The clocked screamed and the digital reading blinked 0400. It was time to wake up my houseguest Andy and head out to meet the wall. Andy Barksdale has been a friend of my wife and me since we met several years ago. Andy had just purchased a 2006 Street Glide and was anxious to take a trip.
Coincidence or destiny, it just so happened that the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Moving Wall was passing close enough that we could make it to help provide an escort. We rode the 90 minutes between my house and Texas Motor Speedway in the early morning darkness with little opposition traffic-wise. After stopping briefly at a convenience store we pulled into The Speedway. The flyer had asked riders to meet at 0700 for a 0900 departure. This time delay was intended to allow folks to register and purchase T-shirts and pins. It was also a great time to socialize with the other bikers and to watch as riders came into the parking lot to form up behind the tractor-trailer pulling The Wall. We were the third and fourth bikes registered and had the opportunity to watch the others roll in and to take our time looking over the truck. During our wait, eight police motorcycles arrived along with several cruisers; they would provide our permanent escort.
We pulled out promptly at 0900 with our prestigious cargo and a whole bunch of police leading the way. The trip from TMS to Arlington through Southlake and Ft. Worth is not a short one. Much credit is to be given to the police and fire departments of all of the communities along the route. When we approached large intersections, they had arranged for hook-and-ladder fire trucks to block the freeways.
Needless to say, our 350 or so bikes made an impression as we passed through. What impressed me the most, however, was the support of folks along the route. Whether waiting for the procession to pass or intentionally coming to see the wall, everyone waved and smiled. I saw a lot of flags and “thumbs up.”
As if The Wall is not emotional enough, on the ride, I was wingman to a couple on an Electra Glide and one bike behind another couple. As we passed each group of people the ladies would wave and smile and the drivers would honk their horns. The first couple of times this happened, I likened it to a “parade” atmosphere. I have never been so wrong. After passing a particularly large group of obviously staged folks, I saw not one, but both of the women turn away from the crowds to take off glasses and wipe the tears out of their eyes, a scene I would see repeated for the duration of the event.
The Wall was transported to the Moore Funeral Home & Cemetery in Arlington, Texas where it would be set up for the duration of the weekend. When we had all parked our bikes and taken a moment to relax from the trip, a short ceremony welcomed and thanked us for participating in the escort. Chaplain LTC Jon P. Tidball did the opening prayer and Gerald Holman read the Dedication of the Purple Heart. There was also a very moving bagpipe rendition of “Amazing Grace” performed by Larry Fowler of Ft. Worth bagpipes. Following the ceremony, some stayed to help assemble the wall. Fifty-eight thousand two hundred-plus names adorn this particular wall. All are Missing and Killed in Action. All are very special.
Some left early to return to families and jobs. The ride home I am sure was solemn. This was a terribly moving experience, one that I will not miss attending again.
Story & photos by Michael Lousha