Mather VA Medical Center – Mather, California
Tuesday May 16th, Auburn, CA (Day One)
The 2023 National Veterans Awareness Ride is dedicated to:
Don “Recon” Morrill
Recon was a Marines’ Marine. His uniform held multiple awards and commendations from his service in Vietnam, to include a Prisoner of War Medal. He knew of freedom and blessings like few others.
Like his Brothers before him, he returned to an ungrateful nation; but preserved, to raise a family—and lose a son. He became a tradesman with his company, Dam Plumbing. He was active in community service, and enjoyed scuba diving, snowmobiling, and riding motorcycles as often as possible.
Recon’s sense of compassion came from where few others had been, also. He committed a lot of his life to fellow veterans and their causes. He advocated for the homeless veterans, he was a significant in the early organization of the Run to Wall and Rolling Thunder, he remained active in the VFW and Marine Corps affiliated organizations, and a mainstay at the Chicago Toys for Tots Run.
Notably, Recon was a founding father of the NVAR. He reconned the route and facilities we visit today. It’s evolution and recognition are attributed in great part to his commitment to those who serve our great country. To those who followed in his tracks, he would be proud of what it has become. Well done, Recon. RIP
To Don “Recon” Morrill, and his family, we hold a debt of gratitude.
Day 1: 2023 NVAR Tuesday May 16,
Auburn CA: State Coordinator: Wayne Worden
Riders laid tracks across America for convergence in Auburn CA, ground zero for the start of the National Veterans Awareness Ride, NVAR. Tony came from FL, a few from the Ohio Valley, the Jenkins clan from OR, Buzz and his Buzzards blazed through a blizzard in the Rockies, Duane-Dan-Larry burned in from San Diego, and a bunch of others from all points in-between. Buzz, at eighty-six years old, is on his 21st ride, and Elijah, at 15 years old, on his 4th ride with Grandpa MoRON, with a bunch of others in-between. An early estimate of 30+ riders joined for a reunion and camaraderie that are nothing short of “special”. Their bikes are loaded for whatever Mother Nature throws on our path; sometimes she’s gracious, and sometimes she’s thrown the foulest of elements. Regardless, we’re riders of the NVAR, and we’re on a mission!
Each morning before kickstands up, we have a riders’ meeting with lots of important stuff we need to know. Below is an introduction to some of it. Starting tomorrow, we’ll get into a lot of it.
Each day, starting tomorrow, will start with a good breakfast, and we are going to feast like kings and queens: breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. In the commotion of breakfast, a few riders stroll around tables collecting $5 for the 50/50 drawing. 50% to the Ride, and 50% to a lucky rider, which absolutely cannot be returned as a donation. (Each rider joins the NVAR at their own expense, and the National Veterans Awareness Organization insists the winner keep the cash.)
Jerry Conner, aka Five Minutes, Ride Coordinator, heads the meeting with a briefing for each day’s events, and other important stuff we should know.
Patrick Martindale, aka Jackwagon, Road Guard Captain, reminds every rider about the ride formation, protocols, and other important stuff we should know.
Dan Kress, aka Sweetness, fulfills a few important positions.
Safety is the #1 Priority, and Dan is the Safety Officer. He alerts riders to safety issues, and other important stuff we should know. Regarding that, a special thank you to Greg Bingaman and Stacie Bobeck, two specialists in trauma scenarios. They recently led an Accident Scene Basic Training Class for a large group of NVAR riders that gathered in Michigan City IN. They were refreshed with first aid procedures in critical moments, with the hopes of using those procedures as often as they use the algebra equations they were taught in high school!
Dan is, also, the Tail Gunner. He rides at the rear of the formation to assist any rider who drops back.
All ride leaders are in constant radio communication.
Sweetness, (Dan) also, reads a tribute each morning to honor men and women’s, acts of courage, heroism, and stories of selflessness and sacrifice.
Dean Neeb, one of Buzz’s Buzzards, is our weather man; and from the initial forecast, he’s going to have an easy job! (If I didn’t just jinx it!)
The last words in any meeting are the most powerful and most remembered, hence, Wayne is the last to speak!
Wayne Worden, aka Wayne, the Ride Chaplin, shares words of wisdom, stories with significance, and other important spiritual stuff we should consider as the miles pass by.
Bowman Charter School, in Auburn, is our first official visit. From a one room school house in the 1800’s, it has grown and expanded to an institution. Supt. Kristen Wells leads about 30 teachers in the education of 590 bright young Americans. The NVAR as seen students rise from K through 8th grade.
In the auditorium, Jerry entertains the youngest of the students with a slide show and stories from our rides across America, why we do it, and what it means to the veterans we meet. (The auditorium isn’t big enough for 590, but the older students have sat through enough presentations, and keep to their class schedule.)
Wayne speaks for the NVAR to further explain patriotism and the difference it makes to live responsibly and express gratitude to those who protect our freedom. After which, we all harmonized thru a Pledge of Allegiance.
Our presentation moved outside, in an orderly manner, for a flag raising by member of the American Legion Post #84, followed by all singing the National Anthem.
Then we sang a Happy Birthday to second grader, ?, and presented him with a cool American bandana.
Our nature evolves from youth, and what we see will often be more impactful than what we hear; or at least compliment it. What young kid is not going to remember the sight of a big pack of motorcycle riders, and then remember what they were doing, and why. Hopefully, as they pass through their grades, they will take notice of other people living everyday lives with the attributes, appetites, and sense of gratitude; exemplifying what the American Way is all about.
At 12:15, we met for a brief meeting:
Then we rode to the Mather VAMC. Our 30+ bikes looked like 50+ bikes, (the sight is always deceiving to the actual numbers) but we looked good. Road Guards had command of the formation on the long descent of I-80 into Sacramento. California drivers are accustomed to this, and we hold a mutual respect; we all have places to be and we’ll play nice together!
Riders rolled into Mather and a welcome from the director and associates. After a brief reception, certificates of appreciation were handed out.
Mather is a 60-bed state of the art inpatient facility and research laboratory. They offer a wide range of outpatient and diagnostic services, also.
Fortunately, small groups of riders were allowed into the hospital for intimate visits with the patients and residents. It had been three years since we had this kind of contact with them, and all were happy to see us, and likewise from the NVAR.
Time always runs faster during our visits, and too soon, our time was up. We bid farewell to a wonderful reception and visit, until next hear.
Back at the Rodeway Inn, the governing body of the National Veterans Awareness Organization, NVAO, invited all riders to their annual board meeting.
It begins with typical reports that must be spoken, for the record, then turned to details of the ride; reminders to particular situations or events on any given day, possible scenarios to prepare for, and other important we should know.
Across the highway, Sweet Peas Restaurant hosts the annual Tuesday night feast. Their menu offers riders with choices, all with sizable portions. Chatter fills the room, while riders take turns for a brief introduction. After which, Jerry assumes Master of Ceremony duties. Since the board meeting, only an hour ago, there’s more important stuff to hear.
He had a full page, or two, with details pertaining to ride protocol, visitations, events, and standard procedures. It’s always good to be reminded of things to keep them in the forefront of thought, or handy for recollection!
Jackwagon reminded everyone about formation protocol, and the best way to stay on his good side is to “follow the bike in front of you!”
Wayne read captions for photos in an e-mail that made the rounds many years ago, now, but the words hold true. They were great reminders for communications with soldiers and veterans; little gestures make a big impact.
Covid 19 remains a serious threat, and veterans in homes and hospitals are among the most susceptible to become infected. Yet, they suffer immensely from the isolation. More than anything, they need face to face communication and the human touch to know they are not forgotten.
We’re optimistic about more intimate visitations this year, but decisions may change day to day. One thing that will not change from last year; only riders who have been vaccinated will be allowed into VA Homes and Hospitals. We have an inventory of Covid tests kits, and during the ride we will test ourselves. Anyone who tests positive must leave the ride.
War on Terror Medallion
Our Vietnam Veterans returned to a shameful reception, one that America came to regret. Those Vietnam Veterans vowed that would never happen again to a veteran who returned from duty.
The Vietnam Veterans of America, VVA, had a medallion made for presentations to veterans who returned from the War on Terror. The National Veterans Awareness Organization purchases hundreds of them for presentations to veterans we meet during our ride.
We meet veterans in all sorts of places and times, and when a rider meets a veteran, he calls other riders over for introductions to us, and our mission; including the medallion. A presenter will read aloud from the palm-sized and weighty medallion; on one side, “Ever Vigilant – Freedom Is Not Free”, and on the other side, “Global War on Terrorism – U.S. Veteran – America Thanks You.”
The rider then hangs the red, white, and blue lanyard on the shoulders of the veterans. These unexpected events are often emotional for the veteran, and riders.
But that’s not all!
While those veterans answered a call and stood in harm’s way for freedom, a family waited for their safe return. For their significant others, we have pins of recognition as a small token of appreciation for their sacrifice, also.
The Ride Pin
Smaller than the medallion, the NVAO has a new ride pin made each year. Each rider is given a handful of pins throughout the ride, each pin is in its little sealed plastic bag, then kept in any one of a riders nine pockets! They are presented with an equal weight of thanks and appreciation to veterans we meet everywhere, to their care takers in homes and hospitals, to our police escorts, and to many others who support the NVAR and our veterans. Each year we meet many patriots with a collection of pins on their hats, caps, and uniforms.
A rally cry closes the meeting.
Unless there is a noise restriction, no visit is over until we hear the rally cry from Headdog.
He shouts, “How far are we going?”
Riders reply, “All the Way.”
“How Far?”, He shouts, again.
Riders reply, “All the WAY.”
Headdog screams, “HOW FAR?”
From a deep breath, the riders reply, “ALL THE WAY.”
Before I sign off; thanks to Bill and Nancy Luft and the Purple Fish in Grand Island NE. The reception they give to a dozen-plus riders each year is something to brag about: great company, lots of good food, and a place for everyone to sleep, and breakfast!
And a Thank You to frequent NVAR riders Rich and Donna Behounek in Cheyenne. They understand our schedule and have a mid-day lunch ready for us to eat and run.
And finally, a shout out to Don & JoEll Jenkins, aka Quacker and Queen Bee; two of Oregon’s proudest residents. (A rumor says their ancestors were the first ones to welcome Lewis and Clark to Oregon, and taught’em crabbing Coos Bay!)
It would take about three months to see and enjoy all that Oregon has to offer, and for months, Don and JoEll worked diligently to host a three-day NVAR Reunion, last September. About a dozen riders live around Roseburg, and with families, the headcount reached around 40. There were extra motorcycles for some who didn’t bring one, and Don’s cousins caught, cooked, and boiled fresh fish and crab for an endless feast; so much that some took feasts home.
The reunion was memorable in all regards, and the hospitality was outstandingly excellent.
Well done, Quacker and Queen Bee.
Thank You & Never Forget – Mike (Track) Rinowski