"We ride for those who can't"

By Lesley Jenkins
star staff
ljenkins@starhq.com

  
More than 100 motorcycles roared through the James H. Quillen Veterans Affairs Campus Wednesday and into Mountain Home National Cemetery as part of Rolling Thunder's "Run for the Wall" in Washington, D.C.
   As part of Rolling Thunder's Southern Route to the nation's capitol, more than 250 riders on motorcycles, trikes, and some driving Sport Utility Vehicles packed with supplies made an official stop at the VA Mountain Home Cemetery for the second year to lay a wreath in honor of Prisoners of War and those who have been declared Missing In Action.
   A member of the Johnson City chapter and employee of the VA Medical Center, Randy Lingerfelt said, "We sponsored it here last year and they had such a good time here at the VA Medical Center that they wanted to make this an annual stop. Then we will depart to Wytheville, (Virginia), and then onto Rainelle, (West Virginia) and then onto to Staunton, Virginia and then onto D.C. on Friday."
   "The fact that we do have a National Cemetary here at the VA they were really wanting to stop here because of the National Cemetery also because we have the VA Medical Center here and they can visit with the hospitalized veterans while they are here. The veterans love it."
   "To me, I think of POW-MIAs; we should keep their families' thoughts in our minds. They have lost a loved one that paid the supreme sacrifice. Even though their love one may be considered dead, thier family never got closure and we should continue to force our government and other governments to have accountability for the MIAs and to bring the remains back to the United States to be buried and not buried in some unmarked grave," Lingerfelt said.
   Lingerfelt said 58,459 soldiers are still unnaccounted for from the Vietnam War totaling more than 92,000 soldiers with unknown whereabouts in coutries all over the world.
   Lon and Linda Davis, parents of the late Master Sgt. Jefferson Donald "Donnie" Davis, were invited to make the ride to the wall with the Johnson City chapter. Donnie Davis died on December 5, 2001, in Afghanistan. Some of the other Davis' family members are also making the trip.
   As the riders passed, they waved, tipped their helmets, and saluted the Davis family. "They (Rolling Thunder) have all just shown such respect for us. It is a real honor for us to do this, to represent our area and our community," Linda Davis said.
   She continued while trying to choke back tears, "Under the circumstances ... I would have much rather it have been under other circumstances. It just puts chills on us to see that they are so dedicated to this cause. I am so honored to be a part of this."
   "Donnie would be so proud of this. He really would. He would have said, 'Mom you go with them.' I did tell him that he was a Harley (Davidson) man too. He had a Harley. We are going to take the picture of him on his Harley with his beret to Washington, because he was a Harley man.
   "He would have participated in this wholeheartedly. He would have felt like this was a very important cause," she said.
   In the 17th year of the "Run for the Wall," Rolling Thunder's goals are to educate the public about American soldiers who were left behind, the ongoing pain endured by families and the current legislative efforts to protect current and future soldiers.
   The "Run to the Wall" is considered a peaceful protest with more than 700,000 riders converging at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Wall to pay respect to the brothers and sisters that gave their lives for freedom.
   The Johnson City chapter is in charge of parking all of the motorcycles at the Pentagon parking lot with only 40 members to handle the parking area.
   Making the trip to D.C. effects all riders in different ways, some deeper than others. Lingerfelt said, "It will bring a chill over you. We have the Mayor of Wythville with us right now. He wanted to ride with us so he could escort us into his town. Also the town of Rainelle, the mayor greets us and they actually shut down the elementary school for the Rolling Thunder members coming in. All the people open their arms up to all of these motorcyclists. There are American flags waving and there is a lot of patriotism. When we do the parade in Washington the streets are lined with people living in Washington. I am a 26-year veteran, and, to me, it is the most patriotic thing I have ever seen."
   Following the wreath laying ceremony, a lunch for the riders, and visitation time with numerous veterans at Mountain Home, the Johnson City Rolling Thunder Chapter #4 fell in line with the roaring motorcyles en route to Washington, D.C.