After a moving prayer, directions from Tom Mangum and Pastor Mark, riders mounted their Iron War Horses, following the local police, county Sheriff and State Patrol cars and motorcycles. M25 riders assisted in blocking the highway to keep the riders safe, but the high light of all, five of us formed the Missing Man formation. M25 riders had two riders riding side-by-side, followed by a lone rider, that was followed by two riders riding side-by-side. This created the image of one rider missing in the formation. We were challenged to remember that the ride was for the almost 59,000 missing warriors. We have ridden in many formations and rides for an individuals but never have we ridden in formation for 59,000 men and women. There are no words to explain the emotions felt as I rode 41 miles with these thoughts running through my head. Some of the thoughts that can be shared:
* I was riding with my wife that I have shared over 46 years with behind me. She and I enjoy a great life and cherish the three children that we were blessed to raise and the mates they have chosen for life. The joyful memories with eight grandchildren, the many family meals, the family vacations, and the fact these men and women we are riding for never having had the joy of experiencing.
* The children on the streets waving flags, these 59,000 never received the welcome home of flags waving and people cheering.
* Listening to music in my headset, remembering the good times of those years of our life. Knowing these warriors died with little good memories around them.
Many of the M25 riders are not veterans, how do we receive the honor given as we ride? On Run For The Wall we have drilled in us, "we ride for those who can’t." This day as I rode I thought of how normal this is for us believers, for we have a life of receiving honor for things we accomplish and "deflecting" it to our Lord, the true source and "hero" of our faith. This day, one more time, as the people waved and cheered, I "deflected" the shine of glory to the almost 59,000 names on the wall and the “Purple Heart Riders" that were following directly behind us and the thousands of "heroes" that were on the streets and on bikes behind me.
As we rode through Henderson, NC, a man wrinkled by age and a hard life, wearing a Vietnam Veteran cap, stepped from the curb and pointed at me. Wow, the look of gratitude broke my heart and again the eyes swelled with tears. Riding thousands of miles, setting hours listening to these broken heroes, it seems to me that every time we do something for these men and women, it brings a little more healing to their brokenness. There will never be a "one dose" fix it for them, never one time of laying on of the hands and it is gone, it is little doses of love and honor that will bring ease to these who wake in the night with a "flashback," smell a certain order and return to the battlefield mentally, an image that flashes before them and the sweat begins to roll again or a loud sound behind them that makes them hit the ground or turn ready to fight or simply paralyzes them in their tracks.
After we dropped off the truck at the site we would later return and help assemble "the wall," we rolled to Chick-Fil-A, where a full meal was awaiting us. The owner blocked the parking lot for us, had tables and chairs setup in the grass where they served us a sandwich, fries and cold ice tea free of charge. Patriotism is still alive and well at the grass roots level of our nation. Get out of the large cities and get where people are still working for a living, doing their best to raise a family and you will find Patriotism.
Then there was the assembly of "The wall." We arrived on location ready for work, sweat, orders to get this "done right." I was honored to get in the trailer and carry over half of the "panels" with names etched on it, the thoughts continued. Oh Lord, please don’t let me put a scratch on the panel, drop it and bend it. We all handled it with gloves as not to damage it in any way. The hours rolled on as we carried the panels carefully to a team that connected them together, leveled them and lined them up. We finished the honorable task with the placement of approximately 50, 3’x5’ flags flying on poles decorated with small evergreen trees and potted flowers and encased by bales of dried pine needles scattered in a row.
As night fell, the lights illuminated the wall and there was a feeling of successfully bringing healing and remembering. Almost immediately people began to walk the isle, reading names. One older gentleman approached, "I am trying to find a name….," so the Replica begins it’s mission.
On Friday, October 15, 2015, we once again saddled up for Henderson, NC to participate in the opening ceremonies for the weekend. How can we share the feelings? Standing on the honored stage to open in prayer, among Purple Heart Recipients, Prisoners of War (POW), General Gaddis and Colonel Blue, it was one of the most moving things I have experienced in my life. The prayer was for the healing of our veterans standing there that day, the rain falling caused us to request peace for those who lost loved ones and cried tears and finally for those in harms way today on foreign soil.
A group from the ROTC displayed the "Missing Man Table," another group of children sang a special song and then there was the posting of the "Colors."
General Gaddis, 92 years old, Air Force Pilot, who suffered in a POW Camp for 2124 days of which 1004 were in isolation, flew 73 combat missions, fought in not only the Vietnam War but the Korean War, challenged us with his words of memory. He spoke very candid about the ability of the military and the quality of men who died with him on the battlefields.
Colonel Blue, a retired Army veteran who fought beside the Vietnamese soldiers for a year and then fought beside his USA brothers another year during his two tours of duty spoke with passion and authority. One of the things that rang a bell, "The USA may have lost the Vietnam War but we won our battles." This statement will be my battle cry for the years ahead.
It was a day of speeches, prayers and honors without much regard to "Political Correctness." The service was complete after the "21 Gun Salute" and "Taps" being played. It is so good to represent the Kingdom of God, the IPHC, Mission:M25 and all churches in these places. It is our only hope to save this nation for the King. We are so proud of our M25 Team, we not only serve on RFTW, we serve all year long when the opportunity arises.