Day One - Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Well, we headed for the outskirts of Reno this morning with 30 riders.  Since the weather is and will continue to be less cooperative as in years past, I’ll keep you updated. This morning although chilly, it wasn’t raining or snowing (yet!).

Our first stop was at the Reno VA for a visit with patients.  This year as always the NVAO provides commemorative pins to riders to give to Veteran patients.   The silver and black pin has the POW/MIA logo on it and engraved are the words, "You are not Forgotten" along with "NVAR 2011". 

I got to “pin” my first Veteran.

Glenn Hatch’s wife Janet was pushing him in his wheel chair down the hall of the beautiful Community Living Center at the Reno VA.  I stopped them and thanked him for his service. He told me his name and said to me,  “I’m a Navy man.”

From 1950-1954, Glenn served in the Korean War as a Boatswain’s Mate on a 136’ wood hulled Mine Sweeper.  The boat’s interior was constructed and lined with asbestos wrapped pipes.  Glenn said, “I slept in asbestos for four years.”  Now, at the age of 81, he suffers from an asbestos exposure related cancer and is currently undergoing treatment through the VA.

I have to say a chill traveled up my spine when Glenn spoke of his job in the Military. “We had these cables along both sides of the front of the boat,” explained Glenn, “and those cables would catch the mines from below and cut their cable that held them  in place. They would float up. The huge, round, metal spiked killers would abruptly come out of the water.  Sometimes one of those sea-monster explosives that could conceivably knock out a ship if struck, would pop up close enough to our boat that I could ‘a spit on it from my spot on deck!  You talk about scary times…..I still suffer from PTSD- although it was not called that back then.”

As Janet headed for the on-campus hair cut shop, Glenn and I continued our conversation.  “ Once the mine surfaced, we would either drill holes in it, and re-sink it, or move it way out and detonate it.  I still have flashbacks of those experiences, but this VA hospital has excellent counselors, and working with my PTSD group members is helping….the flashbacks are further between.”

IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO HEAL!  Remember, Glenn is 81!

Glenn and I went to the hair salon, and with a fresh cut and comb, Janet was ready to wheel Glenn out to see the bikes.

After some time spent touring the bikes and a thank you from me and a quick lunch provided by the facility, it was time to get ready to leave.  What a beautiful couple.

Steve Mulcahy, the leader of the Ride, formally thanked the facility for having us and the director told us they all look forward to seeing us each year.  I know the riders do too.

The next stop was for a special Wreath Laying Ceremony at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery.  Former Marine, “Top,” a long-time rider to the Wall, is the coordinator for our Wreath Laying Ceremonies.  He selects riders from all branches of the Military to perform the ceremony, and this time it was Terry Mooney, Doc, Tony and Dan. (Sorry, last names are not always known and “road names” are commonly used).  Anyway, these ceremonies are always emotional for all of us and it is a special time of honoring those “who borne the battle” as Lincoln expressed.

In addition, a special prayer was led by our chaplain over the gravesite of a long time supporter of the NVAR, Joseph Leonard.  His Native American band, The Battle Mountain band’s facility was a stop the Ride had made for many years.  He was a WW11 and Korean War Veteran and honored Pearl Harbor survivor.  He was formally presented with a 48 star flag that was flown for a period of time over Pearl Harbor.  Wow!   A few years ago, Joe presented that flag to Headdog, a group member and former Ride coordinator.  He still has it.  What an honor!

A little later we were off and heading toward Elko, Nevada.

The weather was cold but clear for a while.  Just a bit later we caravanned straight through a nasty storm.  It started with hail pelting the riders and worsening to HARD rain and mixed snow, quickly.  I felt so bad for the riders and guilty I might add since I am in a warm vehicle.  I turned the heater up on my side of the truck a couple times, but it didn’t seem to help them!

What I’ve observed though at our assorted stops, is that I am not hearing a lot of complaints.  It’s more like, “it is what it is, and we have a mission and wet and cold won’t slow us down. Our brothers and sisters didn’t have choices on their missions and endured much more than a little nasty weather.”   Not to say they wouldn’t be very pleased for temperatures to raise some, and they wouldn’t mind the sun coming out- but you get my point.  They are a tough and dedicated group.

Later, arriving at the Nevada National Guard, the Nevada POW/MIA Awareness group along with the local American Legion and VFW,  provided a meal and the POW/MIA members gave us all stickers with a photo of Bowe Bergdahl, a current POW who was captured by the Taliban June 30, 2009.  We are riding with those stickers placed on our bikes, and he is in our hearts as we traverse.

I’m going to close for today with this:

There was a very special member of the POW/MIA Awareness group. His name is Skylar Williams.

He is 12.

The NVA riders were all signing letters destine for President Obama requesting increased efforts to bring Bowe home.  I had a letter in my hand, and Tyler bounced over to me and with a grand grin on his face, said, “Hey, ya need a pen?” I already had a pen, but he and I got to talking.  He told me all about the group he proudly belongs to and explained about the importance of the letter being sent to the President.  I asked him if his school mates help him with the cause, and he replied, “Well, some of my friends, they didn't act like they cared that much, but then, when I teach ‘em  and talk to them about it, guess what?  Then they do care!”

How’s that for cool?  So simple, so true.  His words fill my heart.

Looking forward to telling you tomorrow’s stories from the road,

Carrie Lee

Day Two - Thursday, May 19, 2011

Snow!  Snow!   Is it December I ask you?  Because it FEELS like it!  We picked up three riders this morning that rode over from Sacramento and met us in Elko.  I have not heard yet what their run was like, but I am sure I will soon.

There is something going on that I need to tell you about.  On our first day in Reno, our Road Pacer, “Buzz,” provided all the riders and me and Ray something special.

I wish I knew the woman’s name, but her father is a POW/MIA from Vietnam.  She created 8.5 x 11 laminated photos with the name and details known about 143 POW/MIAs.  She provided them to Buzz so the riders could chose who they wanted to “take with them to the Wall.”   The riders all picked from the myriad photos and they now have their chosen ones with them-some taped to their bike while others ride along tucked in jackets or rain gear as the case may be.  This project was a TON of work for this dedicated woman and her hard work is greatly appreciated by all of us.  Our task is to take and place these commanding messages that cry out for continued awareness to the Wall.

I have four riding with me.  I have read their Missing in Action details and every while or so, I pull the laminated sheets out of my notebook and stare at those pictures.  I re-read the details.  Each sheet at the bottom reads, "His Family Still Waits for Answers! Please Never Forget!" Ok, so I choke up every time I read about “my guys” I’m taking to the Wall.  I imagine their families and how that must feel to not have closure regarding their adored one.  So, I have decided each day for the next four, I am going to include the photo and story about one of them.  Here is today’s:

Captain Harley H. Hall, USN
MIA 01/27/73 - North Vietnam

Captain Harley Hall was 36 years old on the last day of official American hostilities in Vietnam, just 10 hours before the official cease fire was signed, his F-4J from USS Enterprise (CVA(N)-65), was shot down near Quang Tri, RVN.

Hall was well known in Naval Aviation. He had been a leader of the Blue Angels, flying Phantoms in hundreds of performances during his two-year stint from 1970-’71. Capt. Dan MacIntyre, USN (Ret), himself a Blue, said, “Harley was a good pilot, a good VF driver and a good thinker-a man of honor.”

No other returning POW’s had seen Harley in captivity, however, barely two weeks after his shoot-down, his status was changed from MIA to “POW authenticated.”  Consequently, the Pentagon listed him as a prisoner for more than six years, and he was retroactively promoted to captain.  The apparent contradiction was partly explained when the family learned that North Vietnamese documents indicated he had been captured, though communist representatives in Hanoi insisted they had no information at all about Hall.”

His Family still waits for answers! Please Never Forget!

I am told we will be receiving more of these in a few days to be shared with riders who join us along our route.

Now, on a lighter note:

About riding on the bikes-  I have not yet.  I don’t have the right gear for it- I have chaps, (borrowed from Ray) a coat for mid-range temps, boots, gloves and of course my pink helmet, but no foul weather gear.  Headdog has offered me a ride anytime I want, and I will ride, but not until it gets a little warmer.  I have been teased continuously, “Pinky is a wimpy!” and the riders jest –“ Is it chilly for you in the truck? - Are you "cold" Pinky?  I just laugh and tell ‘em  I’m too busy writing to you and don’t have time for all that fun they’re having! 

Today we had a wild assortment of weather. One minute it was clear and cold and just a mile later we’d be driving through a horrendous downpour!  Ray and I can hear the truckers commenting on the CB radio. Mostly we are hearing, “Good luck to you! I can’t believe you guys!”  That type of rhetoric.

At first we were not sure if we would get to visit the Utah State Veterans Home in Salt Lake City, but the weather "did" cooperate, and I am so glad!

The patients are so excited to see and visit with the riders! Many of the patients and staff were waiting outside for us, and the lobby was packed with patients, cookies, bottled water and good cheer.

Back a century or so ago when I was a kid growing up in Washington, my dad and I went to a few Seattle Seahawks games. Those days, the King Dome and Hawk fans were noted for the decibels of disorderly noise they created during a football game. Well, that’s sort of how it was when we entered the Utah State Veterans Home; in a good way of course!

Riders converging on patients, patients laughing and grinning and handshakes all around!  There were lots of young volunteers there as well, and the staff is extraordinary.   While there I met a nurse, Ingrid Penn, who was wheeling patient Grant Gardner, a 93 year old Pearl Harbor survivor, around the sea of bikes.  She offered to show me around the 81 bed facility.  We toured the 21 bed Alzheimer’s Unit, or Memory Care Unit as they call it. (Great name don’t you think? I sure do!)   We should all be proud of the care these honored men and women receive at this Veterans State Home.  It is exceedingly clean, fresh and home-like in atmosphere.  The facility was voted number one in the state for care and services.  After Ingrid’s tour I can understand why.

It feels so good to witness the great care that our Veterans are receiving.  I really wanted to share that with you.  The USA is facing an extreme increase in need for long-term care facilities for our aging Veterans.  We as a nation must pay close attention and demand budgets that are allocated toward ensuring those needs are met.

When we left, several staff and patients remained outside and waved to us as we took off.  What a great time everyone had.  Another event and location forever embedded in my memory.  This experience rocks-it really, really, really does.  I wish you were here.

So, we were off and very concerned about the weather because we were heading UP. Way up to Evanston, Wyoming, where mixed snow and cold temperatures were promised by the weather forecasters.  Who were actually mistaken.  Surprised?  The riders were hammered with some hard rain for a while, and maybe hailed on, but no snow on the roadway.  All is well and everyone arrived safely in Evanston for the night.


Talk to you soon,

Carrie Lee

Day Three - Friday, May 20, 2011

Writing in the present tense:

Hi all,

I am writing to you now because today we have a 350 plus mile trek so I have some time between stops. I found out some details about the lady that provided us the POW/MIA posters that I explained about yesterday. Her name is Karoni Forrester. By her messages via email I think she will be meeting us in DC. Below is what she sent to our Ride leader:

Thank you so much for reaching out.  I greatly appreciate it.  MIA families can feel really alone at times - and it's people like you, and those in your organization, who let us know we're NOT alone and that our loved ones are NOT forgotten.

The group thanks her again for her efforts!  Each day also, our chaplain honors one of the POW/MIA’s by reading his name and the details during our morning safety meeting.

Here is the information on my guy today-

Capt. Douglas Ferguson, USAF
MIA 12/30/69

Capt. Douglas Ferguson was 24 when his F4D was shot down on a mission over the plain of Jars in Laos. With his co-pilot, Capt. Fielding Featherson, their plane was hit by enemy fire and exploded in a fireball. There were no parachutes seen, nor were emergency radio “beeper” signals heard that day by other aircraft.

On the following day, the crash site was photographed and two empty parachutes were visible hanging in nearby trees. The area was too heavily defended for a ground search to be possible.

Capt. Ferguson graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1967.

His family still waits for answers! Please Never Forget!

I said a prayer for him and his family and I hope you will also.  My heart goes out to them.

Well, Ray just informed me we are at 7200 ft. going over a pass in Wyoming.  It’s clear but the temp is 37 degrees.  Add 60 miles per hr wind created by your open air travel, and I think that adds up to near frostbite conditions.  The riders are well prepared, but it isn’t easy to stay warm in these conditions.

Later today we will be visiting the VA hospital in Cheyenne.  I’ll fill you in later.

Carrie Lee

More on Day 3-

Through snow on the passes, but without a storm hitting us, we rolled into Cheyenne VA with additional riders and a police escort.

There we visited patients. The weather had warmed to a balmy 50 degrees, so patients were waiting on the sidewalk waving us into the facility.  Andy, the Public Affairs Officer, and the facility Director, Cynthia McCormack, welcomed the riders.  The visit is best told in photos, so I am including a few here.  Patients had a great time visiting and receiving pins and well wishes.

Now a word about the Road Guards- Last year I wrote about them, but I wanted to explain further or again because their job is a wild one to say the least.

This year we have six Road Guards.  Larry Mackay, or “Crazy Larry” as he goes by, is the Road Guard Captain.  This is his third year at this duty, and his second as the captain.  Once the riders have arrived in California or Reno as it was this year, he asks for volunteers to cover the duty.   The job requires years  of riding experience along with nerves of steel.  I have great respect for their amazing execution of this challenging role.  They insure that exits and on-ramps are safe for the riders.   I talked to Larry about it last night.   He is serious about the road guard duty, but his sense of humor shines through as always.  He tells me this “Road Guardin’ is a lot of fun,” and laughingly includes, “but it does require some intestinal fortitude.”  (Eloquently described, I’d say)  Here’s why:

As we near a scheduled stop, the Road Guards blast ahead.  They run in the pack until that time, and by radio contact Larry tells the guards where to stop.  Once in position, they have to stop traffic so the procession can proceed through whatever intersections we will be passing to get to our destination.  Often there are several.  The Road Guards have orange flags and they jump off their bikes leaving the emergency flashers on, and start waving to get the attention of vehicles to get them to STOP! At the same time, they are in constant radio contact with the Ride leader and pacer, informing them of the situation ahead. They orchestrate this whole process with the safety of the caravan as priority one in their minds.  You see what I’m saying?  Without them, the Riders would face difficult challenges in staying together.  The same process happens every time we leave a stop. It is not uncommon for us to have six or more stops a day, so understand these guys are BUSY. Once all riders are safely in formation heading back down the freeway or whatever route is scheduled, the Road Guards must race to catch up and fall back into the pack. They do a wonderful job and deserve accolades for their ability and expertise.

Larry and the team make it look simple.  Gotta love these guys!  I have to tell you one more thing about Crazy Larry.  He sings a lot.  Often at a stop I hear him bellowing out, “I LOVE A PARADE!!” over and over again.   I’m laughing as I write that line….I’ll most likely hear that song again at the next gas stop!

Carrie Lee

Day Four - Saturday, May 21, 2011

One Tire Down

Hi all,

Interesting morning in the chase vehicle.  There are dual tires on the back of the NVAO trailer that Ray tows and today one of them broke… or blew I guess you call it.  It was not dangerous because of the one extra tire back there, (Can you tell I have zero mechanical knowledge?)  but we felt a bump-OK- "Ray" felt a bump, (I was oblivious) and then the tire tore away in pieces.  We pulled off the road along I80 between Sidney and North Platte at a heavy equipment shop.  Ray already had a tire.  He prepares the chase vehicle for all kinds of situations or incidents, so the tire was replaced quickly and we were back on the road and pushing to catch up with the riders.  The NVAR group runs in formation at five miles under the speed limit for safety reasons, so we caught up with them right after they stopped for fuel and crossed the road to the North Plate War Memorial where we had lunch.

In North Platte the fire department provided us lunch and they had their trucks on display.  The War Memorial Park has statues all around and part of it was built with bricks engraved with Veteran’s names.   It is a beautiful War Memorial and I took lots of pictures.   The statues represent all branches of the Military.  I am including my favorite shot here.

While there we picked up around 35 or more riders.   We took up a lot of roadway leaving the park and the parade down the highway was impressive.

Tires, Leroy and Hail-

To continue on for the events of the day, I have lots to tell you.

It warmed up considerably so at the gas stop in Kearney NE., I finally got to ride!  We picked up another bunch of riders there so our caravan turned enormous.  I jumped on with Headdog who brings up the rear of the pack; "Tail Gunner" is the official title.  I brought my camera along of course and as we traversed Hwy 30 traveling to Grand Island NE.  I was going nuts over the beauty of the clouds, farms along the route and just feeling the wind on my face.  We live in such a beautiful country with tremendous diversity in landscape.  The view across the flats allows one to see for miles.  I saw rain storm clouds in the far distance and a turquoise blue between intense white, huge puffer clouds.  Headdog and I were marveling at the beauty, conversing between awe-stuck moments  when suddenly, Ray, (behind us) pulled to the side of the road.  We quickly turned around and low and behold another tire on the trailer had blown!

We were a mere 15 miles from Grand Island and the scheduled stop at the  Nebraska State Veterans Home, so after pulling off and discussing it, Ray decided to “lope” into the State Home and find a way to get tires once we arrived there.  It was pushing closing time for stores, so we hurried along as best we could.

Needless to say, I kept checking Headdog’s rearview mirror to verify that Ray was doing ok, but not to worry, the two of them were in constant radio contact.

Grand Island is the location where I met a wonderful man that I wrote a story about last year and talk about a lot.  I called him Henry in my preamble blog, and this is embarrassing, but, that is NOT his name.  I forgot…his name, yes, but not his face and his story.  His name is Leroy.   I am kind of making excuses here, but we meet so many on this trek and I am getting old -so there….

Anyway, Ray, Headdog and I arrived late at the home.  Ray quickly unloaded the trailer full of our shirts and memorabilia that the NVAO sells.  He took off for the Big O tire store.  The ceremony and welcome event was already in full swing, and you should have seen how many bikes and riders were there!  I decided to try to get a bike count so I could tell you.  As I walked along counting away and nearing the end of the pack of close to 100 bikes, guess who I ran into?  Leroy!  There he stood visiting Gary, one of our road guards.

He was asking Gary if I was along with them this year-right when I showed up!  You have to understand the scene at this lovely location to get a sense of the magic of me winding up right at that spot at that time.  The massive entry and tree-lined parking area included a colossal mass comprised of most of the 215 patients that live there, day riders, staff, our group and family members of patients. It was a blanket of people and bikes.

My heart skipped a beat. Tears came to my eyes, (joyful, good ones) and Leroy immediately took my hand, squeezed it gently and didn’t let go. I didn’t let go either and I hugged him big with my other arm. Boy did that hug feel good!

You know how sometimes you meet someone and an instant connection occurs?  Well, that’s what I’m talking about.  It happened last year with Leroy and it happened again.  Sometimes names just don’t matter.  This is the Ride to the Wall.  This is why we are here.  This is what the riders get every single day.    They are connected to each other, bonded in a way difficult to describe.  It’s something one feels.  It’s in the air; it’s in the touch, the laughter, the tears- the works.  Veteran to Veteran.  Pinky to Leroy.

Ok, so Ray got back with four new tires.  A very stressful time for him!  We are on a tight schedule every day, and he was lucky in that he caught the Big O guys just before they closed and our trailer is happy now with its new “clothes”.

A few words about the Grand Island Veterans Home- I know I’m writing a lot today, but so much to tell!  The facility was built in 1887-1888 and the lines and architecture depict the era beautifully.  The location includes a pharmacy, a canteen, a 42 bed Alzheimer’s Unit, a craft and wood shop, a LAKE stocked with fish, a library, a cemetery (still being used but that is where the original patients-Civil  War Veterans- are buried)  and more.  They have dental services, physicians on board and a skilled nursing staff.  Nancy Klimek, the Recreation Manager filled me in on these details.  By the way, she and Leroy have been at the facility for the same amount of time- 29 years!

During my visit with Leroy he told me he used to be a “wheelchair pusher.”   He pushed patients around the facility for “walks” for 19 years until his “back got to him”.   He still walks every day and he met the riders at the United Veterans facility near the home where the group had dinner.  I saw him there and he told me he had a great visit with a Veteran rider who was familiar with the work he had done in the Military.  His eyes were shining and I know we brought some extra joy to the heart of this darling of a fellow.

After a wonderful meal there, Ray wanted to go fuel up before heading to the hotel, so with my desire to ride still front and center, I jumped on the bike with Terry to drive the few miles to the hotel.


Speeding off into the breeze for about the first 8 blocks was nice; then BAM.  Huge rain drops started falling.  It felt kinda good really…for a second or two.  Then BAM…it turned to hail.  Ouch!  BIG HAIL.  I don’t have a full face helmet and Terry was not wearing his either…it was so nice one minute before as we prepared to ride.  Anyway, the hail was beating us….Literally.  We were at a long-light intersection and the hail turned to an absolute torrential downpour!  No chaps and just my jacket on…soaked to the skin in seconds…Terry could hardly see and I couldn’t see at all.  We pulled off at the first spot we could.  We were laughing once we got undercover.  I had my head tilted down but my glasses were completely fogged.  I jumped off the bike and immediately removed my glasses.  Still laughing I saw where we were. I said to Terry, “Hey, you want a donut?”   He looked up and saw too that we were parked at a bakery and quick stop shop.  Hilarious!  We couldn’t stop laughing!  We ran inside and the staff had been watching us- they were also laughing at us- a comedy of errors.  We must have been a sight.

Ahhh, for the love of the ride…beats all weather served up!  Many of our group saw us as they had already “ran” for cover so when we pulled into the hotel I was greeted with jeers and humorous comments, “Ok-so now you really are a biker!!”

I dried my Levis on top of the heater in my room all night.  Oh ya, since I am revealing so much I may as well tell you that I lied in my preamble blog.  I said I wouldn’t need my curling iron….well maybe I don’t HAVE to have it, but I brought it.  It’s nestled safely under Ray’s passenger seat, like a pacifier for me.  I’ve used it a couple times too.  Then I sneak it back under the seat so nobody sees it.


Carrie Lee


TSGT William J. Botter, USAF
MIA 10/23/51

Technical Sergeant Botter was a crew member of a B-29A Superfortress Bomber with the 372nd Bomber Squadron, 307th Bomber Wing. On October 23, 1951 while on a bombing mission, the aircraft was attacked by enemy MiGs near Namsi Airfield. It headed toward the Yellow Sea and crashed.

He was taken prisoner of War and was presumed dead on February 28, 1954. He was awarded the Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters, the Purple Heart, the Prisoner of War Medal, the Korean Service Medal and the National Defense Service Medal.

An “IN MEMORY OF” headstone was placed in Arlington National Cemetery in Sergeant Botter’s name on April 30, 2004.


Note- We will be touring Arlington Cemetery next week, and I am going to look for the location of his headstone.

Take care all and share the road,

Carrie Lee

Day 5 - Sunday, May 22, 2011

Growing, Growing, Going…. all the way!  We have grown to more than 70 riders, and Ray says we include 100 plus when he counted the day riders.  Now THAT is a parade!

The procession is really beautiful, and with the National Veterans Awareness Ride graphics on the side of the trailer, the purpose and mission really stands out.

Yesterday was another amazing day and the weather was perfect!  I’m finding as I did last year that we cover so much in one day that I have to refer to my guide book and "then" cross reference to my notes to remember where we were, when and what events took place there.

From Nebraska, we headed toward Council Bluffs, Iowa.   As we entered the angelic little town, it appeared that all the townspeople had gathered in the beautiful park to await our arrival.  They had blocked the streets, and in front of a Veteran Memorial wall, a formal ceremony took place where we laid a wreath in honor of POW/MIAs.

The park’s focal point is a beautiful fountain with huge sculpted, patina laced squirrels at play and tastefully placed benches all around.  The buildings along the main street appear to be historical, many constructed from a blondish colored brick.  The area in the park dedicated to a Veterans Memorial is lined with life-size bronze sculptures of men and women reading the names on the Memorial Wall in what they call Veterans Plaza.  It’s amazing what this quaint little town has done to honor our Veterans.  I commend them for their allegiance.

This is also the location where a larger than life size sculpture of Ross Grego’s son who died in Vietnam at the age of 23 is displayed.  It is a truly remarkable piece of art and I would suggest if you have the chance to visit this location, you will not be disappointed.

As part of the events, Iowa Congressman Leonard Boswell, a Veteran himself, addressed the crowd.  He said something I must share: “You Veterans here are the salt of the earth,” and he went on to thank everyone for their service and ensured the crowd that Veterans are a priority for him in his duties as a state congressman.  He also joined us on his own motorcycle to our next stop, the Iowa Veterans Cemetery.  After lunch the NVAO being presented with a generous donation of $600.00..(Thank you again!)  plus more than $100 toward fuel for our chase vehicle.

We were off to the cemetery soon after.  The schedule is tight, and with that many riders, it is important we stick right with it.

The Iowa Veterans Cemetery is expansive and located atop green rolling hills. Lovely spot; serene atmosphere.  More than 100 riders gathered at the location where they perform Veteran burials and special wreath laying ceremonies to honor fallen soldiers.  One lady Veteran, Michelle, who had completed the Ride with the group a few years ago and has since passed, was honored at her niche.  Our Chaplain’s words were spoken with such emotion and eloquence I was most certainly moved to tears as were many of the others.  Many knew her.

The weather was perfect.  Earlier in the day, we had the opportunity to visit Freedom Rock. This is the huge roadside boulder that artist, “Bubba” paints each year with a patriot motif’.   Each year he paints a Huey helicopter on the far side, and anyone who has ashes from a Vietnam Veteran during the month of May when he is painting the rock, can schedule to have him put some of the ashes in his paint. He will “paint” the Veteran onto the rock to be forever remaining.  He paints over top of the previous year’s work.  Check out his website.  It’s amazing…just type Freedom Rock in Iowa on your search engine and you will see what I mean.

I had finished my blog to you from the previous day, so all afternoon I rode with Headdog.  It was an absolute blast!  I had my camera with, (like always) so Headdog and I got ahead of the parade, exited the freeway, and zipped up to an overpass.  He parked the bike perfectly centered on the bridge.  Yee ha!!.....Here came the riders!  Perfect timing - I was able to shoot pictures of the near mile-long procession coming down the road from above them.  I have never done that before and I did get some awesome shots thanks to Headdog.  For that many riders to remain strong in a structured formation on a freeway is challenging and an amazing sight.   What a group!

These riders are experienced and with the morning safety meetings and careful preparations by the NVAO leaders and the road guards, the group remains in perfect formation most of the time.  I have to tell you this…I took 493 pictures while riding with Headdog.  The scenery is amazing.  We live in such a beautiful county.  The vast, open farmlands of Iowa are gorgeous right now…rich greens and the freshly tilled chocolate brown soils in contrast seem to be endless- as far as I could see.  America the Beautiful.

I am tired and not writing well.  The pace of the last days is catching up to me some.  However, I love every minute of it , feel completely blessed to be part of this awareness raising mission, and  realize I can sleep when I get home!

My Guy for Today:

Col. Stanley Scott Clark, USAF
MIA 2/14/1969- LAOS

On February 14,1969, Lt.Col. Stanley S. Clark was the commander of the lead aircraft in a flight of two F4D’s which departed Ubon Airfield, Thailand on a night mission over southern Laos near the border of Vietnam- Along the “Ho Chi Minh Trail.”

On his second pass at the target, Clark’s plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and burst into flames. Clark climbed to about 12,000 feet and ordered his backseater to eject.  The backseater ejected as the plane began a rapid descent.  The aircraft entered a cloud layer and was obscured from view, but was later seen as it crashed in a river. Contact was established with the co-pilot as he descended in his parachute, but no other parachute was seen, and no emergency signals were heard.  All attempts to contact Clark failed.


This is my last entry of the information on the MIA’s I am taking with me, but all riders that are going all the way to the Wall have them with them.  Most of us have several.

Take care and thank you for being part of this with me.

Carrie Lee

Day Six - Monday, May 23, 2011

Des Moines - Davenport, Iowa

Wow.  This day is the one that includes the most stops and visits.  We are a huge group at this point.   We take up an enormous stretch of roadway, and getting to the Des Moines Iowa VA this morning was dicey for the road guards, but well executed.

I had an opportunity there to meet a gentleman Veteran who remained in his room instead of going outside to see the bikes and visit fellow Veterans.  His oxygen tank and chair encumbers his mobility.  But it certainly did not encumber his spirit.  My comment illuminates the reason our group makes a point of scheduling time inside the assorted facilities we visit. We don’t want to miss anyone, and the process validates the famous logo, “You are Not Forgotten.”

Don Munyon knew he was not forgotten when Veteran rider after Veteran rider stopped at his room to visit.  This 79 year old Army Veteran, 1950-1953, worked in communications and construction in the Military.  He was grinning and shaking hands and clearly enjoying himself.  When we got to talking, he told me, “I just LOVE these nurses!!”   And the nurses love him too; obviously- since they bragged to me about his sweet personality and sense of humor.   They also shared with me that Don is the champion cribbage player of the Community Living Center.   When the nurse mentioned that tidbit, he reached down abruptly, opened the drawer by his bed stand and pulled out his cribbage board.  Setting it on the bed table he laid his hand atop it and looking right up at me smiling, said, “Yes, this is the board and cards I use to win all the time.”  He was patting those cards and crib board with his hand.  Then, changing focus, he pointed to a picture on the wall. “See that?” he said matter-of-factly, “That’s me in my Military days-just a few years ago of course.”  Grins and laughter.  He asked me to please take his picture holding the photo, so a rider unpinned it from the wall and that is what we did.

The facility is large- the Community Living Center alone houses 130. Yet another great visit.

During the course of the day, over and over again, riders approach me and asked questions like, “Did you get to meet the Veteran that was in the Calvary???” Or, “Pinky, I have to tell you the story about this Vet I just met…I’ll tell you tonight when we have more time.”  Or, Carrie, COME HERE!! You gotta get a picture of me and this guy!”  Everyone, everyday on this ride has experiences such as what I afore described.  Just imagine 100 or so riders dispersing themselves all over a VA or Veterans State Home to thank patients for their service and engage with them.  I tell you this because I know it to be true, but I can’t tell all the stories. Suffice it to say these visits remain in the hearts of all involved.  We continuously hear from leadership spokespersons at these locations that the patients anxiously await the arrival of the NVAR every year.

Another amazing visit at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown- then off to the Iowa City VA.   I couldn’t take pictures there, but they have 83 beds, a huge outpatient set up, a Chemo unit, an eye clinic, a Dialysis section and more.  Staff there toured the riders in groups.  The visits were wonderful as usual.

Next we convoyed to the Davenport Iowa All Veterans Memorial.  More than 100 bikes and riders cruised the curving road into the location.  Lined all along the gently sloped green hills are graves with granite headstones.  Every one of them had a bouquet of flowers!  What a sight.  There we had a formal ceremony and the speaker provided a history of how the memorial wall there came about.  He spoke of the many wars and our continuum in war.  He spoke of and honored specific Veterans from Iowa who passed while serving their country.  The presentation was excellent and included a wreath laying ceremony, the color guard presenting the colors and one rider, Mike Kline, who is also the Iowa state coordinator for the NVAR, provided certificates of thanks to the many groups who assisted with, donated to and provided for us.

Next we were escorted by the Iowa Police to the American Legion Post 26 where dinner was provided.

Including gas stops, events and meals, we were off the bikes or out of the truck for Ray and me, eight times yesterday.  We did not arrive at the hotel until after 8:00 pm and we had left the Des Moines Iowa hotel at 6:15 am that morning.  That means get up at like 5:00 or 5:30 to be ready to roll on time.  Everyone was pretty beat and by 9:00 pm or so most of us had hit the pillow.  It all feels so good though.  I know I was smiling as I drifted off to dream.

Talk soon and share the road,

Carrie Lee

Day Seven - Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Marseilles, Illinois

Good weather this morning, and driving into Marseilles, Illinois, I had the opportunity to ride along with Tony, the Schneider National Company truck driver that joined us to parade the beautifully painted semi-truck he drives.  Sitting high in the seat of the bright orange truck that honors POW/MIA’s and also deceased and living Veterans, I was able to take pictures of the amazing parade of bikes that gathered at the river’s edge where the Middle East Conflict Wall is located.

There waiting, were a long line of men and women Veterans in wheelchairs. They were greeted by 125 or more riders.  I watched the procession moving along the line.  Handshakes, Welcome Home comments, pins applied to ball caps and jackets and sincere hugs commenced as these Veterans were honored.

Many thanks and certificates of appreciation were presented there.  The location includes a museum which is artfully assembled.  We had a few minutes to look around and I took some pictures of the Conflict Wall to share with you.

Crossing the state line into Indiana was a road construction and traffic nightmare.  Bumper to bumper traffic with concrete road barriers guiding all and losing lanes due to the road work made for a challenging day of bike travel.  Everyone riding is very conscientious about safety as I have said before, and the riders watch out for each other.  A full police escort joined us at the state line and a lane was blocked off for us.  The Police Department coupled with the work of our road guards made our traverse into Portage, Indiana, smooth and without incident.

Portage, Indiana

After our lunch stop we were escorted to and attended a professionally formulated program provided by the JROTC at the Portage, Indiana, High School.  We filled the bleachers in their auditorium and before us, the Portage JROTC performed routines using exact replica rifles of an M16, including the WEIGHT of the rifle. To drum beats or music, this talented and well trained group of kids spun those rifles in unison. They even tossed them in the air back and forth to each other while stomping and marching to routines that their instructor explained they themselves had created.  The riders loved every minute of it as did I. This year’s JROTC Girls Team Captain, Kelsey (sorry -didn’t get her last name) sports a 3.7 GPA, leads the team by practicing before and after school and will be joining the Marines this summer.  Several of the large group of students will join the Military after graduation and many of them are heading for college.  The event comes with a feeling of inspiration and optimism.  To witness young Americans such as these that are so clearly proud of their country and dedicated to this talented JROTC group was simply put, impressive.  We gave them a standing ovation.  As they lined up at the end of the performance we all shook their hands, provided each one with an NVAR commemorative pin and wished them well.

Quickly, as we were running a little late, we were out the door and loading up.

Michigan City Welcomes NVAR

Just the arrival into Michigan City, the home of the Wall Gang, is a momentous event.   Not only is it a union of brothers and sisters of the Military, it is a union of a community.  Folks line the streets.  Roads are blocked.  Fire trucks and Police sirens are blaring as we enter the town and proceed to parade its entirety.

The USA flag was flying everywhere you looked.  People wave d as we passed by smiling and hollering THANK YOU! and assorted well wishes.  I remember seeing this for the first time last year.  I felt so proud; the riders, our country, our people.  The same feelings engulfed me, and being an emotional one, tears streamed down my face.  As I fought to clear my eyes to see to take photos of all this, I finally just dropped my camera to the side; stopped all attempts to clear my eyes.  With my head and heart full, I watched it all unfold before me.   I waved back at these beautiful Americans- grinning from ear to ear.  How does that make you feel?  Pretty good huh?  ME TOO.

We arrived at the Danny Bruce Memorial located at the shore of Lake Michigan, and I watched a Wreath Laying Ceremony there.  Each year, the Wall Gang has an essay contest, and this year’s winner-I have her name but I can’t find it right now- was given the honor of laying the wreath.  There was a whopping crowd there.  I can’t even tell you how many bikes had joined us.  Many certificates of appreciation were presented and then the police escorted us to the St. Joseph Club for dinner.

The entire day was great.  But, everyday on this run is great.

Talk to you soon,

Carrie Lee

Day Eight - Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tears before 7:30 am

Lots to tell as usual!

I kind of started the day on the wrong foot.  I slept like a rock and woke at 5:50 am.  That part was good.  I wandered around a little bit; had some coffee. I was still half asleep when my phone rang.  Ray on the line- wondering where the heck I was.  I forgot to check the morning schedule the night before, and we were supposed to be at the Michigan City VFW Post 2536 for a special event already!  I threw my stuff in my bag, grabbed cords, camera and laptop and headed for the truck!

We arrived in time- the ceremony had just started. I got my settings dialed in for the shoot, and wormed my way through the huge crowd to the front area.  This is a great benefit of being a photographer for the NVAR- I don’t get in trouble for bullying my way into the best spots.

Each year the Wall Gang dedicates their ride to a KIA Veteran.   This year, the dedication went to Private 1st Class Michael Kelly, who was KIA in Vietnam on 3/1/1970. He had turned 20 six days prior to his death.  His brother-in-law, Pat Baird, stood unpretentiously at the podium, and between pauses filled with emotion and near tears, he told us Michael’s story.  He said, “He was a farm boy, quiet, but always available to help out someone, and he worked hard on the farm along with his sister.”  He went on to explain that many of his friends had joined the Military, and Michael wanted to be with them. “He wanted to go to Vietnam.”

I was watching Michael’s sister, Patricia, who was waiting her turn to speak.  I saw her shoulders begin to slump and she bowed her head.  I knew where she was mentally.  Her mind was there again, re-living that day in March of 1970, when she heard the news of her brother’s death.  I felt her grief as I stood near the podium watching and listening to her ex-husband continue the story about Michael.  My tears came then.   Pat went on to explain that he was the escort that brought Michael’s body home.  More than 150 people listened intently- overcome by his story.  Absolute silence in that room.

Next, Patricia came to the podium and spoke of the close relationship she and her brother had.  They were but a year apart, and they worked side-by-side together on the farm, attended school together and, “could tell each other anything.”  She shared her feelings about the day Michael came home and the day he was buried three days after.  As she moved from the podium all the other guest speakers gathered around and hugged her.

She and the rest of the family were presented with the professional posters that the Wall Gang had created advertising and informing the public that the Ride was dedicated to local Veteran Michael Kelly.   The ad also invited riders to join the NVAR to the Wall and I bet we picked up about 40 or 50 more while we were there.

I was emotionally spent by 8:00 am this morning.  I could only imagine how Michaels’s family must have felt.   I hope the dedication provided them additional closure and perhaps, some peace.

Just as the Caravan left the VFW, the rain started. We had been monitoring the weather closely and our desire was we would be able to travel to the West Central School "between" the forecast for rain and possible tornados.

We were not that lucky this time.

The monster black cloud that was adjacent to us moved right over the group and with it came heavy wind, torrential rain, hail and the temperature dropped 30 degrees within two minutes.  It looked as if night had come upon us.  I could hardly see the vehicle in front of Ray and me.  Instantly, the fields next to the road flooded, and the road itself was covered in about 3 inches of water- a river created in a matter of minutes.

The road guards and leaders were in constant contact on the CB radios and everyone arrived safely at the Central School in Ohio.

The storm lightened, or we passed through it, or it passed us…whatever, but in spite of all this, the students were outside waiting when we pulled in. (The entire school!)  They were waving flags and cheering.  They had an opportunity to tour the bikes and visit with the riders.

We knew another storm was coming…heading right straight for our route.  Tony, the Schneider’s Ride of Pride truck driver who is running with us, had been in constant contact via his on-board weather radar, and kept the Ride leaders abreast of the situation.

There, the decision was made to hold up and wait out the tornado.  The riders entered the school.  I stayed in the truck to work on writing to you.

From the window of the truck I watched the black cloud come at me.  I was so glad the riders were all inside.  I felt so sorry for them!  What a tough ride they had already experienced, and so much more day still ahead.

The truck started shaking as the wind carrying the tornado moved over.  When the rain drops started, each splatter made a two inch wide wet spot on the windshield.  Now that’s a big rain drop!  Can you imagine being on a motorcycle?  Yikes!  A few seconds after the rain started, the hail hit.  It was so loud and so much of it that instead of hearing it hit the hood of the truck with a single bang or ping, it sounded like a constant crash, crash, crash!  I had to cover my ears.

The tornado did touch down, but it landed 3 miles south of us in the town of Liberty, Indiana.  I hope no one was hurt.  I did hear that 3 buildings were demolished, but that is all I know.

Not once have I heard anyone in the core group talk of pulling out and the day riders are just as determined.   They are so completely dedicated to the mission of raising awareness about Veterans that it would take more than a tornado to slow them down-obviously right?  They’ve been there, done that, as they say.  Enough said.

The storms passed over and between one of them we arrived at the Indiana State Veterans Home to visit.  We arrived late, but the residents were waiting on the sidewalks and welcomed the riders.  Although a shortened visit, with so many riders with us now, all the residents had an opportunity to meet the riders and receive a commemorative pin from the NVAR.

I love a Parade-into Brookville. The Brookville Mayor, City Council members, Police, the AMVETS, community clubs and the state coordinator all join together in planning for the NVAR arrival.  The police escort us through town and again, the streets were lined with flag-flying well wishers as we passed by on our route to the AMVETS post.

Arriving there is like a huge welcome home.  The NVAR has stopped in Brookville since the onset of the Northern Route, and let me tell you, the riders are treated like kings and queens!  After welcome announcements and speeches, the entire NVAR was provided a “Thanksgiving” dinner with more food and drinks and desserts than imaginable.

We lost another hour of time today, so by the time we reached the hotel it was after 8:00 pm.  The long lines at the hotel check in are most comical.   We look like a sea of black leather with helmets attached.  Joking and laughter, light hearted conversation, and discussions of the day’s ride and events fill the time until we reach the front of the line.

Finally checked in and settled, many of us joined together outside to visit and watch yet another storm blow through.  From under the hotel’s awning we listened to the hail hit the roof, bounce off and smack the tarmac and bikes with a tremendous force.  Unreal!  I am a Pacific North Westerner from birth and now live in Oregon.  I don’t believe I have ever witnessed hail and rain storms quite like what we were part of today.

All this extra rain sure has made our land green and lush.  Ok, so that’s my “Polly Anna” comment for today.


Carrie Lee

Day Nine - Saturday, May 28, 2011

Well, hello all.  Today was another cram-packed day of stops, visits and education.

After a breakfast and additional thank you’s from the Brookville, Ohio mayor and the NVAR providing thank you certificates to the many, many advocates that assist in coordinating our stay in Brookville, we left as a mile long procession toward Chillicothe, Ohio VA Hospital.

At this point, although the temperature is around 70 degrees, almost every rider is clad in rain gear.  We have been hit with storms every day so the riders prepare well.  I have learned however, no matter what gear you have on, a motorcycle rider is going to get wet in a downpour.  This is a long ride crossing the USA no matter what the weather, especially since we stop many times a day for Veteran visits and educational opportunities.  I am so proud of everyone involved.  Their dedication to honor and raise awareness about their brother and sister Veterans is most commendable.

Our youngest rider this year is a 36 year old from Des Moines, Iowa.  Patrick Martindale served from 1994-1998 in the Marine Corp as a Combat Engineer.  This, his first year on the Ride, came about by his research and interest.  He ended up meeting one of the long time Ride attendees that happened to live in the same town as he, and that was it.  He decided to join the effort.

Rider, “Jug” as he goes by, is our oldest rider at age 75, or else he just turned 76.  He was telling me the other day (amongst a very noisy crowd) that he just had a birthday or has one was coming right up. Obviously, I didn’t hear him clearly.  My point is there is a wide spread in age among us.  I was excited to see Jug with us again this year and also pleased that Patrick had joined up.  Eventually, this younger generation will be the one to carry on this legacy.  The other day at one of our VA hospital tours, I walked along with Patrick and we visited Veterans together.  He told me he was enjoying himself and he really liked what we were doing.  It appears to me also, that he connects easily during the visits with the Veteran patients and he’s also having a nice time getting to know the NVAR riders.  Sweet.

Chillicothe, Ohio VA Medical Center 

Patients lined the parking areas and sidewalks at the Chillicothe, Ohio VA Medical Center.   Here, only a select group of Riders stop to visit due to logistics.  The hospital’s campus is beautiful.  It appears to be built around the 1930’s as is the VA in Roseburg, Oregon, where I work.  As we slowly drove through the expansive facility, for the first time on this trip, I missed home.  I think because the buildings look so much like my campus where I spend so much of my time.  Anyway, Ray and I had to stay with the pack, but the riders that got to hang back for the visit said it was great.  I hope next year we will all get to visit patients one-on-one.   At least all patients got to see the parade of bikes.

Southeastern School

All the kids at the school, all the teachers at the school, the principal of the school and the rest of the staff at the school were waiting for us as our pack of 80 some bikes rounded the corner into the school parking area.  They had planned a Memorial Day Assembly around our arrival complete with a barbeque lunch, student speakers, their band performing patriot songs and a special memorial to a previous student, Lance CPL Aaron Howard Reed. He died serving his country on August 3, 2005.  He was 22.

The assembly included one student telling the history of Memorial Day and spoke of the importance of the appropriate honoring of it.  He said, “It’s not the beginning of summer or the start of camping season like some think.  It is a day to honor our fallen soldiers and we must forever remember that.”

Clarksburg, West Virginia VA Medical Center

This VA is wonderful!  We got to tour the entire hospital visiting patients.  I spoke with many of them and everyone was so complementary of the great care they receive, the wonderful staff assisting them with all their needs and they raved about the food!  One young Veteran I visited is currently a resident of the PTSD and substance abuse program there.  He said the program is really helping him.  I was glad to see a young Veteran standing up and admitting he needs help.  So many of our Veterans wait for years before they seek treatment for their Military issues.  I am encouraged by Sammie, this young former Air Force Veteran.  Let him be an example to our younger Veteran population.  I wish him all the best.

I spoke with some of the staff there as well.  There is one commonality I have found at every Veteran hospital and state home we have visited.  The staff cares deeply.  They speak of the patients and the residents as family.  And you know something; this is completely random.  I never know what staff I might run into at a given location.  I talked about the “feel” of the Ride group a few days ago, and I must say, I “feel” the goodness regarding the employees at the many locations we visit as well. It is consistent.   I commend my comrades who care for those who have borne the battle.   Their compassion and dedication in completing their mission to care for those who have served is evident everywhere.  Pretty cool huh?  Makes me feel very proud to be part of the team.

Boy, am I rambling today or what?  I can’t help but want to share this good- it has been all around me for all the days on this trek.

As we travel across the US and the days get closer to Memorial Day, I see even more American flags hanging from porches and displayed in restaurants and quick stop stores.  I love the patriotism in this country.

Reaching Bridgeport, West Virginia

Bridgeport is the location we did our group photo.  The convoy traversed the narrow streets to the VFW Club 573.  The buildings are spectacular.  Most are tall and built tight together, but each one is unique in structure.   The VFW building appeared to be historic too.

We were welcomed warmly and provided a meal.  Steve Mulcahy, the Ride leader, formally thanked  and provided certificates of appreciation to all those on the run that performed special services.   There were a lot!  Chase truck, road guards, Missing Man coordinator, Pacer, Chaplain and the assistant Ride coordinator to name a few.

We are not done yet, but this night is dedicated to show appreciation to those riders.

Talk to you tomorrow,

Carrie Lee

Day Ten - Sunday, May 29, 2011

All started well.  The plan was for me to jump on a bike at our last lunch stop and ride into Arlington Cemetery.

That didn’t work out.  At the gas stop prior to lunch, one of the 80 or so bikes would not start.   Ray and the bike owner, along with others helping, got the bike loaded into the chase trailer.  Off we went to find the nearest Harley dealership in Maryland.

Staff at the dealership along with Ray, unloaded the bike.  I was writing to you all so I was spending my time in the truck.  They performed some sort of magical diagnostics on the bike and in not too much time they had figured out the problem.   They got the bike fixed.  I heard it was a minor part.  Still we had spent well over an hour at the location.  As we left there, Ray said there was no way we could catch the NVAR convoy.

While we were getting the bike taken care of, the group had performed a Wreath Laying Ceremony and had lunch.  The next stop for them was the Arlington Cemetery.  The parking there is not conducive to parking a full size truck towing a trailer so Ray had planned on heading straight into DC.  That is why I was going to ride in with someone.   Since we couldn’t catch up in time, I missed the events at Arlington.

The NVAR group was honored with the opportunity to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and witness the Changing of the Guard.  I remember well, the event from last year and I was sorry I missed it, but that is the way it goes sometimes.    The responsibilities of the chase vehicle trailer and the insurance of the safety of the riders, which includes making sure any breakdown is dealt with promptly, takes precedent.

When the riders arrived at the hotel many of them talked about how wonderful it was and such an honor to witness the wreath laying.  They also had a trolley tour of the cemetery, just like I got to do last year.  Svein, our rider from Norway, emailed me a couple pictures, so I include them here.

The evening was a memorable one.  Everyone was happy to have made the trek and accomplished the mission with all safe in spite of the weather conditions they had endured crossing the USA.  In ten days we were forced to cancel but one stop due to heavy storms.   We, as a group have touched many hearts of Veterans at the assorted VA hospitals and State Homes.  We have visited schools-engaging with our young people, teaching them about Veterans and the importance of the Military both currently and past.  The riders brought joy, camaraderie and healing to each other by bonding and committing themselves together to complete the mission they set forth to accomplish.

Tomorrow, together, we will visit the Vietnam Memorial Wall.  Some riders who are Veterans have never been there because the memories and losses they experienced during Vietnam have been too painful and devastating to face.  Many riders have family members, school mates or friends names on the Wall. The strength for them to finally do this comes because of the group they are together with now.  They are surrounded by their brothers and sisters and supporters to comfort them during this emotional day.

In addition we will be taking our POW/MiA’s photos and bios with us to leave there.  We have 167 of them with us.  I am certain that too will have an impact on the day’s time spent there.

I have one more story to tell.  Tomorrow will be my last blog. I will be writing to you about our visit to the Wall.

Talk to you soon,

Carrie Lee

At The Wall - Monday, May 30, 2011

We traveled as a group to visit the Vietnam Wall.

We were a rambunctious group earlier in the morning having finally made the long trip across the USA, but our attitudes sobered and we became a subdued mass of people as we parked our bikes on the lawns adjacent to the walkway to the Vietnam Memorial Wall.

We were clad with our POW/MIA’s bios and photos to leave there.  A silent 75 or more individuals made the way to the sidewalk that begins the long decent along the Vietnam Memorial Wall.

I remembered last year, my first visit to the Wall.  I remembered the emotions the long traverse along the black Wall filled with 58,272 etched names of those who gave their lives during the Vietnam War invoked in me.  I remembered the deep sense of loss and grief I felt during that day in 2010.  I remembered watching those Veterans I was with that had served in Vietnam, and the tears and the pain and the memories that came to them as they gazed at the Memorial.  I remembered watching the family members of so many of those men and women soldiers whose names are on that Wall, and I remembered feeling their pain and suffering.  I remembered seeing and feeling all this.  I remembered the impact.  I remembered the power of the black granite and its height and length necessary to house the names of the dead or missing.

I shivered in the 80 degree heat.

I clutched my POW/MIA laminated sheets to my heart.  I started walking tentatively down the Wall to find their names so I could place their picture below it.

I looked around to see many doing the same as I.  Many were in clusters gathered around a location ceremoniously placing their picture, or etching the name of someone they knew.  Many were crying.  Many were wrapped around each other…holding on for support while they showed their grief with tears and shaking hands covering their faces.

I thought maybe I could handle all this better than I did last year.  But when I found the name of one of my POW/MIA soldiers, and touched his name on the Wall there, I too started to cry.  I said a prayer for him and his family.  I felt very sad.

I joined the others in the NVAR.  I watched them etch names and offer flags and wreaths.   I saw a lot of sadness and grieving.   But I know that this is also a healing day.  The Vietnam Wall is a physical item that honors our soldiers who gave their lives for our freedom.  Somehow, the impact of it, although intensely emotional, has a way of touching the heart and moving those of us left behind toward some sense of peace and the beginning of healing.   That is my hope anyway.

That is all I can say.

I would like to thank all of the staff at KQEN and Brook Communications that supported me as I traveled with this noble NVAR group who dedicate themselves each year to raising awareness about Veterans.  Brian, Kyle, Justin, Joe and Scott- your support was and is deeply appreciated by all involved.  Having the opportunity to tell the stories and have them posted along with photos of the events each day, helped those who were unable to attend have a better understanding of everything the NVAR means and stands for.  Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!!  I am forever grateful for your support.

Share the road my friends,

Carrie Lee