Participating in the annual Run For The Wall motorcycle ride can provide unique experiences for anyone who decides to go on this noble mission, and the opportunity to transit our great nation on a motorcycle will exceed the wildest expectations that you would ever hear from a travel agency. But then anyone can travel beautiful America on a motorcycle or in a car or RV whether you participate with Run For The Wall or not.
What distinguishes Run For The Wall from other journeys are the experiences and opportunities you will have to see, hear, and tell of things that are common to most veterans. Perhaps this is why Run For The Wall is so emotionally healing and why so many “old salts” repeat their journey, year after year, even after they put their kickstands down for the last time.
On the second day of Run For The Wall 2008, my good friend Jim “Crosshairs” Pyle and I had one of these experiences that I speak about when we met an “old salt” veteran in Holbrook, Arizona. This old fellow wasn’t riding with Run
For The Wall – He is a resident of Holbrook, and each year he looks forward to the Run For The Wall stop in his hometown. Why this year he decided to tell us his story will remain a mystery, but we can tell you that our chance encounter with this gentle man will have lasting affects on both of us.
Crosshairs and I had just finished lunch and were standing beside our parked motorcycles next to the Holbrook American Legion Hall waiting for the rest of the vets to finish eating. As we relaxed and passed the time we both lit up a couple of good cigars. This is when I first noticed the old fellow walking toward us. He held my attention because he was wearing a baseball cap that said, “Korean War Veteran.” As most veterans know, Americans who served in Korea, “the forgotten war,” are rarely acknowledged for their service. Korea was like Vietnam, an unpopular war, so when a truce was negotiated the American public simply moved on with other more pressing matters in their lives. I reckon there’s some truth in the poem that says, “In times of war, God and soldiers are adored, and when war is over and all is righted, God is forgotten, the soldiers slighted.”
As I watched him move towards us he locked his eyes to mine and held his stare. I then noticed that he was carrying a picture frame. As the old fellow walked up to me he said, “You’re a big man.” I laughed and said something stupid, but he ignored my comment as if he didn’t hear me. He then turned the frame he was carrying and showed us a picture of a young man in uniform. The old fellow then said, “My grandson. He was killed in Iraq in 2003.”
The old fellow then began to tell us his story about and how proud he is of grandson’s service and sacrifice to our country. As we stared at the picture I heard the old fellow’s voice crack. I looked into his eyes and saw tears welling up and then streaming down his face. Through this he continued to hold the picture of his grandson. Crosshairs’ reached out and touched the old fellow on his shoulder. I said some words of condolences and asked God to bless him.
But in the end, what we said and did for this old fellow was less important than just being there with him. He approached us with his sadness because he knew we would understand death in a way only warriors know. He approached us because he knew when his tears flowed he could trust us for our understanding, comfort, and shared sadness.
As we grieved with him he suddenly walked away still holding his grandson’s picture. He continued his journey walking past the rows of parked motorcycles, pointing his grandson’s picture in the direction that he himself was looking. It was like he was sharing his experience with his grandson so he too could be with fellow veterans as we passed through on our journey.
We left Holbrook shortly thereafter, and as we moved passed the rows of cheering citizens wishing us well we saw the old fellow standing on the sidewalk with the picture of his grandson.
As we moved eastward toward our final destination the time and miles quickly passed, but my thoughts remained in Holbrook. This will likely be the last time we will ever see that gentle old man with his picture of his beloved grandson. But in truth, we will remember both of them, forever.
Copyright 2008 – All rights reserved. Republishing authorized with written approval only.