More than 500 motorcycle riders participated in the annual Run for the Wall ceremony at Heritage Park in Junction City, Kansas, May 20. The ceremony honored past and present military veterans who answered the called to serve their country when their nation needed them most.
The riders' route takes them more than 2,302 miles from California to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., as part of the Rolling Thunder parade.
"The Run for the Wall event is designed to promote healing amongst all veterans, families and friends," said Phyllis Fitzgerald, Junction City vice mayor and former 1st Infantry Division Soldier, who was the master of ceremony for the event. "It is to call for an accounting of all Prisoners of War (POWs), Missing in Action (MIAs) and Killed in Action (KIAs). It is to honor the memory of those killed in action from all wars and to support all of our military personnel all over the world."
Fitzgerald, a retired intelligence chief warrant officer, served with the "Big Red One" during the Gulf War as part of Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield in the early 1990s.
As a veteran, she said she reached out to express her understanding to and extended her thanks to the riders and veterans.
"When my husband and I deployed to Desert Storm, the worry was real for us," she said. "We would constantly ask ourselves, 'will we make it back home to our children?' We were fortunate, and we did make it home. But for many people who served our great nation, they didn't. They died while defending our freedom and our liberties; and for that we will never forget your sacrifices, your families' sacrifices."
The ceremony continued with the posting of the colors by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 8773, followed by few words from Vietnam veteran Ray Calore, a native of Merriam, Kansas.
"I started thinking about why you do the ride," Calore said. "I know you don't do it for the sheer relaxation… it's much more than that."
Calore was deployed to Do-Chinh, Vietnam, while assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, from 1968-1969.
"The run for the wall is to promote healing for all veterans, to honor the memory of all those killed in action from all wars and to support our military service personnel all around the world," he said. "That's not just a bunch of empty words. I know you take it seriously or you wouldn't be here."
The ceremony concluded with the laying of the Broken Spoke Wreath and the distribution of lapel pins to the veterans.
Recipients walked through the line and received their pins from Fitzgerald; Col. John Lawrence, commanding officer of the United States Army Garrison at Fort Riley; and retired Lt. Gen. Perry Wiggins, former commanding general of United States Army North (5th Army) and assistant division commander for maneuver and then the acting commander of the 1st Inf. Div. and Fort Riley in 2008.
"During the Vietnam War, our nation did not cover itself with glory and do a proper welcome-home ceremony for those who traveled thousands of miles away from home to stand on point to defend our very freedoms and liberties," Wiggins said. "I want to say that I recognize and represent those that wear the cloth of this nation that returned from Iraq, Afghanistan and other places across this globe that received a proper welcome home because of our Vietnam vets.
"Thank you for what you've done for the future generations and it's an honor to put this pin on your chest."