Local vets Run for the Wall
Every year, almost 2,000 bikers from across the country get on their motorcycles and ride to the District of Columbia. The trip is called the Run to the Wall, and the first ride from California to D.C. too place in 1989. The trip is over 8,000 miles round trip, and in 2022 over 1,800 bikers made the journey across the country.
With them were three local Vietnam veterans, Fred Beebee, Craig McDonald and Len Parsons. Parsons has made the trip before, but for Beebee and McDonald, this was their first ride.
Parsons became interested in the project after participating in the Alaska Airlines Fallen Soldier Program. The program has a special cart, decorated with military emblems and American flags, that transports fallen soldiers as they return home.
The carts are escorted by veterans, usually on motorcycles, from the airport to their destination. Parsons went on one of these rides, and later asked Beebee and McDonald to join him on another. After that first ride, the trio began riding together more and more, and eventually Parsons convinced the others to join him on the cross-country ride in 2022.
They began their ride this year by escorting one of the fallen soldier carts at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. From there, they traveled to Ontario, California where they began their Run for the Wall.
The three vets rode on the southern route, one of three cross-country routes organized each year. With them, approximately 443 riders made the journey. While many consider hitting the open road for a long journey relaxing, this was not a simple joyride.
"This isn't a pleasure ride. It's a mission," said Beebee. "It was a humbling challenge."
The ride honors the veterans making it, and the many who cannot make the journey. The organization's motto is "We ride for those who can't." Riders focus on honoring someone killed or missing in action through the ride. McDonald rode in memory of William "Bill" Kincade, who graduated from Madras Union High School in 1962. He went missing in action in 1968.
The trio left Madras May 10 and rode across southern states, stopping at memorials along the way. One of the most impactful parts of the trip, said Parsons, was the flags at very overpass.
"There were times we were driving through Texas and there was an overpass, with nothing on either side for what looks like miles, and still someone was there," said Parsons. "Once there was a lone horseman with a flag out in the middle of nowhere. That really hits the heart."
The welcome they received at each stop across the country was immense. They rarely had to purchase their own food or gas, and several locals came out to support them on their journey. Some states even shut down the highway, providing police escorts for the motorcycle pack as it made its way eastward. McDonald remembers a WWII veteran in Virginia who held a sign that read, "You are my Heroes." That touched the three riders, because the response they received when they returned from Vietnam in the late 1960s and early 1970s was anything but welcoming. The WWII vet said the difference in response when he returned versus when the veterans returned from Vietnam was staggering.
The warm welcome the vets received across the country not only celebrated and honored those who did not return from war, but also celebrated the vets making the trip.
"It was so rewarding, and so healing," said McDonald. "I had pushed away what it was like coming back. I had not been really welcomed. The outpouring of support we saw all the way across the country was incredible"
When the three men returned from Vietnam, they, like most vets at the time, were often ridiculed and ostracized for the participation in a war unpopular with much of the population at the time.
"It was overwhelming to have that response," said Beebee. "When I came back it was hostile. I never told anyone. You put it behind and moved on."
The vets stopped at many monuments during the ride, honoring veterans from all branches and military engagements. In a few stops along the way, like Wythville, Virginia, the town puts on big meals like a steak dinner and gives programs from the local school kids.
After making the long journey across the country, they arrived in D.C. and made it to the memorial wall. They said this was one of the most impactful moments of the trip.
"When you stand at the monument, even if you don't know their names, you know who they were. You know you knew a lot of them," said McDonald.
After making it to the wall in D.C., the three vets joined a new, final leg of the trip. This route, called the sandbox route, travels from D.C. to Marseilles, Illinois, where the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial stands. This final leg marked their departure from the group, as they made the journey back to Madras, where they completed the loop on June 8.
The trio says the rest of the ride was much more of a pleasure ride, stopping at museums and exhibits along the way. They all say they won't do the ride next year — but Parsons has said that before.
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