went into an offensive mode. Eddie Shinn, the WV State Coordinator, contacted the Louis Johnson VAMC in Clarksburg, which was next on our schedule. In reply to our concerns, they requested us to come in for each rider to get tested. Four riders without symptoms tested positive.

We were stunned; how could this happen to us? But in the clearness of hindsight, we shouldn’t have been surprised given the nature of the new Covid variant, the size of our group, and the logistics of our journey; riders from across the country, traveling across the country. We tested at the first instance, and calls were made to facilities we had recently visited to inform them of the situation. We’re thankful the number of positives were few, none were ill, and we reached this late point on our mission. Riders who tested positive left the ride for quarantine and to return home.

The VFW Post 573, another with a longstanding association with the NVAR,  was informed of the situation, and adjusted our dinner arrangements for social distancing.

Thank You & Never Forget – Mike (Track) Rinowski

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