Over 1,900 motorcycle riders left Ontario, California on May 17 for a “Run for the Wall,” taking one of three routes across the United States and arriving on May 26 at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
According to the organizers, it is the largest and longest cross-country event of its kind and is held annually to “promote healing among all veterans and their families and friends, to call for an accounting of all prisoners of war and those missing in action, to honor the memory of those killed in action from all wars, and to support our military personnel all over the world.”
The Run for the Wall first took place in 1989. Representing Hollister at the event this year were Post 69 American Legion Commander Robert DeLuna and his wife, Sylvia, who were participating for their eighth time.
“I heard someone talking about it once,” Robert DeLuna said, “and it became something for my bucket list. We first did it in 2011 and between the great people you meet and the feeling you get when you end up at the Wall, we just got hooked on it.”
The DeLunas took the Central Route, which took them through Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia before reaching the nation’s capital.
Participants are divided into platoons of 30-40 riders each and follow assigned routes, with every stop planned and regulated. There are strict protocols for the riders which make the trip safer, including speed limits, coordinated hand signals, and instructions that are detailed down to the finest points, such as when gas caps are to be removed at fueling stations.
“The longest day that we had was roughly 400 miles,” DeLuna said. “We generally have three to four fuel stops a day at around a hundred miles each, so everyone can kind of get off and stretch for a while.”
The platoons are assisted by local authorities who escort them and maintain rider safety, by, for example, blocking off on-ramps to keep cars from interfering with the motorcycle formation.
While riders are responsible for all their expenses, many communities along the route generously help the platoons as they pass through.
“It is incredible to see the kind of support we get,” said DeLuna. “They save up through the year, and they give us our breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When we go into the fuel station, they just open up the pumps for us, and somebody else will pick up the check.”
According to the DeLunas, the real payoff is the emotional impact of seeing their destination, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, commonly known as the Wall. The Wall consists of two 200-foot sections of black granite placed upright in a “V” formation, which has been engraved, according to the National Park Service, with the names of 58,318 members of the Armed Services who died or were lost in conflicts in Southeast Asia theaters of battle.
Designed by American architect Maya Lin and dedicated in 1982, the Wall was, at first, controversial but has since become a place of pilgrimage for tourists and families of fallen soldiers alike.
Since its dedication, the site has been supplemented by two memorial statues: the Three Soldiers, dedicated in 1984 and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, dedicated in 1993.
“It’s very moving because you don’t realize the magnitude of the names that are carved there,” DeLuna said. “It’s very emotional for me, even though I was never in battle and I have never lost anyone in battle. You just can’t imagine, until you see those names on that on that wall, how many of these young men and women died for what we call freedom.”
After visiting the Wall, many riders visit other memorials in the area, such as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Some take part in a second ride on the “Sandbox Route,” a three-day trip to the Middle East Conflicts Wall in Marseilles, Illinois but the rest, like the DeLunas, return home by whatever route they choose.
“We were just we’re happy to be here,” DeLuna added, by phone from Washington DC. “We’re happy if doing this kind of thing brings awareness to the prisoners of war, and to those missing in action or killed in action. We want to keep this movement going, so we hope to be doing this every year for as long as we can.”
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