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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Motorcycle convoy heading to war memorial in Wash,DC

OFF THE WIRE Motorcycle convoy heading to war memorial in DC Vets begin journey to wall Diana Sholley, Staff Writer Posted: 05/19/2010 08:41:42 PM PDT Updated: 05/19/2010 11:19:20 PM PDT
RANCHO CUCAMONGA - Flags waved, tears fell and hands were raised stoically in salute as hundreds of motorcycles left the Victoria Gardens parking lot Wednesday morning. Most riders were military veterans who came from all over the country to participate in Run For The Wall, a 10-day motorcycle convoy that takes them across America with a common destination: the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
Riders split into two groups and left 15 minutes apart from Rancho Cucamonga.
One half went a southern route through such states as Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana.
The other half took a central route through states including Colorado, Kansas and Ohio.
Along the way, riders will stop at veterans' hospitals and memorials.
They'll visit outreach facilities, VFWs, American Legion posts, community centers and schools.
"It started in 1989 when a group of Vietnam vets needed to take a trip to the wall," said Arnie "Post Master" Swift, one of the route coordinators. "It's become something for all vets, a way for us to heal and communicate with others who know exactly where we're coming from."
This is Swift's 13th run. He knows firsthand the level of healing the run - and the wall - can provide.
About a year after graduating from Upland High School in 1968, Swift's draft number, 97, came up.
"I was in Vietnam by the time I was 20," said Swift, who has since relocated to Kansas City, Kan. "I was the chaplain's assistant. It was my job to write all the letters home to the families and tell them their loved one had been killed. While I was there I did about 30 memorial services." Swift's voice quivers as he talks about his overseas duties, then, it turns a little stern.
"I served two tours over there. I was sent there by my country, then when I came home, my country spit on me and called me a baby killer," he said. "My friends would ask me about what it was like over there, and when I tried to tell them, they'd walk away. I didn't understand. I felt ashamed of my service. I put my medals in a drawer and started lying that I was even there. I wouldn't talk about it."
Swift heard about the run in 1997 and joined up with the riders when they passed through Kansas City.
"I remember we came up from under this underpass, and there were hundreds of people lining the streets on both sides clapping and cheering, waving American flags, holding up signs and banners that said, `Welcome Home,' and I started crying, crying like I've never cried before. I thought, `it only took my country 25 years to welcome me home.' That's when my healing began."
According to its website, Run For The Wall was started by James Gregory and Bill Evans, a couple of Vietnam veterans who traveled across the heartland of America on motorcycles, talking to local radio, TV, and newspapers about the fact that we had thousands of men and women still unaccounted for from all of our wars.
Everyone is welcome to participate.
If riding a motorcycle isn't possible, supporters are encouraged to follow the group's mission statement of: promoting healing among all veterans and their families and friends, calling for an accounting of all prisoners of war and those missing in action, honor the memory of those killed in action from all wars and to support our military personnel all over the world.
Riders can pick up and leave the run at any time.
It's a grueling 3,000-mile trek where riders go for eight hours a day through dramatic weather changes, including blistering heat, freezing cold, rain, sleet and snow.
Many experienced run-riders admitted that reaching the Vietnam Wall is overwhelming.
The V-shaped, black granite structure is 245 feet long and bears 58,261 names of fallen Vietnam veterans.
Its height goes from 8 inches at each end and reaches 10 feet at its highest point.
Flowers, photos, letters and other mementos are left in honor of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
"We ride for those who can't," said Bob Maggard, a 62-year-old Vietnam veteran who came to the ride from Colorado. "And to make sure no veteran is ever again treated like we were."
Maggard served in the Navy from 1970 to the late 1990s.
This is his fifth ride, and he plans to make it his fifth time going all the way.
"Seeing this huge line of motorcycles gets people's attention," he said. "We want people to know we still have a lot of MIAs and POWs who are missing, and we want to see them all come home."
Upland's Gary Hart served in the Army from 1961 through 1964.
This is the third time he's joining the run.
"The first year I was on the run, I roomed with a Vietnam vet, he was holding a lot inside," Hart said. "One night he shared with me about what he went through over there, and he burst out crying. I could see he was experiencing this flood of emotions. The next day I saw such a peace in him. I met up with him the next year, and he was a different guy - like a weight had been lifted."
Many riders had similar stories of how the camaraderie and communication with those who understand allows them all to heal.
Master Sgt. Richard Allan Pittman came down from Stockton in support of the event.
Pittman, a Marine, was awarded the Medal of Honor on July 24, 1966, for bravery above and beyond the call of duty.
According to his Medal of Honor citation:
"Hearing calls for more firepower, Sergeant (then Lance Corporal) Pittman quickly exchanged his rifle for a machine gun and several belts of ammunition, left the relative safety of his platoon, and unhesitatingly rushed forward to aid his comrades. As Sergeant Pittman continued to forge forward to aid members of the leading platoon, he again came under heavy fire from two automatic weapons which he promptly destroyed. Learning that there were additional wounded Marines 50 yards further along the trail he continued onward reaching his destination he was attacked by 30 to 40 of the enemy.
"Pittman established a position in the middle of the trail and raked the advancing enemy with devastating machine-gun fire. His weapon rendered ineffective, he picked up a submachine gun and, together with a pistol seized from a fallen comrade, continued firing until the enemy force had withdrawn "
Pittman saved many lives, but he couldn't save them all.
He lost many friends during the war, and both times he's been to the wall, it's been a moving experience.
"When you see your own reflection and then see your buddy's name on that wall, it reminds you of their sacrifice," said Pittman, 65. "The effects of the wall is awesome. It touches your soul."