A CHANCE ENCOUNTER
May 14, 2008 Day 2: Run For The Wall
Participating in Run For The Wall (RFTW) can provide unique experiences for anyone who decides to go on this noble mission, and the opportunity to travel our great nation on a motorcycle will exceed the wildest expectations that you would get from any travel agency. But anyone can travel beautiful America whether you participate with RFTW or decide to go it alone in your car, RV, or motorcycle.
What differentiates the RFTW experience from others is less identifiable because to veterans it holds countless opportunities to see, hear, and tell of things that rarely get noticed in America's day-to-day activities. This is one of the reasons that make RFTW so powerful and it is why so many old Veterans repeat their journey, year after year, even after they put their kickstands down for the final time.
On the second day of the run this year, my partner and FNG, Jim "Crosshairs" Pyle, and I had one of these unique experiences and we met one of these "old veterans" that I speak about, but he wasn't a participant with RFTW in the sense of transiting our great nation. This old Veteran is a resident of Holbrook, Arizona and he looks forward to RFTW's stop in his hometown every year. Why this year he decided to tell us his story will remain a mystery to us for eternity, but we can tell you that our chance encounter with this gentle man will most certainly have lasting affects on both of us.
Crosshairs and I had just finished lunch and were standing beside our bikes outside the Legion Hall enjoying a couple of cigars. As the old fellow walked toward us he gained my attention because he was wearing a baseball hat that said, "Korean War Veteran."As most Veterans know, the honorable and courageous Americans who served in Korea, "The forgotten war," are rarely acknowledged for their service and sacrifice by America's mainstream society. Korea was like Vietnam, an unpopular war, so when a truce was negotiated with the communists, Americans simply moved on with other more pressing matters in their lives. I suppose there's truth in the poem "In times of war, God and soldiers are adored, and when war is over and all is righted, God is forgotten, the soldiers slighted."
I watched the old fellow move towards us and I saw his eyes lock onto mine. As he got closer I noticed he was carrying a picture frame. Crosshairs turned toward him as the old fellow walked up to me. He stopped a few feet away and said, "You're a big man." In response, I laughed and said something stupid. But he ignored my comment as if he didnt hear me. He then turned the frame he was carrying around and showed us a picture of a young man in uniform. The old fellow then said, "This is my grandson. He was killed in Iraq."
As we stared at the picture I heard the old fellow's voice crack. I then looked into his eyes and saw tears welling up. He continued to hold the picture so we could see his grandson's face. Crosshairs reached out and touched the old fellow on his shoulder. I said some words of condolences and asked God to bless him and his grandson. But in the end, what we said and did was secondary to this old fellow. He approached us with his sadness because he knew we would understand death and sacrifice in a way only fellow warriors know. He approached us because he knew he could trust us when his tears flowed for our understanding, comfort, and shared sadness.
As we watched him walk away, still holding his grandson's picture, we shared in his grief. He continued his journey walking past the rows of parked bikes, 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.
As we fired up our iron horses and turned to leave Holbrook we saw the old fellow standing at the end of the street on the sidewalk still holding the picture of his grandson. In all reality, this will likely be the last time Crosshairs and I will ever see this gentle man with his picture of his beloved grandson. But in truth, we will remember both of them, forever.