Hello again, I’m Mike Rinowski (aka Track), a retired Golf Course Superintendent - and also a published author. I'll be your sit/rep author for the 2018 NVAR. A little history and info about me:
In October 2012, a chance meeting in a Texas Barbecue joint in Nha Trang, Vietnam, brought me a humbling opportunity. Since 2009, I had been riding my Harley Fat Boy around Vietnam in honor of those lost on a land of beauty, and now a land of welcome. I bonded with their spirits during 41,000 miles across Vietnam, and then brought the Fat Boy home to join the 2013 NVAR. In September 2017 my Fat Boy hit its 1st 100,000 mile mark in the spirit of freedom, and there was whooping and hollering beside the trail. My story - HARLEY TRACKS: Across Vietnam to The Wall - is now in print (since June of 2015). For further information about my journey through Vietnam, please visit: www.harleytracks.com.
Please follow us across America, May 15-26, as we ride with gratitude to those who gave, and for those who gave all.
Thank you, Thank a Vet, & Never Forget.
Prelude Part 2: (Wednesday, May 9, 2018)
The ride to the Ride is on!
Another year of preparations are complete; bikes ready, reservations confirmed, menus complete, escorts arranged, and thousands of veterans anxious for our arrivals across America.
The outlook for NVAR riders from America’s heartland is fair weather across the prairies, plains, and mountains to our rendezvous in Auburn CA. Last year the elements challenged riders in-route to, and during our Ride; a winter storm in Wyoming, “Victoria” I think they called it, stole a day from our mission. It takes that Act of God to keep us from fulfilling every day of our mission.
A week ago, after some power rides, I arrived at Don and Joel Jenkins in Roseburg OR. (They were wonderful hosts, and Oregon is a state everyone should visit at least twice, or thrice.) Wyoming weather detoured me with a foot of snow in the Big Horn Mts., rain in the valleys, a winter storm warning in the Wind River Canyon, and more snow in the Tetons. More snow and rain then detoured me around the desert in ID, but fair weather waited in Oregon and California. All part of the adventure, I say, and when you’re riding for those who can’t, every ride is a good one!
We, on the NVAR, are not alone on our mission. We represent all of you, and the many who support us. We are blessed to have this honor, and we carry your gratitude and appreciation to all the veterans we meet.
Bruce and Julie Manner are with us in spirit, only, this year, and I will do my best to continue with Julie’s depth of reporting our daily activities.
As you remember our veterans each day, please put in a good word for the safety of our riders on their trip to Auburn.
Mike "Track" Rinowski
2018 Ride Day One (Tuesday, May 15, 2018)
This morning, with sunshine and over 50 degrees, the 2018 NVAR officially began its mission. 43 riders from across the country, and one from Norway, have reunited and are ready for the ride. A few passengers join them, and our trusty chase truck with trailer will follow. Whoohoo!
Each day of our ride begins with a meeting, led by the honorable, Jerry “Five Minutes” Conner, President of the National Veterans Awareness Organization (NVAO). The meeting was brief, as they will surely expand with content, but it was mentioned with reverence that this year’s ride is dedicated to Terry Hoops, who passed away just days ago as riders made tracks to Auburn. Terry also known as “Easy”, or often “Hey, Hoops” was simply called out. He was a man of few words, and hIs reply was often a simple smile and a look, like, “Yeah, what”! He was a Vietnam Veteran, USMC, and had been a rider on the NVAR for many years. Rest in Peace Terry.
This year, “Crazy” Larry McKay handed the responsibility of Road Guard Captain to Patrick “Jackwagon” Martindale, who was brief with instructions for a short ride to our first visit. Those comments will expand as the ride progresses, and riders will listen with interest. I could write a chapter about the responsibilities of our Road Guard Team, the risks they take, and their commitment, but instead, I’ll just say they are without doubt, and have always been, the best.
Kelly Graham, the superintendent of Bowman Elementary School in Auburn, the teachers, and the students were the first to welcome us, once again. After formalities, Jerry narrated a slide show with photos from previous visits and scenes from our ride ride across America. His show pulled a lot of cheers, ooohs, and ahhhs from the students.
They in turn, entertained us with patriotic songs, and interesting questions; one of which was, “How do you plan for emergencies?” The answer expanded from one rider to another, and then, back to Jerry, who snuck in the relationship of their teachers and the students promptly doing their homework. Well done Jerry!
After the questions, members of the Auburn American Legion held a flag raising ceremony with all NVAR, students, and teachers in attendance. The school has grown in recognition and expanse, with a new multi-purpose building, and reconfiguration of the parking lot, which will make for a more thrilling ride through tomorrow morning. Long into their lives, the students will remember the riders who visited them on a mission of patriotism.
This is one of the few places on our ride where we are on our own for lunch, and afterward, California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers escorted us into Sacramento. Maria Almes, Chief of Volunteer Services at the Mather Veterans Administration Medical Center (VMAC) welcomed us back. Veterans Administration facilities across America depend on volunteers to keep their systems and services running smooth. Equally important is the fulfillment one finds as a volunteer and the comfort felt by the veterans they serve.
Before we split into groups to visit the veterans, Steve “Headdog” Moore, our hard core Ride Leader, presented medals of appreciation to two veterans of the Mid-East Conflict. The Vietnam Veterans returned from the war with less than a welcome for their service. It’s an objective in our mission to insure no veteran ever makes that kind of return after service to their country. We find these veterans in hospital lobbies and gas stops, and usually catch them off-guard, which often creates quite an emotional moment. We also present a special pin to spouses of veterans who served in the conflict.
Once inside the medical center, my group visited with veterans who would soon return to their wives and grandchildren. Those visits are on the high end of the emotional scale; visits to veterans with a terminal condition are tough.
The CHP escorted us back to Auburn in spectacular fashion. (Escorts across the country are a blessing to riders, and all traffic in and along their path. We have a great appreciation to them all; many of who volunteer the service.) Then after a NVAR meeting we had a great dinner at Sweet Peas. During the feast, formal introductions are made by each rider, matters pertaining to the ride are explained, and Jackwagon gave an explicit explanation to the rules of the ride. “Headdog” then made a heartfelt introduction into Terry Hoops and an extended explanation into this ride dedicated to him, after which, other riders shared stories of his humor, nature, and commitment to the NVAR. He was a prominent rider on the NVAR, and his presence will be missed with great sadness.
We are fortunate to be able to do what we do on the NVAR. We represent all of you and are grateful for that support.
Please keep our veterans and their families in your thoughts and prayers.
Thank you & Never Forget
2018 Ride Day Two (Wednesday, May 16, 2018)
With only two events on the day’s schedule, it sure was busy to put 400 miles behinds us. And there’s snow in those mountains, but I’ll get back to that!
During breakfast, NVAR certificates of appreciation were handed out to many people who support our mission, and it’s amazing how many there are at each stop. Without them, we’d be in line at McDonalds and waiting at traffic lights, among other inconveniences. Our riders meeting was short and sweet, and, speaking of sweet; each morning, Dan “Sweetness” Kress makes honorable mention to two or three veterans who died in service to our country. He speaks more than just their names; he tells us where they we're from (usually the state we’re in) where they served, their branch and unit, and some specifics of how they died. That’s something to think about as we ride each day.
After Wayne Worden, Ride Chaplain, led us in prayer, we saddled up for an escort through the historic downtown of Auburn, and then made a farewell pass through the parking lot of the Bowman Elementary School. In glorious California sunshine, the students cheered us on our way.
54 bikes rode east on Highway 80 into the Sierra Nevada Mountains; 22 would return to Auburn from Reno. 22 minus 54 = 32 NVAR riders! Kelly “Big Daddy” Rafferty doubles duty as the Missing Man Coordinator, and our Weatherman. With California sunshine and mild temps, we rode into the mountains and a nuisance rain that covered some of Nevada, beyond Reno. And that was an improvement from last year - Keep up the good work Big Daddy!
A police escort met us for a guarded ride to the Reno VAMC where welcome waited. We were separated into four groups, and I didn’t get off the front steps before I was in chat with James, who was brought out to look at the bikes, I tried to catch up, but was drawn into a therapy room where Bill was reaching up and out like the therapist told him to; but it looked to me like he wanted to dance. My request to cut in was met with question! Bill told me he returned from battle on a ship, and a banner of thanks and welcome hung from the Golden Gate Bridge. He then told me how upset and disappointed he was that the Vietnam Veterans didn’t get the same recognition. That’s the short version of his comments on that. He went on to a more bittersweet topic, riding motorcycles. He used to tear up the trails around Eureka CA in his younger days. He said there was nothing like packing a sandwich and his thermos of coffee and riding off. Sadly, those days are gone, but he seemed in good spirits and we bid farewell.
Time was running out when Jerry called my attention to a dark sleek gigantic creature with a petite master. Thor is a service dog, and Kimberly does her best to keep the curious pooch on a short leash. Thor is a pup Great Dane at 185 pounds and slobbers like a camel, if you know how much a camel slobbers, which is a lot. But a pup is a pup, and the patients love to have them both around.
After we chomped on delicious grilled elk burgers for lunch, we laid tracks through sprinkles over I80 to the Northern Nevada Veterans Cemetery for a wreath laying ceremony. But first, Dan had another honorable mention, Michael Casey, a Vietnam Veteran who died in 2013. Last year, Michael’s son, Frank, saw the NVAR at the cemetery and contacted Jerry, who passed on his request to Dan. Frank and his family joined us at the cemetery for that hallowed moment as Bill “Mongo” Luft lead his wreath laying team for the honor; Logan “Gator” Luft, Jeff “The Mayor” Goeing, Don “Quacker” Jenkins, and Bugle - Maj. Kelley.
From there, we grabbed a handful of throttle for our run to Elko. Blue was the color of the sky overhead at our next gas stop, and everyone stuffed rain gear back in their saddle bags. The expanse of Nevada is a sight to behold, and we were no doubt a site for traffic to wonder about. While the world turned and we passed through that great expanse, Dave “Double D” Clemmons rode in the Missing Man Formation with the spirit of Terry “Easy” Hoops beside him. And Easy will be among the pack on every mile of the ride.
The miles passed, and soon we looked to a dark evening sky beyond Elko, with snow covered mountains on the distant high horizon, and I’ll have more on them, tomorrow.
We’re off to a great start. Please check back for a lot more action.
Thank you & Never Forget
Mike "Track" Rinowski
2018 Ride Day Three (Thursday, May 17, 2018)
It’s good to have weather information, a bonus when it’s correct information, and a big plus when it includes sunshine and warm temperatures. A big thanks to our weather team, Big Daddy and his assistant, Sydney.
Sadly, Don Jenkins left us this morning; as in, he left us to ride home; Roseburg OR. He couldn’t convince his grandson’s fiancé to change the wedding date, and he has to fly to Alaska next week. We’ll miss you Quacker.
Our morning meeting was brief; since we’ve not had any accidents or injuries we must be doing well, thanks in part to Wayne’s daily prayers, and the prayers from all of you. Dan Kress gave us the names and specifics of two veterans who died last year. One of whom did not die from enemy fire, but rather from either friendly fire or faulty munitions; it was never confirmed. That’s a tragic event in combat situations; accidents happen in any workplace, or playground for that matter. Human error is natural, but when the tools of the place are made for death and destruction, the tragedy of an accident is compounded exponentially.
We rode into the sunshine on I80; those snow capped mountains stood high to our south, and way off on the northern horizon. On the morning like we had, they were nothing but “pretty snow capped mountains! And we rolled across the expanse of eastern Nevada to a spectacular view from above Wendover, the Great Salt Lake Desert. That is an expanse with a forbidding appearance to it.
We met about 30 UMF and Utah riders at our gas stop, as we do each year, and after a quick reunion we crossed ~123 miles of desert, of which I include the Great Salt Lake, too. Thankfully it wasn’t blistering hot with gale force winds; actually, it was a pleasant ride. At the gas stop before Salt Lake City, we met another ~30 riders and our motorcycle police escort for the ride to the Utah State Veterans Nursing Home. Our pack of 100 or more bikes stretched through a lot of interchanges. Riding into Salt Lake City is a spectacular experience on a sunny spring day. The city tucks into the foothills of mostly lush green mountains not suitable for any development, and some are snow-capped. With a little imagination, it resembles Oz, except for the traffic, of course. And, no doubt, our presence on their freeways caused some irritation, but if they knew our mission, I’m sure they would feel different.
The welcome at the Vets Home was exceptionally warm with many veterans outside to greet us. This is always a great stop with many residents to interact with. Our large crowd gathered around and after formalities, certificates of appreciation were handed out to many who support us. Then, medals of recognition were presented to six veterans who served in the Mid-East Conflict; thank you all & Welcome Home. The UMF, Utah riders, and residents of the home had signed a large “Don’t Tread On Me” flag, and gave it to Jerry to take to Washington D.C.
The formalities are fine, but we were anxious to do what we came to do, and one of the first we met was Noma and her daughter Susi. (Yes, the spelling is correct.) Noma served in WWII as a recruiter. As the men were off to war, there were many jobs to be filled, and Noma recruited women to fill many. At 99 years old, her mind’s as sharp as a tack. I look forward to visiting with her next year.
A group of us went into the memory loss unit. Since there are enough in our group to get around to all the residents, I don’t try to visit them all, and prefer to spend more time with one, a couple, or a few. The two guys I talked with seemed to remember quite well, or, they were very good at pulling my leg. I think the staff keeps a sharp eye on those two.
Back in the main lobby, many of the NVAR, and other riders, were occupied with residents or enjoying a fantastic lunch they always prepare for us. It had the look of a picnic of friends of long standing with plenty of laughter. I met Jim Chapman sitting in his wheel chair and began a chat. He fancied the motorcycles, so I gave him a tour through the parking lot. While I wheeled him among the bikes, I saw about 10 or 12 tykes, 4 years old, taking turns sitting on Uncle Sy’s trike while their teacher watched. (They came from a day care center across the street. )I peaked around from behind and saw Uncle Sy sitting on a footboard entertaining the little ones, just being the grandpa that he is. I greeted them and went on with Jim’s tour. A minute later I heard singing. I turned to find all the tykes lined up in two rows singing a beautiful song to Uncle Sy as he sat on his trike. With the direction of their teacher they sang; “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine - you make me happy, when skies are gray - la da de da da, la da de da da, don’t take my sunshine away.” Uncle Sy sat with a smile like a proud grandpa. Had I not been occupied with Jim, I’d have had a great movie for viral passage on UTube. Good for you and well done Uncle Sy (or should we call you “Sunshine”.)
The time always flies in Salt Lake City, and we soon bid them all farewell. Our escort got us safely into the mountains, where last year snow plows waited in case we need them. HA HA to that memory on this sunny day.
A contingent of 20+ riders joined us about 30 miles from Evanston for a great tour down main street. The police blocked another street for parking, and Mongo and his team, Tony Ivans, Mike & Kat Tipton, and Wayne Worden, placed a wreath at the corner memorial with recognition to veterans from the Civil War, Spanish American War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. That was followed by one of the most beautiful renditions of the Star Spangled Banner by a 9 year old girl.
Places are convenient in Evanston, and it was half block to the VFW Post 4280 for, yet, another feast and refreshments, as usual.
It was another great day on our mission; and there’s much more to come. Please check back.
Thank you & Never Forget
Mike "Track" Rinowski
2018 Ride Day Four (Friday, May 18, 2018)
Some town in Oregon has been without its mayor for the past week, and this morning, Jeff Going bid the NVAR farewell and returned to keep all well. If I were to guess how he manages his town from the way he packs his bike, I’d say everything is secure. We’ll miss you Jeff, and look forward to seeing you next year.
We had better arrangements for breakfast than years past. After a weather report, favorable to noon, we made a spectacular sun rise ride to Rock Springs. On the expanse of Wyoming, as we crested a rise on a turn, the sun cast its rays across the prairie. From the back of the pack, a silhouette of each biker rode ahead with their shadows below them. Red lights from the back of each bike stood out in the silhouette and speckles and streaks of sunshine reflected from paint, chrome, and leather. It was a spiritual scene: a pack of dark angles on a determined mission, knowing they were watched over.
We left Evanston with donations from the VFW and Spanky’s Bar. Again, we are humbled by the support we receive in all forms, and for that, we represent the thousands of people who support us on our mission. All the veterans we meet in homes and hospitals, we tell them they are not forgotten by many Americans. We arrived in Rock Springs to full tanks of gas for all, paid for by the Archie Hay American Legion Post 24. Then, after an escort to the Post, they welcomed us with Flag Bearers, followed by a filling breakfast that a crowd of farmers would appreciate.
In our riders meeting, before the prayer, Wayne read a story about the determination of a single veteran to honor Vietnam veterans in his home state of Colorado. After an organization pulled out of the affair, Delbert took the matter personal and continued on his own. Despite his handicaps, the memorial was eventually built to honor his brothers in arms. When people thought his mission was complete, he decided a memorial was needed for Colorado’s veterans lost in the Korean War. And the moral of the story: never doubt the noble ideas and determination of of a man. Encouragement propelled him to success.
This morning’s tribute was to Army Spec. Alexander Missildine of Tyler, TX, 20 years old, killed from an IED in Iraq in Oct. 2017, and Army Sgt. 1st Class Stephen of Simi Valley CA, 33 years old, killed in Nov 2017 from wounds sustained while engaged in combat in Afghanistan. They answered a call, and gave their lives for the cause of freedom; not only for our own freedom here in America, but for the freedom and well being of those in the countries they died. American’s sacrifices have never been all for America; too many are buried on foreign soil. They are not forgotten.
At Rawlins, we zipped and snapped up in our rain gear to do battle with the elements piled high over the mountain pass ahead of us. (Some needed help, as shown in photo.) As we rolled fearlessly into the threat of the beast, it looked like snow over the mountains and beside the highway, but as we rolled into it, it was hail that covered the land. We blew into the remnants of the storm and and as quickly we rode out of it.
An escort of riders joined us about 35 miles out of Cheyenne and a police escort caught us on the run. Gosh, it’s nice to have that support. Among that escort was Don, who had made rides in the past, and with a little pressure between Mongo and Gator, he was persuaded to join us next year, if he is not in Iraq! We had to miss this visit to the VA Hospital last year because of winter storm Victoria, so it was special to arrive for a long overdue visit. The staff gave us a warm welcome and brought many residents into the meeting room for a visit with all the riders. Some residents weren’t able to leave their rooms, so we went to them. Residents and patients at all hospitals and homes look forward to our annual visits. They’re anxious to chat and tell stories, and we’re thrilled to listen. Even those challenged with memory recall the days of 50 years ago like they were yesterday, and they do so with joy in their voice. They all have incredible stories of their youth; like one who built hot rod jeeps to chase down wild Wyoming horses to sell to rodeos, or another who spoke of his clandestine service on a submarine (despite being discharged in 1957, he didn’t divulge too much information. “Loose lips sink ships.), and then there’s the guys whose job as gunners in bombers made them targets. A 99 year old WWII vet fired from all positions around his bomber; tail gunner, side gunner, belly gunner, which he performed with wild abandon, but it was the front gunner position he didn’t like; that was too much of a target. As this ride is dedicated to Terry “Easy” Hoops, I failed to mention a particular memorial each rider carries in his memory. “Easy” liked to dance, and each year he rode out to Auburn with the boys from Michigan City, they’d stop in Virginia City for a little relaxation and refreshment after the long ride, and before another long ride. In the dance halls, the ladies were happy to follow his lead on the floor, and it was decided appropriate remember him on this ride with a garter belt strapped to riders left arms, or with a similar type ribbon on their vests, each with Easy’s name on them. His spirit rides strong with his Brothers, and the dance floor will never be graced with his feet again. Dinner for the day was a feast with refreshments at VFW Post 1818.
We had taste of weather that we expect will challenge us again tomorrow; but we’re NVAR riders. Whatever the elements, we have the power and determination to overcome and succeed.
Please check back and I’ll tell you all about it.
Thank you & Never Forget
Mike "Track" Rinowski
2018 Ride Day Five (Saturday, May 19, 2018)
Day Five was shut down in Sydney NE
The rain blew into Cheyenne before we checked into our hotel, then fell through the night; but slacked off for our ride to breakfast at the Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie 128.
Thick slices of bacon, lots of bacon, and lots of sausage links, too. Next to them were trays of scrambled eggs and hash browns, and biscuits and thick chunky gravy, with a choice of coffee, juices, and milk. A typical feed at the Aerie. After the feast, certificates of appreciation were handed out to our faithful supporters in Cheyenne. We are grateful.
This days tribute was to three soldiers: Army Pfc. Hansen Kirkpatrick from Wasilla, Alaska, 19 years old, died on July 3, 2017 from wounds after an indirect fire attack in Afghanistan; Army Spc. Christopher Michael Harris from Jackson Springs NC, 25 years old, and Army Sgt. Jonathon Michael Hunter, 23 years old, both died of injuries sustained from an improvised explosive device. These men died for our freedom, in the defense of our nation. and the freedom of others. We’re a nation of compassionate people, who throughout our history have stepped in to aid the oppressed; they died for the freedom of other, also. To live responsibly and celebrate freedom respectfully honors those who died for freedom. For them we ride.
Wayne read another story written by a mother who lost her daughter. Pictures of her daughter were set and hung throughout the house, her smile was there, but she was not there, as people in times of despair may think God is not there there. But he is everywhere at any time; all we have to do is call out his name.
Our meteorological team were up next, and Kelly and Sydney’s report was quite simple today: rain all day, they added a bright spot to say there would be no lightning. Everyone was happy about that. The temperature would drop, and the wind would blow with gale force gusts. Needless to say, but I will, that got them no cheers.
We picked up five more riders going “all the way”, which brought our total number to 38. And the rain sheeted down as we rode from Cheyenne. Visibility was about a quarter of a mile, and a few miles down the road it cleared to about a half mile, or so. Our staggered formation stretched a little longer for safety. When semi’s passed, our path was a dense gray spray of water. The rain came sideways and the wind tossed us around a bit. But to seasoned riders it was all part of the journey. Speaking of that; four of the riders who joined us dropped out not far from Cheyenne. That has nothing to do with their intent or patriotism, but more to understanding what a rider is getting into and being prepared for it. It was also respectful to drop out, rather than put themselves and other riders at risk.
Water found it’s way into every gap in our gear. After 106 miles, we were soaked and shivering when we stopped for gas in Sydney. The full force of the NVAR milled around inside the truck stop & IHop cafe, sipping coffee and hot chocolate while our trusted leaders and state coordinators evaluated the situation. There was not a bright spot in the forecast, and rider safety is foremost in our mission. They decided it was best for us to spend the night in Sydney.
That decision didn’t come easy. From the end of a crowded aisle, all could see our leaders turning over ideas and options, and showing disgust with the consequences. Our visits and ceremonies increase in number each day from here, and to skip one here, and another there, complicates the schedule all the way to D.C. There are just too many people; veterans, escorts, schools, and cooks and buffet’s, who are all prepared and waiting, which makes a hit and miss schedule impractical. The most logical decision was to make a big sacrifice up front and get back on schedule.
So, tomorrow, Sunday, we’ll ride 530 miles, we’ll stop in Doniphan for lunch, and then Des Moines IA, for a late dinner. For the second year in a row, mother nature, or is it an Act, or Will of God, which prevents us from visiting the veterans at the Grand Island Veterans Home, among other regular stops. This is heartbreaking, especially since it’s the last year the veterans will be at their beautiful, historic, and exceptionally convenient home. The veterans love it there, everyone we know wanted to keep it there, but the powers that be decided to spend millions of dollars and build a new home near an industrial park in Kearney, 42 miles away.
The NVAR lives to ride another day. Please check back for more on our mission.
Thank you & Never Forget
2018 Ride Day Six (Sunday, May 20, 2018)
To describe the day in one word, I say - throttle, because we had a handful of throttle all day. After 11 1/2 hours and 540 miles, we are back on schedule.
To add another word, I say - want, because we wanted to stop in North Platte for a wreath laying at the Veterans Memorial, we wanted to stop in Grand Island and visit veterans at the veterans home, and we wanted to enjoy a dinner and drinks at the American Legion in Doniphan. (The vets home is always a great visit, and Grand Island is home to a large group of friends who support the NVAR in a big way.) We wanted to lay a wreath at the Veterans Memorial in Council Bluffs and have lunch at the Masonic Hall, we wanted to stop at Freedom Rock and check out Bubba’s latest painting and give him the ashes of a veteran to mix in his paint, and we wanted to visit veterans at the Des Moines VAMC. (Arrangements for the ashes to Bubba will be made.)
At dinner last night, Wayne read the first of a two part story written by a woman who was call the “Napalm Girl”. In 1972, the South Vietnamese bombed Viet Cong, and in the mayhem, 9 year old Kim Phuc ran from the explosions, but the blast burn all her clothes from her body. Photographer Nick Ut took a photo of her running down a road naked. She had severe burns over the full back of her body that gave her intense pain for years. Because of the international attention to the photo, she was used for propaganda by the communists after the war, and was refused education. As a woman now, she said that photo was a reason she wanted to die afterward, but was too scared to take her own life. But that photo would become her reason to live, and we’ll have to wait for Wayne to read the second part of the story!
Due to schedule demands, and an early start, a tribute to soldiers killed in action was not read; but they are not forgotten, and Dan will double up to make up.
At 30something degrees, gray clouds covered the morning sky to all horizons. But it was dry, however, isolated rain was in the forecast. With freshly laundered clothes and dry rain gear, we bundled for the elements and headed east. As we cross the prairie of Nebraska, that sheet of gray opened a few times in perfect alignment with the rising sun. That lifted our spirits.
A detail of Mongo, Lugnut and Kris, Trevor, Wiley, Noah, Steve W., Patrick Gordon, and Ed Norton, left ahead of us for a special memorial beside the interstate. As the NVAR rides through the interchange of I80 and I76, east of Sydney, they salute as we ride past a memorial to Kathleen “Lovie” Kintzele. Lovie, Ed “Silver Top” Kintzele’s wife, was killed in a motorcycle accident at that spot on the first NVAR. Rest in Peace , you are not forgotten Lovie.
Sadly, Buzz’s bike broke down, which was not good, but it wasn’t the sad part. We hit the road while Ed Kintzele, his wife, Sandy, and a few others loaded and secured the bike in the trailer Ed pulls with his pickup. The sad part was that the detail didn’t know about it and had left the memorial before Ed got there.
Speaking of Buzz; he’s been on this ride since God made dirt. We’ve had family members make this ride in the past; a father and son; a father, son, and son’s wife; and now, we have Buzz, his son Dean and his daughter, Sydney (the weather girl), his other son Derek with his son, Joshua. All from the Ann Arbor MI area. That’s something special, even though all on the NVAR are family!
Someplace back there, it rained, a little. Then we arrived in Doniphan for a fantastic feast for lunch; what would have been a fantastic feast for dinner with drinks had we been on schedule. Bill “Mongo” Luft, the state coordinator, had a hand full of certificates of appreciation to hand out, most to people he has known all his life; besides friends were his wife Nancy, son Logan “Gator” (who was the youngest rider at 17, to go all the way. He’s 21 now), and Mother Mongo. They really like us there, and the feeling is mutual. Local riders have joined for a few miles, but Qtip & Shelly have returned to the ride "all the way."
We powered on with a little more weight than when we arrived, and at a rest area in Iowa, we met with our supporters from Council Bluffs. They has boxes of snacks and cases of water to give us; and to tell us what wee missed by not being able to stop there. First was a woman who served in WWII who had a lot of memorabilia to show us, and that all of the junior ROTC team that graduates (next year?) will go to Normandy, France next year to lay flags on the graves of all Iowans who died in the landing on D-Day. What an honor for those young men. That news drove our sorrow a little deeper for not being able to make the stop, and after the handoff of goods, were back on the road.
Someplace back there, the rain fell, the visibility dropped, and there was a nasty “air” to the atmosphere; something like yesterday. But true to the forecast, it was isolated, and we rode into Des Moines on dry highway. The American Legion Post 663 fed us with their usual meaty meal that stuffed a pack of bikers. They are terrific.
After the long ride, all were anxious to check into our hotel and call it a day.
Two more riders joined us here. Friends of mine from the Mpls MN area. Hack, who’s been with us the past two years, and Ike, a first timer. Both Vietnam Veterans. Welcome Home & Welcome to the NVAR.
Tomorrow we’re back on schedule, and it starts with a visit we always look forward to.
Thank you & Never Forget
2018 Ride Day Seven (Monday, May 21, 2018)
There is so much more to this ride than I report, and I’ve been lax in one area that is taken advantage of. I’ve spoken highly of our supporters across the land, and they deserve every ounce of gratitude we can muster. However, before them, it takes planning and coordination, driven by initiative and determination from the all the state coordinators, (there are many others responsible, too, and I will get to them, but for now, I’d like to recognize these guys.) We ride across America on a schedule, and on any given day we’re within minutes of that schedule (with the exception of mother nature’s intervention, of course!) All our support across the land, all the veterans we visit, and people at other functions, rely on the schedule organized by the state coordinators. Each of them invest an enormous amount of time, effort, expense, and perhaps a little hair, or more gray hair, to put these complex schedules together. So, when it’s appropriate, raise a toast of thanks to them, also.
So far, I’ve missed the coordinators of California - Rick Dyer, Nevada - Jerry Conner, Utah - Jayson Stephenson, Wyoming - Bill Breeden.
The other night, Wayne began a story about the “Napalm Girl”, and this morning he read the final two pages. Kim Phuc had been victimized by the new communist government and contemplated suicide, but her fear of taking her life drove her into a search for a reason, or way to live. In a bookstore she found the New Testament and by a friend was guided to church, but this was only the beginning of a longer search that took her to Cuba, Russia, and finally Canada. Along her path she married and had a child. But this was far from the end of her search. She would, yet, have to face her greatest fear, the memories from that infamous photo of her running naked down the road, and the propaganda she was used for. She found an acceptance of Jesus as her savior, and realized the blessing that photo really was. I do little justice to relating the whole of this amazing story from memory, and it can be easily found by a google search for “The Napalm Girl.”
This morning’s tribute is to four soldiers, +1; While on a joint patrol with local forces in the north-central African state of Niger on Oct. 4, 2017, a special forces unit was ambushed and killed by an overwhelming force of Boko Haram and al-Qaaida. Special Forces soldiers; Sgt. David Johnson, 25, of Miami Gardens FL, Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup WA, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro OH, and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons GA lost their lives for the cause of humanity.
A special tribute was made to the cousin of Kat Tipton, an NVAR rider. CJ Miller was born in Crestin IA in Mar 1983. He grew to answer a call and was deployed to Iraq in Sept 2006. He was killed in action in December at 23 years of age. CJ was a close friend of Bubba, who paints patriotic murals on Freedom Rock. He repaints a portrait of fallen friend every other year.
We pray these men did not die in vain, they are not forgotten.
The AMVETS Post #2 fed us another hearty breakfast as they have through the years, and we all carry a little weight from it. LOL Thank you all for that! Our weather team’s forecast was favorable, and I must admit, I found it questionable while mist continued in Marshalltown.
The Iowas Vets Home in Marshalltown is another of our great places to visit. The guys, and gals, always look forward to our visit. One resident in particular looks forward to the return of one rider in particular next year. Virginia lured our own Big Daddy to plant a big one on her, and after they had locked lips not once, not twice, but three times, Big Daddy was sweating with guilt, and did the faithful thing; he mentioned his wife, Peaches. Well, Virginia is a big girl and gets credit, and smooches, for trying.
We had other cheerful visits, like Ronald who felt like the luckiest man in town because he won a couple of nice blankets in a raffle, but visit enough veterans in these homes and hospitals and you’re going to see, and I dare say feel, some of the turmoils they suffer. I say feel, not in a physical sense, or with a literal understanding, but because our inherent compassion, and empathy.
James was thrilled to meet me and Fred. He was a Combat Engr. in Vietnam. After we introduced our ride, he began to talk about his time in-country. He was determined to say what he wanted, or needed to say. He broke down when he spoke of 6 of the 12 of them that didn’t make it, again when he spoke of how the volunteers like Bob Hope, Phyllis Miller, and other entertainers were frowned on by Hollywood for their service to our veterans, and again when he remembered the kind of welcome he didn’t get and the spit and slurs he did get. At an appropriate time we bid him a farewell, and he replied with cheer, a thanks for the visit, and he wished us well.
I was directed to go into a room to meet Chuck, a Vietnam Veteran of the 182nd Airborne. He was a POW for four years. He was reserved with conversation, but had a welcome presence in his character. After his release as a POW, he tried to return to a life. He found a job building bridges for a railroad, and he liked that kind of work for 12 years, but didn’t say what he did after that. He had photos on the wall of his parents, sister, and grandparents, but no wife, girlfriend, friends, or places and times in his life. He seemed like he would talk about any part of his life, but hoped you wouldn’t ask. I shared a little of my adventures, which he found humorous, but the visit was not about me, and I was too concerned, shy, or ashamed, to ask more about him. So I left with a sincere farewell.
During lunch, Mike “Dirty Mike” Kline, Iowa State Coordinator, introduced Jarid Catrenich, who, along with 36 others, will be deployed to the Kandahar Province of Afghanistan for 12 months. This will be Jarid’s first deployment in his 20 years of service. Go with God Jarid, and return safely.
Photos 9 and 10, the portrait of a soldier, and not below it are for you to enlarge and read.
From Marshalltown the weather was more pleasant and promising, and for once, we weren’t battling Iowa’s infamous winds. We arrived at the Iowa VA Health Care System, another place for great visits. The NVAR swarmed through 7 floors of halls and rooms, greeting veterans and their caretakers. In one room, Irma, Jim’s wife, began telling us all the problems the doctors were finding in Jim, and she went on with one diagnosis after another, for about five minutes. I looked over to think he should be dead! But Jim sat there with stories, and rattled on an on about the different crafts he worked on. Ike bought the only two stocking caps he knitted that would fit any of us. Well, he did have on other, but I’m not man enough to wear a pink stocking cap. They use the money to help veterans and are committed to help prevent veteran suicides. I hope he has enough inventory next year so I can get a stocking cap, too. Keep on keeping on Jim.
A cluster of Davenport riders slid into our formation as we slowed through the off, and on again, ramps, and then we rolled into the Davenport Memorial Park for a wonderful ceremony. The park was freshly mowed with flowers at many grave markers. The clouds had evaporated and late afternoon sunshine added saturation to the lush green growth. The Combat Vet MC, the Patriot Riders, and the city of Davenport set new flag poles around the beautiful veterans memorial.
Mongo led the wreath laying ceremony with the Neeb family doing the honors; Buzz, his sons Derek and Dean, and his grandchildren, Sydney and Joshua.
It was another beautiful day in Iowa that went off as scheduled, thanks to good weather, and thank you Dirty Mike. Then we all rode to the American Legion Post #26 for their usual feast in our honor. But first, on the way to meats, baked potatoes, fresh buns, veggies, crisp salad, and an irresistible desert table, many supported the club with a purchase at the bar.
We’re riding into our busiest days. Please check back for tomorrows news.
Thank you & Never Forget
2018 Ride Day Eight (Tuesday, May 22, 2018)
Wayne read a story about an army recruiter who regularly visited schools. At one he was instructed to see the principle; oh, oh, what did he do! Well, the principle introduced himself, and asked the recruiter if he remembered him, which he didn’t. As it was, years past, the recruiter was once a drill instructor to the principle. Before the young soldier was to be deployed, he requested a three day pass to go home to meet his new born son. The was the only three day pass the drill instructor ever gave out; because he knew the soldier was going into battle, and would have lived with a terrible guilt should he not return without ever seeing his son. Then the principle told the recruiter that in the class he was going to speak to was the son we first met on a three day pass.
This morning’s tribute was to Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens, 36, of Peoria IL. He died in Jan. 2017 from wounds received during a raid in Yemen, and Army Staff Sgt. Mark R. De Alencar, 37, of Edgewood MD. He died of injuries from small arms fire while conduction counter ISIS operations in Afghanistan. These men died for our freedom and for the cause of humanity.
Our weather team finally came up with sunshine and warm temperatures, with a warning that in the proximity of Lake Michigan, those temps may fall a bit. But that was acceptable, considering what their previous forecasts were. We rolled from Davenport with the added security of a local police escort. We love those guys.
They in turn, handed us off to the Illinois State Patrol, who led us to one of the most beautiful settings for a memorial; beside the Illinois River in Marseilles. Every visit and ceremony we make on this ride is special, but our visit to the Mid-East Conflicts Wall has a direct and personal connection to many men on the ride. Gary “Mr. Wizard” Croft (the Illinois State Coordinator) put together a wonderful ceremony (with thanks to his wife Nancy “Pantz” for the fundraisers she organized).
He began with introductions and invitations to the mic. The mayor had words of praise to our veterans named on the walls, and for our mission. Then a Gold Star Father (whose son’s name is cut into the wall) commented on the eternal emptiness from his loss, and praise for our mission, also. Mongo then spoke of his connection to this memorial. Our ride is bound for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, but these walls belong to his, and his generation of veterans. Nine soldiers he served with are named here. Each morning, as Dan reads the tribute to men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice, we think of them, but they are faceless to us. We know only what Dan reports. To Mongo, and all combat veterans, they recall the faces of their fallen brothers, in life, and in death. They knew their character, they laughed with them, shared things, perhaps secrets.” They hold tributes and live with those memories every day, perhaps, and likely, often throughout some days.
Gary put a lot of effort and thought into this ceremony, which circled around to the mission and people of the NVAR, and others who share the same sense of gratitude for our veterans; those who came home, and those who didn’t. Many of us didn’t personally know a fallen soldier, yet, it’s an inherent sense in most all Americans to have compassion and debt to those who sacrificed for our freedom.
A detail placed a wreath: Wreath Leader Mongo, and the detail; Jim Frazier, Mike Croft, Sonny Pesek, and Dave Clemmons (whose son’s name, Brad Clemmons, is cut into the wall, also.)
During lunch at the American Legion Post 235, Jerry introduced a special guest, Recon. It was him who made the first rides and contacts across the country, which evolved into the NVAR it is today. He doesn’t ride as much as he once did, and we would look forward to his return. In the meantime, he was happy to see the younger generation of veterans on the ride, and the need for their growing attendance to continue this ride forever.
Then, Jerry respectfully denied confidence when he announced a generous donation from Virginia Proffitt, a long time supporter of the NVAR. Her heart is as big as they get when it comes to compassion and support for veterans.
The Indiana State Patrol took over guardian duties at the border. The green fields soon disappeared, and our patrol parted Chicago traffic like Moses parted the Red Sea, and we rolled easily into Portage IN for a Junior ROTC program. Those young men and women are America’s best talent.
Our final stop of the day was just down the road in Michigan City; home to a large number of NVAO members and supporters, along with the same for The Wall Gang. The welcome is always like a long awaited family homecoming.
No day on this ride is complete without dinner, and the folks in Michigan City feed their NVAR family a hearty meal, and a desert table with the widest array of sweets between CA and D.C.
Please check back as our mission rolls into America’s heartland.
Thank you & Never Forget
2018 Ride Day Nine (Wednesday, May 23, 2018)
You can judge the size of crowd by the amount of money in the 50/50 drawing we have each morning, and there was a bundle of cash for the lucky winner at the American Legion Skwiat Post 451, in Michigan City. Those folks come from miles around to welcome us, and to send us off—with another hearty breakfast.
Two birthdays among us did not go unnoticed, and Svein and Ed were presented with a crowns of recognition.
If you looked up the word “heart”, you should find the name Steve “Headdog” Moore, because he has a lot of it. As I mentioned, Michigan City is the home of The Wall Gang, a charitable organization committed to helping veterans. Steve is the founder of the organization, which has helped countless veterans and veterans families. Each year they dedicate the ride to a veteran, and this year the dedication goes to Gregory Tuholski. All in attendance signed a poster with his photo and relative information. This will be placed at the apex of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, aka, The Wall.
Today’s NVAR tribute was to Army 1st Lt. Weston C. Lee, 25, of Bluffton GA. He died in April 2017 in Mosul, Iraq, from wounds sustained by in an improvised explosive device, and Navy SEAL Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Kyle Milliken, 38, of Falmouth MA. He died in May 2017 during an operation against the Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab in a remote area west of Mogadishu, Somalia. His death marked the first U.S. combat death in Somalia in more than two decades. Recall an earlier tribute to the soldiers killed in Niger. We are a great and powerful nation, whose people have a deep sense of compassion and love for life and freedom. Across any border we step up to bullies, tyrants, dictators, and just plain bad guys. Americans infiltrate countries across the globe to fight that oppression and protect our freedom. Remember them and their families.
This morning Wayne read a story, and the most sad part was the loss of a stereo. A Vietnam Veteran returned from the war with PTSD, no surprise there. His attempts to adjust brought fright and anger to his family and friends, so, he packed his clothes, and the stereo he bought at an exchange in Saigon, into his Mustang and headed for Florida. (I’m guessing the gulf side, or perhaps the Keys). Well, his money ran out and a pawn shop owner told him that he could probably get a better price for his stereo at the nearby college. (I’m guessing he had a great collection of reels of tape and albums, too). Anyway, at the college he met some neat guys, as is well groomed with button down shirts buttoned to the top. They bought the stereo, and at the time, $90 went a long way. They also gave him a place to stay for the night, which was cool. The college guys and their friends were inquisitive about his time in combat. They sat late into the night talking, and through the evening, he waited to hear offensive remarks he had heard before from protestors, but they never came. His hosts accepted him as a man he was, with experience they were unfamiliar. After a good sleep, he refused an offer to stay another night and drop away with his hot rod and $90. We don’t know if he ended up on the gulf side or the Keys!
Today was Sydney’s last day with Big Daddy’s weather reports. Mia has joined the ride again, for her third time, and will take over the assistant duties. But Sydney left us with the best forecast of her tenure: sunshine and summer temperatures. Whoohoo! Thank you Sydney.
About 80 bikes, a few cars, the chase truck, and one bright Ride of Pride, (compliments of Schneider Trucking) rolled through beautiful scenery in rural Indiana. Their crisp and dark shadows followed close below them. Then we took a detour I would enjoy any time. We rumbled past meticulously manicured farm yards, many extended their mowing into subtle sloped ditches; and the corn will be over knee high on the 4th of July. I was in awe of the beauty of America’s heartland. Being on two lane roads we passed through many small towns where people were out in crowds, waving flags and cheering us on. Every year there’s a guy on a John Deere A Model Tractor, or maybe it’s a B model. He parks on the same corner with a gravel road. It’s wonderful to see that support and patriotism.
We stopped at the West Central High School for a flag ceremony and visit. It was their last day of school, and our visit helped them spend less time in the classroom. Needless to say, but I will, they were happy to see us.
We rolled back onto the two lane trail. As many times as we've crossed the many railroad tracks out there, we’ve never seen a train; only the tracks they leave behind. LOL. I remind you that our Road Guards are the best. They will to pull out to stop a string of cars on a cross street, or on a ramp; or slow a convoy of semis to make a passage for us, but when it comes to trains, they respectfully, and wisely, bowed in submission as a train crossed our trail, which led us to the Indiana Veterans Home in Lafayette. That, too, is a great place to visit. The home fits among the forest with an expansive lawn and a pond for fishing; I would hope no fishing license was required. The residents are always thrilled to see us. The staff wheeled a large group of veterans and veterans wives onto the patio where we could visit and have lunch together.
We took many for a tour of the bikes. As I pushed Ann along for the tour, she told me her husband, an army veteran, passed away 10 years ago. She was very proud of her three sons; all Marines. She did mention the difficulties her husband suffered when he returned from WWII, and how when he suffered, she suffered with him. PTSD affects the whole family.
Our tour ended, and she liked all the motorcycles, and it was time for lunch. Unfortunately, our time there was cut short because of the detour, and we look forward to our visit next year.
We were anxious for the next leg of our journey; our escort through Indianapolis. The Indy police department have a new fleet of Harley Davidsons, and for 60 miles they put them through a great exercise banging gears and twisting throttles. We ran at max speed, and they were running circles around us. Ten of them stuck close to our long pack, with rotations after protective moves, with others in cars and on other motorcycles blocking traffic at on ramps and interchanges. It’s a unique experience, awesome is more like it, to be the only traffic over city expressways with four and five lanes; not a vehicle in front, back, or sides. We love those guy!
They led us to a safe stretch of interstate far from congestion and bid us farewell, until next year.
Riders packed their leathers in saddlebags for a tee shirt ride into Ohio, where the state patrol picked us at the state line for clear passage to Brookville, where another patriotic welcome from residents lined the streets. Our destination for social activities and dinner, of course, was the AMVETS Post. The place looked sharp with new asphalt in the parking lot and a new street out front.
Brookville was the home of Terry “Easy” Hoops. A few of the guys took the mic to share a few stories about their time, and their love of a brother, a friend, and a marine. Bruce Manner spoke of the turn out for his funeral, which was the biggest the church had ever seen, which speaks volumes about Easy. And speaking of “Easy”, Bruce introduced Terry’s wife, Dee. She said when she heard his road name was going to be Easy, she screamed, he’s anything but Easy. Terry had a deep love and respect for veterans, especially Marines, but he always had one’s back, and was quick with a prank; as he played many on another Marine he became close to on our ride, Don Jenkins of Roseburg OR. Those two threw banter at each other like there wasn’t going to be a tomorrow, and each had to get in the last prank, and that great honor went to Easy, with a buckeye that appeared in Don’s saddlebag this year. What’s a buckeye, you may ask. Well, that’s exactly what Don asked when he first heard of them, and after meeting Easy, he saw a lot of them.
After Tony Cunningham, the state coordinator, gave certificates of appreciation to the many people who have supported the NVAR for many years, the riders and hosts moved inside, and to the patio out back, for another feast.
Two more days to D.C. Please check back tomorrow for news on the next day of our mission.
Thank you & Never Forget
2018 Ride Day Ten (Thursday, May 24, 2018)
Ohio; a beautiful state with some of the most hospitable people you’d ever meet. They make you want to stay. And the weather, yes, the weather was fantastic; I felt naked without chaps and rain gear. The folks at VFW Post 3288 must have thought our dinner last night wasn’t enough, because they laid out a quite spread for breakfast. A special thanks to them all; we’d love to stay, but we have a mission.
Terry Hoops’ son spoke a few words about how much this ride meant to his dad, and then made a donation to the NVAR. I can tell you only so much about this ride. Until you’ve been on it, you’ll never know the depth it goes to in each rider.
There’s a flag that flies in Ohio: 1,800 square feet of red, white, and blue, with stars about two feet across. It’s replaced each year, and before the old one was properly disposed of, the sheriff cut the stars from it as a gift to the NVAR riders. That’s certainly better than getting a ticket.
Today’s tribute went to Army Sgt. Cameron H. Thomas, 22, of Ketterin OH, and Sgt Joshua P. Rodgers, 22, of Bloomington IL, who both died in April 2017 in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. They were engaged in small arms fire during a high-stakes raid on the headquarters of Abdul Hasib, whom U.S. officials identified as ISIS Khorasan’s emir. The American and Afghan forces had dramatically escalated their campaign to crush the terror group. I heard a doctor say there are two rules in a war; Rule #1. Men die, Rule #2. You can’t change rule #1. It’s with that knowledge that men and women willfully answer a call. It’s in our nature to defend freedom at any cost; defend it for our own country, and others. Many Americans are buried on foreign lands. Please keep them all in mind as the Memorial Day arrives.
Wayne had another interesting story this morning, titled; A Tale of Two Babies.
It’s been 12 hours and 300 miles since he told. There were a few events in-between, but, as I recall, the gist of the story was about these two babies having a discussion in the mother’s womb. One didn’t think anything could be better than where they were, and doubted there was life on the outside, while the other had an optimistic view of a better life “on the other side.” Being a spiritual reading, this relates, and equates, to peoples’ belief, or not, in a better, eternal, life after death. Very nice analogy Wayne, thank you.
The people of Ohio are generous, too, as cash donations were signed to the NVAR.
The Ohio state police bared the interstate for 75 riders across the heartland. We looked good! The fields slowly disappeared as forested hills became the number one scenery. Stretched out for at least a mile over hills and around turns under brilliant morning sunshine, we looked good!
We arrived at the Chillicothe VAMC at mid morning. After a short visit by all riders, a dozen of us stayed back to visit a little longer, while the others rode off to the Southeastern School. The VAMC is a historic facility (in plain words, it’s old, built in the 1930’s I was told), but an exceptionally accommodating facility. (I hope no governor with an agenda for a legacy tries to build a new one new near some industrial park 50 miles away, like in another state we passed.) Shelly sat with one vet for the full 30 minutes; soaking up sunshine and shooting the breeze like two old friends. Next to him was John, who was taking a break, or collecting creativity. Golf would be tough for a double amputee, so, long ago, he took up painting; water color, oil base, and finger painting. He tired of portraits, and now finds simple things to paint, like a soda can, or a table, for example. It’s all about perspective, light, and shadow, he said. It was nice to see that he sought creativity.
It was a 12 mile ride to the Southeastern School, and the last day of school. Whoohoo for the Southeastern Panthers. The Principle and staff prepared a top notch presentation. Before their show began, a diploma was posthumously given to a student who left school early, entered military service, and paid the ultimate sacrifice in battle. He was one of a half dozen students from that school who were killed in action. One of which was the son of one of our riders, Dave Clemmons, his son, Brad Clemmons.
The choir sang patriotic songs, one of which was a compilation of military branch songs. As one song faded into the other, members of the Army who were in the audience stood for their song, then the Marines stood when “the caissons go marching along”, the Navy guys stood for “Anchors Away,” and the Air Force stood for “up, up, and away, in by beautiful balloon”, or what ever their song is. (No offense intended)
The band was excellent, also, with a complex number. It wasn’t quite as powerful as the USC Marching Band playing “Tusk” with Fleetwood Mac, but they were good. The highlight for everyone was the ROTC Drill Team. Wow, those four young men, and one young woman, put on a dazzling show of expertise, skill, and discipline. We had never seen such showpersonship.
Then came one of the largest feasts fed to us on our ride, or in our lives. I can’t think of anything that was missing from an eighty foot buffet. Who ever made that strawberry, banana cream, whipped cream with graham cracker crust for desert—I love you!
The Ohio state patrol led us through the forests and over the hills to the state line. Some were on duty guarding ramps and interchanges right to the bridge at the state line, while at least a half dozen raced ahead and stood on the bridge with a salute to us as we passed. What a top notch crew.
The weather was just as hot in West Virginia, and in short sleeves, many of us had started our first sunburn, despite the lotion.
At 4:40 p.m., per our schedule, we rolled onto the sacred ground at Clarksburg-Louis Johnson VMAC. They gave us a wonderful welcome with a reminder of their motto, “Everyday is Memorial Day. The riders split into about five groups and rambled through hallways on many floors and ducking into rooms for visits. It was nice to meet some who would be home within days, others were there indefinitely, and sadly, some permanently through the remainder of their life. It’s so important to visit them, thank them, and let them know that they are not forgotten. People across America love them.
We hear many stories from veterans across the land, and one of which was told to Sweetness here in Clarksburg. Pfc. Bernie was at the Battle of the Bulge, a 39 day battle against the Germans. Over 19,000 Americans were killed; that’s 437 men per day. Bernie was a radio operator with dead batteries, and coordinates for air strikes. He walked and dodged bullets for 3 miles in freezing temperatures to get the info to command and save his unit. He was awarded a Bronze Star for his heroism.
Back outside, as we prepared to leave, we met a Korean War Veteran who was POW for 900 days. We didn’t have the time for a comfortable chat. Age, and perhaps trauma, had taken a \toll on his memory and communication skills, and I thought, perhaps dementia for some is a blessing, as he smiled and seemed to be excited by the motorcycles.
The local police guided us through the streets of Clarksburg for dinner at the VFW Post 573. We had our usual photo of all riders, and then riders only who began in California. From there it was into the Post for dinner, social drinks, and the formalities of certificates of appreciation, and recognition to many on the NVAR staff.
We have one more day to D.C. Please check back for news on the ride.
Thank you & Never Forget
2018 Ride Day Eleven (Friday, May 25, 2018)
Today’s tribute: The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain was involved in a collision with a merchant vessel on Aug 21, 2017. Ten sailors were killed in the accident. The fallen sailors were identified as Electronics Tech. 1st Class Charles Nathan Findley, 31, of Amazonia MO, Interior Communications Electrician 1st Class Abraham Lopes, 39, of El Paso TX, Electronics Tech 2nd Class Kevin Sayer Bushell, 26, of Gaithersburg MD, Electronics Technician 2nd Class Jacob Daniel Drake, 21, of Cable OH, Information Systems Tech 2nd Class Timothy Thomas Eckels Jr., 23, of Manchester MD, Information Systems Tech 2nd Class Corey George Ingram, 28, of Poughkeepsie NY, Electronics Tech 3rd Class John Henry Hoagland III, 20, of Killeen TX, Interior Communications Electrician 3rd Class Logan Stephen Palmer, 23, of Decatur IL, Electronics Tech 3rd Class Kenneth Aaron Smith, 22, of Cherry Hill NJ, and Electronic Tech 3rd Class Dustin Louis Doyon, 26, of Suffield CT. This extended list laid heave on our thoughts today.
53 bikes rolled in bright sunshine through West Virginia. In the past two weeks, our landscape has gone from the pine covered Sierra Nevada Mts, the high planes, continental divides, down to cattle country, then to farmland and into the heartland, and then into the forest covered foothills of the Appalachian Mts. In a valley of those densely covered foothills is the Rocky Gap Maryland Veterans Cemetery, the final resting place for hundreds of veterans from too many wars. Sadly, they were working on an expansion to the south.
Steve spoke, to the youth in particular. It was the ninth grade class that put flags on all markers, and he thanked them and reminded them that they were our future, and he praised them for taking on that patriotic task; none shall be forgotten. Then Steve asked his granddaughter to read an essay she wrote; a beautiful piece about what the ride meant to her, and she was spot on with the feelings we all feel on the ride. Great job Mia.
Mongo led a wreath detail, which consisted of Dennis “Hack” Olson, Jerry “Five Minutes” Conner, Tugger Keith, Hoot Jeff, and a high school Sea Cadet. Major Kelly played taps. The wreath was laid in honor of U.S. Army SSG Robert Hartsock, who died in 1969. Robert was a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, a Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart, for service in Vietnam.
After the wreath was laid, his nephew read a a poem about his uncle. I wouldn’t doubt that Robert looked around at all his brothers and pointed down into Rocky Gap with a smile on his face, saying, that’s my nephew down there, making him proud. It sure made all of us proud of him; it was a good poem.
Afterward, I met with his niece, Sherry Trails. There was a lot of pride in her voice as she spoke kindly of Robert, and sadness in her heart, even after all these years.
From there we stretched out on the freeways for another 80 miles to the Martinsburg WV, VAMC. We made quite the entrance as we circled the expansive facility before coming to rest in front of it. As we swung around, we sort of interrupted a class for fly fishing; not in a stream where fly fishing is usually done, but out on the grassy lawn, for practice.
After we parked, I wandered over to check out the fishermen. The guys were getting the hang of it, and it’s not all in the wrist, as I thought, but rather, it’s more in the elbow while whipping that long pole and letting more line out as you whip it back and forth. I met with Phillip Stevens, the leader of the program. Fly fishing is an art and skill to handle the rod and line, and its a science to understand what kind of insects are in hatch which the fish want to eat. Phillip told me they have these, and other, programs in all 50 states. More can be found at their web site: www.projecthealingwaters.org
While I was learning things about fly fishing, Mongo, Qtip, and Fast Freddie were entertained by Chilton G. Raiford, Gunnery 6 Div, a WWII veteran assigned to the Use Randolf, and aircraft carrier that saw plenty of action. And at 95 years old he had plenty of stories to share, without a watered down version with political correctness, which I doubt he had ever heard of; political correctness that is. Things came out just the way a sailor would express them. He was the fleet’s light weight boxing champ for three years; fast on his feet and he could dodge jabs and hooks from the best of them. And he was deadly with a 20 mm machine gun, because he shot down a few Jap zero’s, too. from stories my dad told me, those zeros’ were tough to hit as they flew 50 feet off the deck with the sun at there back.
He told them, too, about being caught by surprise with their pants down; literally. On quiet sunny days at sea, many men laid about on the deck, soaking up the South Pacific sunshine, when Jap zero’s buzzed in and slaughtered many of his mates.
Chilton wrote a poem called “The Day Coming”
Underway in the deep Pacific where danger lurks was behind each wave. There sat a boy a dreaming, the time of the good old days.
Who would think that this young face was taught to kill and hate. This was for only one reason to be ready when he meets the enemy face to face.
There is a day soon coming that he will put his skill to work, against an enemy who knows no mercy and is lower than a turk.
There is a day coming when the world at war will be free, and that young boy will be home in the crowd with you and me.
I wonder if he will forget the hate that has lurked in this heart for so long. And go about the day with a laugh, a joke, and a song.
Chilton G. Raiford
Jan. 16, 1945
I thought, at first, he was writing about an anonymous boy, but in the first sentence of the last verse, when he says, this heart, I knew it was himself that he wrote about. What he wrote in 1945, is applicable today. You can never take the war out of the man.
From the VAMC we had 80 miles to cover to reach our destination. About 50 miles was through beautiful countryside; rolling hills, farms, and horses; it was real pretty. But then, we closed in on the city, and things turned snarly with traffic lights, cars, trucks, and degrees, about 95 of them! I don’t think we were looked on too favorably as our Road Guards demanded our safe passage. But little would traffic know how ugly it would be if we didn’t have Road Guards looking out for us, as well as them. I was glad Headdog knew where he was going, because I was lost all the way.
At about 6 p.m. we rolled into the parking lot of our hotel, and after all the heat and congestion, it was the most beautiful hotel I had ever seen. And it was a real thrill to find they had both elevators working this year. Some days everything just seems to go our way, and a part of this one was one of those days.
Tune in tomorrow for a sit rep on our final official day of the 2018 NVAR. Sorry the pictures got a little mixed up. I hope to wake up soon and get my boots on the right feet.
Sorry the pictures got a little mixed up. I hope to wake up soon and get my boots on the right feet.
Thank you & Never Forget
NVAR 2018 Epilogue: (Saturday, May 26, 2018)
After ten days of “Riders, Five Minutes” , “Riders, get next to your bikes”, “Riders, Riders, Riders” and concern to every minute of our schedule, relief was an overall sense this morning, and we approached our schedule at leisure.
We enjoyed a complimentary breakfast at IHOP; a very sensibly portioned breakfast, too: option 1 or option two. There was no scooping and piling on more than we need, just because we can, or think we need those extra slices of bacon, or piles of eggs and potatoes.
“Riders, Five Minutes”! Jerry just doesn’t quit.
Well, we weren’t done yet, either, as about fifty riders put on helmets for the ride to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The sun was low in a deep blue sky and traffic was light on the expressway. We rode in a formation as naturally as breathing; we all knew our place and moved as a cohesive unit. We arrived first, again, to park on the grass beside the sidewalk across from the Lincoln Memorial. There was little lingering there, or at the Three Infantry Men, and most strode slowly on the path beside The Wall. A crew was finishing their washing of The Wall, and a crowd had not yet formed.
It was a familiar scene; the West Wing reflected strong sunshine, and in the the shadow, the East Wing stood like a black mirror. (That shadow would soon creep up the wing as the earth slowly made its rotation.) Each year I bring a copy of my book for the guys I rode for across Vietnam, whose names are cut into The Wall. I write comments in it, and this year I had great news for them. This past March, our story was featured in the Easyriders magazine. Whoohoo! I never in a million years thought I’d have an article in Easyriders. Then I met, or I should say, a couple guys met me who knew of my bike, and my story. Our story spreads.
Over on the East Wing, Headdog and a crew from the Wall Gang placed the signed poster below Gregory Tuholski’s name, as The Wall Gang had dedicated the ride to him this year. All in attendance gave him a long, steady salute of recognition, twice.
The Wall stands in a realm of its own. All are invited to enter, but to each are different levels of connection, or emotion. It’s a place of reverence. Each name on The Wall belonged to a man or woman who not only answered a call, but they were a son or daughter, a brother or sister, a mother or father, or they didn’t get the chance to become mothers or fathers, or grandmothers and grandfathers. They didn’t get the chance to ride and honor those who gave us the freedom we celebrate and hold so dear. The freedom men and women die to defend. Will America ever stop building Walls?
We spent an hour at The Wall, and then rode into Arlington National Cemetery, a place of reverence. Jerry rode ahead for arrangements, and a security vehicle met us at the gate and guided us through throngs of visitors, to our usual parking place near the main entrance.
First on our schedule was a wreath laying ceremony for Brad Clemmons, son of our NVAR rider, Dave “Double D” Clemmons, and his wife, Brenda. As I walked among markers for the fallen veterans, it hit hard to see them all so young. (Out among the thousands of white marble headstones, a mother and father sat and remembered, or a mother sat on a blanket, with a young child occupied with a toy.) Although we perform this ceremony each year, it’s never any easier, or less emotional. Yet, there is a fulfillment to know that we have remembered Brad, and honored him. The wreath detail was led by Mongo, with Ed “Silver Top” Kintzele, Mike “Dirty Mike” Kline, Wayne Worden, Buzz Need.
Dave was concerned about the time, and rushed us all off to meet the tram that would take us to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. As our tram drove mostly uphill, with turns right and left, then left and right, through the immaculately groomed grounds, our guide gave us a history lesson about Arlington and some of the more famous people interred there. It’s boggling to see tens of thousands of headstones, all the same size, set over the hills in perfect rows viewed from any direction, among the giant trees, and tens of thousands more headstones over the next hill, or around the next turn. There’s only so much space, and one day, they will run out of places to accept more veterans for internment. However, there are many national cemeteries around the country, and however fortunate that may be, it’s still kind of a sad thought.
We arrived at the tomb, where Jim “Uncle Sy”, Janet Lennox, Ed Norton, and Ron “Psyche” Patzer would place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. They all looked sharp in formal dress. This is a privilege few people ever receive, and it usually brings a few tears after the great honor. It’s customary for those who laid the wreath last year to present a special pin to the new wreath layers, which was done, quietly, beside the amphitheater where the tomb is located. Then a guide walked us to a new memorial to Vietnam helicopter pilots and crews, who were saviors to millions of soldiers in the field. The stories of these brave man fill volumes of books, and great lengths of film. Their heroics are exemplary.
On the ride down the hill, our guide repeated some history we learned on the way up, and added a few bits of “new” history. Thankfully there wasn’t a test.
It was hot, and humid. Ed and Sandy restocked the cooler on the trailer, but that emptied fast, and they refilled it again. Rested and refreshed, we made a long ride to the HQ for the DC Ramblers Motorcycle Club in Accokeek MD. (From Washington D.C. you can go through three or four states within an hour.) The DC Ramblers, with a fire truck, met us for a short escort to their station/clubhouse. Lunch was first on the agenda, of course; and the roast beef was plentiful and tender, and the sausages were very tasty, too.
After our fill, again, certificates of appreciation were handed out. The DC Ramblers have been long standing supporters of the NVAR, and there was a lot of appreciation. Tickets were drawn for all the blankets and a rifle that we sold tickets for, all across America. And if you have not been notified of your good fortune, or luck, someone else won those beautiful blankets and the Henry Rifle. But there will be next year.
That formally ended the 2018 NVAR.
Before I sign off, I must mention that through all the challenges of a cross country ride, and there are numerous challenges and threats, we arrived safe. Individual rider expertise and self discipline are a major reason for that, along with the experience of riding in packs, especially having repeatedly rode with the same bunch of riders. We know the routine. But there’s more to it than that.
Any group requires a form of management, and that means planning, and it means rules, too. It takes a team of committed people, and Jerry “Five Minutes” Conner and Steve “Headdog” Moore are at the heart of that leadership. But without the experience and fearless maneuvers of the Road Guard Team, we could not move as the cohesive unit that we do. We would not hold a schedule beyond the first day. Our road guards are the best for our movement and safety, and for that of the traffic we share the roads and streets with.
I give special mention to the NVAR Road Guard Team:
Patrick “Jackwagon” Martindale, Road Guard Captain
“Crazy Larry” MacKay, past Road Guard Captain, and one of the most talented and fearless riders I’ve ever seen.
Steve “Babyface” Wiseman
Dan “Sweetness” Kress
Gary “Mr. Wizard” Croft
Fred “Fast Freddie” Young
Patrick “Trick” Gordon
To these men, the NVAR gives the greatest appreciation.
I end my report on the 2018 NVAR, but our mission continues. Each rider will return to their home and continue to honor our veterans with clubs or organizations in their communities. It’s who we are, and who the people are in our communities.
Some of us will stay another day to take part in Rolling Thunder, a ride around the Mall with hundreds of thousands of bikers. Others will pack and head home.
Please pass a prayer for the safety of all riders as they return home.
Thank you & Never Forget
Mike "Track" Rinowski
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