They’ll thunder in on their motorcycles by the hundreds Friday evening, veterans and their loved ones making the yearly stop in Odessa en route Washington D.C.
It’s a journey that celebrates military service. The riders seek to remind people along the way of war’s prisoners and missing who shouldn’t be forgotten.
But it also allows veterans an outing among their own, among people who experienced or respect the physical and emotional extremes of war. There’s a natural fellowship, past riders say, and if need be, a healing.
“It’s a very emotional ride,” said Diann “Mojo” McKee, the Central Texas Coordinator of the ride, longtime participant and wife of a Vietnam vet. “They meet a whole new family.”
This is the 25th year of the Run for the Wall, which begins from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., on Wednesday and culminates in Washington D.C. with ceremonies at the Vietnam Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknowns and another, much larger “Ride for Freedom.” About 1,000 will make the trip, splitting into routes across the central and southern United States.
The southern riders will reach Odessa at about 6:25 p.m. Friday for a visit and a dinner at Bass Fishing and Rentals, 2525 East Interstate 20. At about 8:30 p.m., they’ll ride for the Permian Basin Vietnam Memorial Site.
The head of Run for the Wall this year is an Odessan, Vietnam veteran Ray McDowell. He was the owner of Ray’s Equipment, which just sold its land to Bass Fishing, who wanted to continue hosting at the spot.
“So men of the veterans who came back then looked for the first restroom to change out of their military clothes,” said McDowell’s wife and fellow rider, Kay “Too Small” McDowell. “They were spit on. Hit. Nothing like they’re treated today. That’s why we want to treat these men and women with all the respect and honor they deserve.”
Most are Vietnam veterans and their families. Some are from the wars in the Middle East. There’s even been a few octogenarian WWII vets, still biking.
Thomas Bowe usually rides his Harley Davidson ultra classic. Luck favored him as an Army man in the early seventies — He was deployed to Germany. But “as a veteran you look out for your fellow veterans or your fellows on active duty and families.”
Through six trips, he’s seen veterans meet for first time since Vietnam and gripe about an old officer. He’s seen veterans who’d made the ride 10 times without approaching the wall, then finally decide the time was right and approach as their compatriots shielded them. He’s seen riders make charcoal imprints of their friends’ names and leave personal belongings like letters they’ve carried across the country.
“They love to see people,” Bowe said. “If you can go see people, on the side of the road waving, it helps them. It surely does.”
Medical issues ate up Bowe’s time off work this year, he said, so he’ll be staying in Odessa. But he’ll still greet the riders and cook them a breakfast Saturday morning with his comrades in the American Legion’s 16th District.
They’ll start before dawn, said fellow legion member Buck Jones, but it’s a simple message of appreciation through biscuits, sausage, gravy, eggs and so forth. And it feels good, he said, to be part of the spectacle.
“When you see 500 motorcycles lined up out there in a row, and they leave there and go on their way,” Jones said. “Whew, it’s a sight to see.”