Des Moines VA Medical Center – Des Moines, Iowa

Sunday May 22nd, Grand Island, NE (Day Six) Displays in Right Frame

As with each morning, blazing sunshine graced our trail under the brilliance of a blue sky. The temperature fluttered at 42 degrees with a promise of more. From the home of our past master weather man, Big Daddy, what else would we expect!

Our day began with another fine breakfast, of course. Then came our regular meeting. Jackwagon, our Road Guard Captain, finally spoke, although lightly it was with reminders, mostly. Passing gets a little sloppy and we’re sure to tighten it up, or he will tighten it up! 

Sweetness, Dan Kress, read the tribute to three Marines killed on April 8, 2019 in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan.Staff Sgt Christopher Slutman, 43, of Newark DE is survived by his wife Shannon, three daughters, and his parents.

Staff Sgt Benjamin S. Hines, 31, from York PA is survived by his mother, step-father, his fiancé, and six siblings.

Cpl. Robert A. Hendriks, 25, of Locust Valley NY, survived by his parents and a brother.

They are not forgotten.

Wayne’s little story of the day spoke of hope and optimism, and the difference between them. Optimism is based on circumstances, and hope is based on faith. Big difference! His example went back in time to pre-JFK assasination when America was  optimistic about the future, and post assasination America needed hope.

We roared into a rising sun to our first gas stop in Waverly, where we bid farewell to Bill Luft, aka Mongo, who had state duties to attend to. We picked up my sister and her husband, Amy and Tom, who would ride all the way to Council Bluffs, and return to their busy life in Omaha. 

Bayless Park in Council Bluffs blossomed with fresh, lush growth of turf and leaf; which only means we’re closer to short sleeves and sun tan lotion.  All gathered on the street before the memorial for words by a guest speaker. Unfortunately, my position for placing a wreath was beyond the range for my ears to hear Mitch Gutsy’s emotional story, which captivated all before him. He was with the Air Cav in Vietnam and spoke of triggers that brought back memories; some with a smile, and others man should not have. A moral to his story was to live life with a positive outlook; because so many didn’t live to see twenty years old. Mitch will send us a copy of his story for a post on this web site. I’m anxious to read it, and please check back. 

After the story, the wreath laying, flag raising, and taps, lunch was served at the Masonic Lodge. Amy and Tom were impressed with the presentation, and with the NVAR. I hope to persuade them to ride farther next year. The NVAR set off across Iowa in an unusually light breeze. (as it usually blows with a gale force this time of year.)

A mile south of I-80 at exit 86, we were fortunate to meet Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II at Freedom Rock. When he’s not legislating for the state of Iowa, he’s painting patriotic scenes on rocks the size of a Mack tractor.  Ninety nine counties in Iowa have these rocks, along with a more than a dozen in other states. We held a solemn ceremony with a bit of ashes of our beloved Brother, Trick, mixed with paint and brushed onto a scene on the rock. The ashes of many veterans are layered in scenes that Bubba has painted over the years. They are not forgotten.

Please visit for information about a rock in your county.

Covid 19 has become the Damn Covid, and it shut down our visit to the Des Moines VAMC. We were not even allowed to make a drive-by through the parking lot! The D-Covid might have had something to do with the change in our dinner venue/sponsor/menu, also. However, it turned out to be a matter of serendipity;  Patrick, aka Jackwagon, Iowa State Coordinator, and his wife,  posted our need for food on Facebook, and the Puppy Jake Foundation was quick to respond.

For a 6 pm dinner, we rolled into a small industrial warehouse area in west Des Moines. (By now the temperature had risen to north of 50-some degrees, maybe 60, and some were in short sleeves!!!) The Puppy Jake Foundation (PJF) sign above a door had a couple cute puppies painted on it, which made on wonder at first glance. But, small letters below it noted “Training Academy.”

We met April Conway, Volunteer & Event Coordinator, and her staff, who gave a brief explanation to the academy, and things suddenly became very interesting. 

PJF is a non-profit organization that works with dog breeders to obtain and train support dogs for veterans. It takes two years and twenty thousand dollars to complete training for a single dog. They keep no dogs at the academy, because foster families bring them into the academy for scheduled training, then return home to continue with training exercises. After a year and a half, dogs and veterans are profiled to determine special training for the dog; like one dog whose veteran liked to ride motorcycles, so the dog needed time in the wind, or a host of hearing, sight, and balance issues with its veteran. master. The sensitivity of a dog’s sensing its owners needs is a necessity it must fulfill them fluidly. 

Once a dog is trained, they monitor and adjust training specialties as necessary throughout its life. The PJF has been in operation for ten years thanks to the generosity of donors from corporations to elementary school children, and one this evening from the National Veterans Awareness Organization. The PJF is recognized by Assisted Dog International, a top rated accreditation institute. 

April, with her staff and trainers, do a fantastic service to assist our veterans. They also set out delicious dishes of  the meatiest lasagna I’ve ever had, the cheesiest Mac and cheese I’ve ever seen, and piles of pulled pork. A big thank you to April and all at the PJF for their commitment to our veterans.

For more information on the PJF, visit

Thank You & Never Forget – Mike (Track) Rinowski

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