Reflections on Run for the Wall 1989-2013 (Part II)
By Evo Reed
Run For The Wall as implied was a Vietnam thing at it’s inception. Its scope quickly grew to encompass POW-MIA’s from any prior wars and all new conflicts. In line with that scope I noticed one rider wearing an alternative RFTW patch. Its statement was more attuned to the now, in simple words a “Run For Them All.”
The Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Frankfort is likely one of the most impressive war memorials in the United States. Its imposing sundial design incorporates a giant gnomon whose shadow falls across the 1,103 names of the state’s deceased vets. With regards to RFTW the adjacent grassland has a narrow slightly curving road that provides an ideal space for the pack to park. This setting offers a unique opportunity for an unobstructed snapshot of the condensed, though parked, 500-bike serpentine – a substitute for my failed Jefferson Barracks shot
Do Muslims get a bad rap in our present society? The answer is arguable. Going All-the-Way on RFTW takes time, dedication & effort. Making the trek is definitely more work than fun. Countless patriots have mentioned to me that they want to go on The Run; but, they don’t. Many riders make the ride once or twice but never again. On the Central Route I noticed day-in and day-out a woman wearing a Hijab head covering. She was there in full support while, at the least, facing subtle rebuffs for her religion.
The Central Route stops in Charleston, WV at the state capitol for a welcome from the Governor, a visit to the West Virginia Veterans Memorial and a group photo on the capitol steps. I didn’t have many, so all along the route I had been conservatively giving out my White Patches. Asking me for one wouldn’t work. During the ceremony at the state’s memorial I stood evasively in the background. Adjacent to me away from the bustle was an elderly couple. He was leaning against an outer stone accoutrement to the memorial, decked out in a VFW cap & vest, aided by a cane and partially supported by his wife. I noticed “Founder” embroidered on his vest. Knowing first hand what founder entailed, I saw a kindred spirit. “Have you been to the RFTW Ceremony before?” I asked.
VFW Post Founder’s wife, “We’ve been here the last eight years, since we learned about it.”
I handed him a White, “Here’s a patch for you.”
The front of the pack is led by two riders riding side-by-side. Behind them is an open space for the Missing Man. That space is partnered by a solo rider. It is an honor to be the solo rider in the Missing Man Formation. In 1989 we figured the open space was a nice idea and simply took turns riding the solo slot. The Missing Man Formation today has a coordinator & assistant, a hard to get on list, dual identifying arm bands for the solo rider and a pin & embroidered patch awarded afterwards. Usually each leg of the route has a different person riding Missing Man. Peter, another from the Original ’89 crew, arranged for me to ride Missing Man on the leg into our RFTW hometown of Rainelle, WV. I can’t think of anything on The Run that I could have wanted more that receiving that honor.
I didn’t ride into Rainelle with the pack in 1989; my Softail had broken down again and I was on the road somewhere trying to catch up. I have fond memories of later years in Rainelle, though. At the town park we would load up kids on our scoots and pack them around the city. I did this enough times to have memorized a set loop through the town’s back streets. At home on the wall is a photo of my son, Joe, crouching before a small boy at the park and autographing the sleeve of his shirt. My Softail and Joe’s Wide Glide can be seen in the shot’s background. My usual Rainelle “camp” for the night was Oak Knolls, the Crawford Home B&B located eleven miles east on Route 60. The place is a big white two story house with three guest rooms that sits on a knoll back from the south side of Route 60. I have stayed there on separate runs with Joe, Long George and my wife. Always, whenever I was at Oak Knolls Mr. Crawford could be found in his easy chair in front of the living room fireplace. Meanwhile, Mrs. Crawford handled the heavy stuff. Her hospitality was not unlike that of your elderly country mom or granny. In the morning she served breakfast on an immense wooden table in the kitchen. Change again; Oak Knolls is no longer a B&B.
In Rainelle, I thanked the Missing Man coordinator and gave him and his wife pins*. I handed the Central Route Coordinator a White Patch and later gave one each to the Platoon #5 Leader and Assistant. I passed out “gold coins” with my club logo to the kids at Rainelle Elementary and was reunited on the grounds with James Gregory who had been riding the Southern Route. We walked about a bit and then made our way over to the school auditorium for a scheduled ceremony. From the stage Gunny called the other three Original 1989 riders up for a short introduction: Don Pierce, Peter Boyle and me. Later as the ceremony was winding down I snuck out an auditorium side door. It was afternoon and my plan was to ride straight through, another 290 miles, to Fairfax, Virginia. I’d be skipping Friday’s last day, a ride from Lewisburg, WV to a parking lot just outside of D.C. to disband. Instead on Friday morning I intended to be at The Wall. I was stuck in the tradition of The Run’s end being The Wall.
Having gotten wrapped up in the goings on in town I had missed the Rainelle Elementary School free lunch. My alternate plan was the buffet at White’s Truck Stop on Interstate 81 en route to Fairfax. Change again, White’s was now corporate Petro. Amid its extensive display of guns & knives, walled-in-glass antique motorcycles outside in the parking lot and the hearty buffet food the RFTW Stop at White’s used to be a kick. At least the change this time was a culinary upgrade. Riding ahead to Exit 222 I found a great alternative, Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant & Bakery in Staunton, VA established in 1947.
The next morning I rode to another 1947 eatery the 29 Diner on Lee Highway in Fairfax. The diner is listed on the National Register as an original New Jersey built streamlined Mountain View Diner. I sat at the counter cloaked in my welcome mantle of a West Coast rider on the East Coast, eating pancakes, reminiscing with the cook, casually talking to the locals and waiting for the D.C. commuter traffic to thin.
The first few years of the Run just prior to visiting The Wall we would stop at the Marine Memorial to take various group photos. What sticks in my mind from that tradition wasn’t the picture-taking at the memorial. It was a happening one time amid the parked bikes. I had been riding on-and-off, Softail-to-Softail, alongside Bad Bob. His bike was damn near a rat with its plain dull black paint and worn chrome. Bob was a mellow guy but gave the opposite impression from his imposing stature and black patch over one eye. When possible he rode in jeans, engineer boots and vest-only with his long hair free to the wind. This riding garb partially exposed his chest tattoos, portraits of his two ex-wives justifiably inked out with heavy black Xs. As we were dismounting to walk to the memorial, three elderly ladies drifted over to Bob. The resulting visual became etched into my brain when I was obliged to capture it to film. Through the lens of their camera I snapped a shot of Bad Bob being swarmed by his new found fans in their long summer dresses. Two old gals stood behind while Bob posed on his Hog with the third ready to hit the road; all four posed at ease amid dopily grinning faces.
Veterans have various reasons to visit The Wall. People visiting there can be solemn, ignorantly disrespectful or devastated. When I’m there I often remember Chaz from Illinois. Chaz was an average size guy, had a black goatee, covered his head with black do-rag and was damn near always happily waving & yelling at any cows he saw as he rode along the RFTW route. He was the sole survivor of an RPG hit to his chopper. “I was blown right out the door,” he said.
As we approached The Wall Chaz’s legs gave out and his tears ran. Shoulder to shoulder with Chaz supported between us, we three from The Run descended the path to the panel holding the names of his brothers-in-arms.
I also think of Country Ed Shepard from the ’89 Run. Country was a bushy bearded, jovial, rotund fellow from Bend, Oregon. At work he told his boss that the only time off he needed was when it came time for RFTW. When May arrived his boss wouldn’t let him off; so, he quit. Country rode a beat up Kawasaki with a Harley saddle, his “Kawaharley”. To toughen its suspension for the heavy load and the long haul he welded metal plates onto its sides, in effect converting the bike to a suspension-less hardtail. By the time we reached D.C. his rear tire was shot; no problem; the crew chipped in and bought him a new one. At The Wall was the only time Country’s face registered utter sadness.
My own Wall story comes not from direct loss. I volunteered from Germany for Vietnam, spent 15 ½ months in country, got shot at a few times but pretty much skated. My traveling coast-to-coast to honor those-who-gave-all simply seemed a necessity.
The weather Friday morning was cool and drizzly. I had on my MATES cap and my Original RFTW Vest as I walked down to the center of the Memorial. Nearby off in the grass on a temporary stage sat Colin Powell surrounded by cameras and facing a TV interviewer. I noticed both of their suits were beginning to get damp.
I asked a couple of ladies at The Wall if they would take my picture. One said she would, asked me if I was a Vietnam Veteran and thanked me for my service. I thanked them both for their support. Photo taken, I took off my vest, folded it, placed it at the base of The Wall alongside my MATES cap and walked back to my Harley. ― Evo Red