Monday, May 18, 2009

The Run for the Wall for veterans marks 20th anniversary

The Run for the Wall for veterans marks 20th anniversary
Veterans Organizations

runforthewall_01By Wendy Leung

RANCHO CUCAMONGA - It started in 1989 as a road trip across the heartland of the United States. Participants of the inaugural Run For The Wall ride were just a couple of veterans who loved their motorcycles and loved their country even more. They started in San Diego and ended in Washington, D.C., where they joined a group of riders known as Rolling Thunder. Together, they were several dozen veterans at the nation's capital honoring prisoners of war and those missing in action.

Last Wednesday , more than 350 bikes roared out of Victoria Gardens to start a journey that's as much about patriotism as it is about camaraderie and healing. Next Sunday, hundreds of thousands more motorcycle riders will join them and descend upon Washington, twenty years after the first ride out of San Diego.

"It's not a strenuous ride but it's an emotional roller coaster," said Daryl Neil, from Phoenix. "If you want to see a bunch of old men cry, come on the ride."

Most of the Run For The Wall participants are Vietnam veterans and their supporters. The men come in leather chaps; the women with pink helmets.

Some come in Harleys that sparkle in the sun. There are bikes with GPS units and bikes with heated seats. Some rented motorcycles specifically for the occasion.

This is Charlie Del Campo's fifth ride going "all the way" to the capital. The Long Beach resident said his first ride was a pivotal moment in his life because fellow veterans welcomed him with open arms to the yearly ritual, and he had the opportunity to truly reflect on his service in Vietnam.

Del Campo said he makes the journey each year so he can help the other veterans who are riding for the first time.

New riders are marked by a special "FNG" pin, which stands for "fun new guy/gal." The newbies usually get an extra pat on the back followed by a hearty greeting. "FNG" is a take on the military term that describes new guys with a more vulgar adjective.

Minutes before Del Campo was to start the 10-day journey, he saw a man with an "FNG" pin.

"Hey FNG, welcome home," Del Campo said. "I'll be your wingman."

The group of motorcycle riders will go on two routes passing through Arizona, Texas, Indiana and other states before arriving in Virginia on May 22. Today, the group taking the central route are in Junction City, Kan; the southern route riders are in Monroe, La.

Although the yearly pilgrimage has been going on for two decades, Roger Phelan, who lives near Shreveport, La., just found out about it this year. Phelan served in the Air Force during the Vietnam and Gulf wars.

"Being here is starting to bring back memories," Phelan said minutes before leaving Victoria Gardens. "Some of these guys haven't thought about the memories in 40 years. And when you remember ... you re-deal."...

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