By Sgt. 1st Class Mark F. OunanNovember 24, 2009
"First gear-let's move out!" Terry (Shelswell) yelled for the last time this morning. Today is the final day of the 2009 MVPA Convoy.
Everyone was excited this morning. Today we will reach our goal: the western terminus of the Lincoln Highway.
Although I am happy to be going home, I can't believe that today is the final day. When I heard the commander say, "First gear-let's move out," I realized this was the last time we'd be doing this and I felt a little sad.
We've grown into a family. After 26 days on the road, you get to know people's strengths and weaknesses-who keeps a cool head, and who you can count on. Working with this bunch of people has been great. Their wealth of knowledge about military vehicles is immense, and they are all happy to share their wisdom and experience, as well as their parts and equipment.
Not one person had to go home early because of a mechanical problem. That's unheard of in an Army convoy, let alone using vehicles that are between 50 and 90 years old. Nobody thought I could do it in my car, but they all helped me when I had trouble, and were eager to see me finish.
We left Stockton, Calif., and made the final run. Because of the heavy traffic around San Francisco, we were given a police escort of at least a dozen motorcycle officers and several squad cars. Without them, we would have had a very hard time navigating through town. With them blocking traffic, we were able to stay together and continue moving, and arrived at Lincoln Park about noon.
Between Stockton and San Francisco, hundreds of people were out on the streets, waving flags, giving us the "thumbs up," and, as we've experienced along the entire route of the convoy, many veterans stood at attention and saluted as we passed.
Eighty-one-year-old Bill Krieder, a World War II veteran, rode his 1942 Harley Davidson WLA all the way from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco, with just a few days off for rain and mechanical problems. This morning, he was having trouble with his front tire. We checked the pressure and pumped it up, but by the time we got to San Francisco, his front tire was flat. He tried stopping along the way to get his tire pumped up, but soon realized that was not going to fix the problem. Nevertheless, he was determined to finish with the convoy. He rode on with a flat tire, and when he pulled into the front of the column of vehicles at Lincoln Park, he was done.
The bike wasn't moving any more that day, except on the back of my trailer. There are hundreds of stories like that-people working with one objective: to get the entire convoy to the finish.
When we pulled into the park, there was a large reception awaiting us-volunteers to help us park our vehicles, and serve us lunch. We had a ceremony for about an hour. A chaplain from the California National Guard gave the prayer and benediction. Terry Shelswell, the convoy commander, gave a great speech about what the convoy meant in 1919 and what this one meant to us.
We left Lincoln Park for Alameda Naval Air Station, escorted by the same police officers that led us in. The traffic was much worse and they did a great job of keeping us together and getting us across the Bay Bridge.
At Alameda, we had a farewell banquet that was sponsored by the museum there. After yet another great meal, it was time for final speeches and awards. Terry gave an inspiring and heartfelt speech, thanking everyone, from the mechanics who worked so hard to keep the convoy going, to the women who ran the mobile MVPA store. Convoy awards were handed out, and then Terry was presented with a 92-year-old pocket lighter by one of the convoy team members from France. Several of the other participants also gave speeches, including the oldest convoy participant, 85-year-old Harry Fike, who probably gave the greatest speech of all. He merely said, "you all worried about me too much on this trip, but I really appreciated it."
As the night went on, and more and more convoy members stood up to express their appreciation and thoughts about this trip, it seemed that if they all just kept talking, they would never have to say goodbye. Finally, we knew it was time to go, and there were lots of hugs and handshakes and promises to keep in touch.
There's already talk about a Seattle to Alaska convoy in 2012, and hints about another transcontinental motor convoy in 10 years, on the 100th anniversary.
(It was) a wonderful experience. I traveled with a great bunch of people. I got to see parts of America that I would have never seen from an airplane or even driving on the interstate. I got to meet people in small towns all across the country. America is an amazing place, full of special people, and they're all waiting to meet you, at 30 mph, along the Lincoln Highway.