WASHINGTON, DC – Late Friday night, Army veteran Don Moore, a former resident of Somerville concluded his emotional journey across America with thousands of other motorcyclists, all of them veterans, proud to have served their country and resolved to honor their comrades on Memorial Day.
Their final destination – Arlington National Cemetery, The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Vietnam Wall, where they will stand at attention, snap a salute, wipe away some tears and reminisce, all part of their tribute to the honor and bravery of the men and women who served in the military.
As he has done so for the past several years, the 72-year-old Moore left his home in Tacoma, WA two weeks ago and motored down the west coast on "Old Blue," his 2010 Harley Davidson to meet up with other veterans, all of them proud Americans who “volunteer” for the "Run For the Wall," a volunteer mission of honor and respect.
“Hell, we got some guys on the road that are in their 80s,” Moore said. There are some no longer capable or riding astride a powerful Harley – they ride in vans at the rear of the convoy.
Ten days ago they broke up into three groups, were briefed, lined up, and headed off on three different routes in military formation stretching out for six miles. Police blocked off entry ramps on the highway to ensure smooth, uninterrupted passage of each convoy as they headed east.
Fuel stops were pre-arranged, as were stops along the way at schools, VFW halls and motorcycle dealers where they were fed and reacquainted with hosts who have extended themselves on past trips. Lodging was booked ahead of time, according to Moore. One school in Colorado has hosted a convoy the past 29 years, with a generation of students’ parents reminiscing with the veterans.
Moore, who grew up on Sycamore Street in Somerville and graduated Somerville High School in 1964, honors the memory and ultimate sacrifice of several members of the military from Somerville. Their names are memorialized on Old Blue.
- The Vester brothers - Richard and John; Richard drowned in the English Channel in 1944 when his ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat, and John, who fought in Korea and was captured by the Chinese. He died on a forced march when his comrades were forced to leave him behind.
- The names of six Somerville High School graduates who never made it back from Vietnam are included on Old Blue’s Honor Roll, as are the names of several Army buddies from Moore’s basic training unit with whom he had spent two months learning to be a solider at Fort Dix.
- John Kugler and Richard Anderson; the first two winners of the Tour of Somerville, the 50-mile cycling race that bears their names. Both enlisted and were killed in World War II.
When he was younger growing up in Somerville, Moore remembers “Pop” Kugler’s bicycle shop; like so many teenagers in Somerville, he competed in some of the junior races in downtown Somerville on Memorial Day, testimony to his grit and determination; he was stricken by polio when he was five-years-old, but was able to overcome it.
Moore’s military career began during the Vietnam conflict and ended with a tour of duty in Saudia Arabia and Kuwait in 1992.
This year was his eighth cross-country run. He estimates he’s ridden 80,000 miles during those trips and spent $30,000 on the bike and incidentals.
“Lots of great riding, tears, taps, veterans, gold star everything, repatriated POWs, cold granite walls and grave stones. I love my brothers and fellow veterans,” he said.
The following is an excerpt from an essay Moore sent to friends last month:
“Ten days of riding in strict sober formation. Ten days of each morning remembering the names of the missing in action from that day many years ago when this soldier or that airman or marine or sailor was never seen again, fate unknown. Ten days of stopping at Veterans cemeteries and placing flowers on the graves of those who did make it back, but didn’t live to tell about it. It never stops. There are too many still unaccounted for. Ten days of tears, emotions, and memories. It is a hard ride emotionally.
“The ride is a challenge for those up for it. It takes skill and discipline to ride in a tight formation day after day. The tens of thousands who line the highways as we ride by provide the inspiration that we too, are not forgotten. The bridge fifty miles from the nearest freeway exit, with two fire truck ladders raised and a fifty-foot flag of this great nation flying from it along with hundreds of patriots waving, or just standing at attention with a long salute, never cease to amaze. When we wake up at 5 in the morning in some small community in Kansas or Oklahoma to quickly pack and eat, we are fed each morning by hundreds of Americans who got up earlier, and provided the breakfast for us, and wish us God speed in our mission.
“Each morning we welcome more and more riders to the fold until we stretch as far as the eyes can see along the freeway. It takes ten minutes for our bikes to pass. Governors of the states ride with us, or proclaim the day as “Run for the Wall” day. State and local Police escort us. National Guard and Military units assist as entire towns come out to support, feed, or join in our endeavor. It’s like nothing you have ever seen or will ever see again.
Moore also takes the time to keep a log, reflecting on each day’s events:
"Thursday the 24th of May, we arrived in Lynchburg, Virginia for dinner at the local Harley Davidson dealer. It has been a fast, hot but dry few days. Earlier this morning we were entertained by the local elementary school who walked in mass across the street to the Memorial park where we were all parked and sang a half dozen really patriotic songs to us. We have been coming to Lynchburg since the start of the Southern route about 20 years ago. The mayor of the town really embraces us from the beginning and the entire town shows up to support us. He welcomes us to stop by on the ride back home after DC and takes anyone who shows up at his office out for coffee or dinner.
"The trip from Texas Sunday was long and hot, but as they say , "it's not bad, it's a dry heat". Anytime it hits 115, I don't care how dry it is, 115 is hot. Crossing into Louisiana was great. A phalanx of Louisiana State Motor Officers greeted us at the border and escorted across the state. We spent the first night in Marion, where Monday morning the mayor met with all of the riders at the city's war memorial in front of city hall where we laid a wreath. The mayor years ago made all riders in the Run honorable citizens of the city and every year gets great satisfaction in meeting us every year.
"The following ride through the east of Louisiana was fast. Most likely every motor officer in the state lead us out of Marion. They shut down US Interstate 20 the entire distance from Marion to Jackson, Mississippi. The road was ours. We crossed the Mississippi River into Mississippi where their officers picked up the lead of our route, but none from Louisiana dropped out. The double row of motor officers was half a mile long, followed the the three or four miles of our motorcycles. We were accompanied all the way to Jackson by a Vietnam era Bird Dog O1 Spotter plane who was then joined by 2 AH1 (Attack Helicopter 1) after we crossed into Mississippi. What a ride!
"The Jackson Harley Davidson dealer every year empties his entire dealership and brings in tables and chairs to sit the assembled riders and 100+ motor officers. While he feeds us lunch a Navy band conducts a ringing in ceremony introducing about a dozen veterans and officers from our past. The guest speaker was a former POW from the Vietnam who was shot down and captured early 1965 in Vietnam and not released until the end of the war in 1973. He described his 7,200 days of captivity and his life after.
"The rest of Monday took us to Meridian, Mississippi where we were fed a great supper and given the opportunity drop off a load of dirty laundry. The good citizens of Meridian washed and folded our clothes and delivered them back to us that evening. Tuesday morning they fed us breakfast and we were off for a long hot humid ride to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the Thunder Creek Harley Davidson Dealer fed us dinner that evening, then breakfast the following morning.
"Wednesday morning in Chattanooga we had a ceremony and laid a wreath at a forgotten Confederate cemetery of unknown Soldiers where they had set up a field hospital. A local Rolling Thunder chapter has adopted the cemetery several years ago and had done a great job of restoring and maintaining it. After the ceremony we were on the road again, heading north east to Virginia. Under the protection of the Virginia State Troopers, once again we closed down US Interstate 20 for 280 miles and made the trip to Wythsville, Virginia.
"Last night we had a steak dinner in Wytheville and an awards ceremony. In a smaller ceremony earlier, the Southern Route Road Guards assembled and announced that all 5 of the new RGITs had passed their certifications and we were awarded the status and title of Southern Route Run for the Wall Road Guards. We were presented our missing left sleeve and welcomed into the family.
"This brings me up to date for the trip. Tomorrow morning, Friday, we start our 10th day and will end up in Washington DC. It is almost 10 p.m. and we have a 4 a.m. wake up call and a meeting and breakfast at 5."
First Sergeant, Infantry
US Army, Retired