All Veterans Memorial – Memorial Park – Davenport, Iowa

Monday May 23rd, Des Moines, IA (Day Seven) Displays in Right Frame

I think we’re in Davenport tonight, which means we started our day in Des Moines Iowa. Gary Croft, aka Mr. Wizard, and his wife, Nancy, aka Emerson, joined the ride. Mr. Wizard is the Illinois State Coordinator, and we always look forward to his ceremonies at the Mid-East Conflict Wall in Marseilles. 

The Am Vets Post 2 has been in existence and helping veterans for 75 years. Many veterans were in the shade or fell through the cracks and didn’t fit into a proper category for assistance, but Am Vets 2 was there for them. The national Am Vets are the ones who have taken over Rolling Thunder on Memorial Day weekend in Washington D.C., which is now Rolling to Remember. 

The Am Vets 2 has been up before dawn on each of our visits; cooking delicious  breakfasts for as long as I can remember!

Patrick, aka Jackwagon, IA State Coordinator, presented a donation to Mary Van Horn, of Am Vets 2, but she returned it with the news; Am Vets 2 almost closed a couple years ago for financial reasons, but the good people of Des Moines would not let that happen. Their support grew like corn in an Iowa field, and quickly put them back in the black. Way to go Iowans!

Today’s tribute went to: 

Sgt. James G. Johnston, 24, of Trumansburg NY, who died form small arms fire in Afthanistan. He is survived by his parents, and his wife Krista, who learned she was pregnant the day before James deployed.

Master Sgt. Michael B. Riley, 32, of Heilboronn Germany Special Forces, died from small arms fire in Afghanistan on his sixth deployment.

Green Beret Sgt. Maj. James R. Sartor, 40, from Teague TX, died from small arms fire in Afghanistan. He is survived by his wife and three children.

They are not forgotten.

Wayne’s story this morning started our with a statement about Lawrence of Arabia, and how he felt so small. I lost a bit of the story after that. Like many on the ride, my hearing ain’t the sharpest. But I picked up on the point that in the vastness of the universe, we are not insignificant in the eyes of our creator.

The NVAR bid farewell to our Am Vets 2 family and quartered into subdued sunshine toward Marshalltown. I followed minutes behind, after a short phone in radio interview on behalf of Steve Moore, aka Headdog, President of The Wall Gang in Michigan City IN.

The courtyard of the Iowa Veterans Home, in Marshalltown, had been renovated since our last visit. This allowed us to park all bikes on the concrete walk ways for residents to admire and inspect up close. We were not allowed inside the home, but many veterans came outside, which they have been at liberty to enjoy in recent times. None had any complaints about being locked in.

It had been many miles since we enjoyed face to face conversations with the veterans, and they loved it. Naturally, most residents are from the local rural area; farm, fishing, and hunting country. So, naturally, a few boasted with stories of farming 341 acres, milking forty-four cows, and slopping a lot of hogs. They were proud and enjoyed the rewards of their labors. Northeast of Cedar Rapids was a good area for hunting, and fishing in the Mississippi was always a good day.

Among the guys were a few old Harley riders, of course. Andy, a Korean War Veteran, rode a 1950 Panhead, which he thought big and heavy at the time, and another missed his 1997 Fat Boy. He was in awe with my Fat Boy when I told him a bit of my story about riding it around Vietnam.

The renovations to the courtyard included and expansion of elevated gardens for the residents. Those who wish get an allotted bit of soil to plant whatever they want. There were hundreds of flowers, and a few tomato plants that will no doubt produce hundreds of tomatoes, and one resident used his allotment of space to build a miniature trailer camp site!

While we ate lunch, the director of the home made time to speak to us before his meeting with the governor. As a retired marine, three things in particular remind him of freedom; the sound of a bullet hitting its target, a jet engine, and a pack of motorcycles. He heard us before he saw us ride in, and he was thrilled for the residents to have our visit. He told us that during the pandemic lockdowns that loneliness, boredom, and depression were the biggest killers. He could not have been more sincere and grateful for our visit, and we shared his sentiments, completely.

We bid farewell to the residents, and motored almost quietly through the quaint village of Marshalltown. A town built by craftsman with an eye for detail. A town built to stand for all time!

Judith Johnson-Mekota, Director of the Iowa City VA Health Care System, welcomed our presence with a bit of sorrow; because as much as the patients and residents would love to have company, we were not allowed inside. 

However, we had an hour and a half scheduled, and our mission continued all the same. As we visited with staff, we met at least eight who had serve overseas in the War on Terror. We presented Medals of Freedom to all, with a special pin for their wife, husband, or significant other who sacrificed, also, at home.

From Iowa City, we rode into Davenport without a police escort, but that was no burden to the NVAR. Our road guards wheeled into intersections to hold all traffic, to whatever color the light, to ease our passage to the Davenport Memorial Park. In the heart of the Quad-Cities lies this blessed and beautiful piece of Iowa for the final resting place for many veterans. 

Tucked into a distant corner of the park, an honor guard lined both sides of the walk for the wreath laying ceremony, and an armed squad fired a 21 gun salute. Residents and legionaires were there to attend our ceremony. Among them was Mike Kline, aka Dirty Mike, and his wife, Gloria. Mike was a long time rider and state coordinator for the NVAR. Great to see him on a new knee and wish him a speedy recovery. 

And from there, we rode to the American Legion Post 26 for an old fashioned farm house meal of meat loaf, packed with quality ground beef, blended mashed potatoes and gravy, salad, and tables of deserts of choice.  Riders will sleep well on that!

Thank You & Never Forget – Mike (Track) Rinowski

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