17th Run for Wall still cathartic
Not everyone gets to ride at the front of ‘Rolling Thunder,’ the long rumbling line of 350 or so veterans who ride their motorcycles through Harrison and Crawford counties in late May on their way to Washington, D.C.
Someone has to bring up the rear, and this year that honor fell to Russ and Judy Cockrum of Martinsville, both riding colorful Harleys and both wearing highly visible ‘chaplain’ armbands.
In addition to being available for counseling and listening to veterans unburden themselves, the Cockrums’ specific assignment was to work any accidents during the 10-day pre-Memorial Day journey that starts in Los Angeles. They were to make sure all riders involved in mishaps and their bikes were properly taken care of, and stay with injured riders at the hospital if necessary. As of last Tuesday, there were only a couple of minor incidents.
The Cockrums and several hundred thousand other veterans, from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan ‘ at least half a million strong ‘ assembled Sunday from all over the country at the Pentagon for a massive and very impressive ride to the Vietnam Wall. It was the 17th Run to the Wall.
Their mission is to:
‘ Promote healing among all veterans and their families and friends;
‘ Call for an accounting of all prisoners of war and missing in action; and
‘ Honor the memory of those killed in action.
Cockrum, 58, a former photojournalist for the old Herald-Telephone in Bloomington, is now a full-time Assembly of God minister with a very special national appointment. He ministers full-time to bikers. The Assembly of God is probably the only denomination in America that has recognized this particular niche in society and has a ministry designed for riders. They also reach out to truckers, rodeo riders, prisoners, NASCAR Nation, police officers and firefighters.
‘Other guys have to take vacation time to do this. I’m on the job,’ he said.
When Cockrum was in the service (on the DMZ in Korea) during the Vietnam era, he said all the guys wanted to do was get home, buy a motorcycle and grow their hair long. Now, he said, it’s not unusual for vets to cut off their pony tails and leave them at the Wall, as a sign of respect and compassion for those who never made it home.
Cockrum said it’s hard for some men to connect with and express their innermost feelings, but during this ride and at the Wall, ‘you see a lot of big ole boys in tears.’
Pat Holland, president of the women’s auxiliary of the American Legion in Milltown, said they prepared 400 meals of fish, slaw and potato salad, coffee and soft drinks for the bikers, their spouses and support vehicle drivers. The food was soon gone, so the Moose Lodge in Corydon came to their aid.
Such hospitality is not unusual on the long ride that originates in Los Angeles. Many communities greet them with food, marching bands, American Flags, and signs saying things like ‘Thank you for your service.’ For many of the first-time riders, the welcome home was a long time coming after the sour homecoming they got during the war in Vietnam.
‘As a veteran, it’s really moving to see the reception you get along the road,’ said Cockrum.
The Cockrums were interviewed by Erin Cameron, a free-lance producer/videographer from Fresno, who’s working with Randall Wilson of Centaur Productions on a PBS documentary on Vietnam veterans. The annual Run to the Wall will be part of their documentary. Wilson, a documentarian and filmmaker from Valley Village, Calif., and Cameron are riding from L.A. to Washington with this group. Cameron films for half a day on the back of a bike and shoots from a car the other half. Wilson is also shooting film.
It will take a year to write and edit their three-hour piece now called ‘The Long Ride Home.’
‘This has been an eye-opening and cathartic event,’ said Wilson.
At Gallup, N.M., the bikers joined in a ‘gord dance’ that honors Navajo warriors. Many of the vets joined in. They were told that the Indians loved them, their children and their grandchildren. Some of the veterans expressed surprise that American Indians were sympathetic with the trials of the white veterans, given the long and terrible history of brutal treatment of Indians by white armies and settlers. One of the Indians said, ‘My people forgave you long ago.’
‘There’s a whole sermon illustration there in that,’ said Cockrum, smiling broadly.