They come from all across the country. Some traveled to California from their Midwestern homes to take part in the full ride. They ride out of respect, solidarity and memory for those who have given for the country they love.
This year the 24th Annual Run for the Wall memorial motorcycle run came through Ashville to stop and refuel their bikes and take in some Southern hospitality.
The purpose is to request accountability for those missing and fallen to include providing support to those on active duty. Veterans and civilians ride as one on their trek to the nation’s capital.
Laurie Clay, Southern Route Coordinator who has been riding with Run for the Wall for 17 years. At that point the route was only through the central part of the country.
There are now multiple routes for riders to choose from.
The riders left Rancho Cucamonga, CA last Wednesday and will arrive in Washington Memorial Day weekend. “We’re about 750 strong here and we’ll pick up some more as we near Washington,” Clay said. “It started out as a welcome home for all those trops who didn’t get, especially those young folks who are coming home and having the same issues of those who came home years ago so we’re trying to reach them and reach out.”
There are a few younger soldiers out on the ride this year, along wit Gold Star moms and dads who have lost their children in comcombat.
Two MIA daughters who never met their fathers accompanied this year’s southern route
The scene in Ashville was impressive. Bikers, skin tanned from hours on the road, wearing leather vests supporting patches from their years in the armed forces or the rides they’ve been on.
There are dozens of volunteers who put the ride together and ride along as support for the bikers.
Bob Martin and his wife have been taking their RV along with the pack since San Jose, CA. “This is just unexplainable,” he said of what he’d witnessed so far. “It’s emotional, it’s bright, it’s not only the ride, it’s all the communities and to see the community support for these veterans and riders. This is probably the greatest group of veterans. To see the friendship, camaraderie, brotherhood… you can’t imagine.”
There was a lot of grey hair amongst the hundreds of riders taking a break under large oak and maple trees off the Piggly Wiggly parking lot in Ashville Tuesday. At first they looked like a hardened gang, but after listening to them talk you realize how deceiving those looks could be to some.
There were many “In memory of…” stickers on the bug shields of the bikes. Some of the soldiers didn’t look like they had long been out of high school.
One gentleman sported at “Riding with Bowe” sticker, remembering a soldier captured in 2009 in Afghanistan. He escaped once, but since there were no friendlies around, the man said, so Bowe was recaptured. “He won’t get out now. I heard they wanted a million dollars for his release. Our government doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, so he stays there.” The rider, who served in the marines from 1965-1969, said maybe a Navy SEAL team would be able to rescue the young soldier, who was a private, first class when he entered and has been promoted to lieutenant in the past few years.
Another rider, a retired Navy woman named Martha, rides for four men from her family. Martha works for the V.A.in Austin and lives in Spicewood, TX. “I absolutely don’t think anybody can undertand how organized the upper structure is for those who set this up. I’m so impressed by their ability to move seven to eight hundred people, bikes, trikes, trailers and trucks… and then when we come through all these towns, it’s just incredible. This is not a ride, it’s a mission.”
Alan “The Chief” Gann, rode with his wife from their home in St. Louis out to California to take part in the entire ride. They “I’m retired Navy and the mission is something that I feel is an obligation and I absolutelymust do. I’ll do it as long as I’m physically able.”