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Silent, proud ‘wind riders’ won’t give up

Wednesday morning, May 25, found me leaving Corydon about 8:15 a.m., headed for the annual Spring Auditors Conference at the Holiday Inn in Clarksville. Ninety-two county auditors and staff members gathered to discuss what was looming on the horizon for our offices, after the state legislative session.
I noticed a group of motorcyclists coming up on my right, needing to be in the left lane to exit Corydon and go toward Louisville. I let many of them in front of me, the rest falling in behind me. I felt a tug of pride pulling at my heart strings as I glided along, for a few brief moments, with this group of very special people. I knew who they were and the determined course set before them. They were making the ‘Run to the Wall.’
They are Vietnam veterans who begin their journey on the West Coast of America and end up in Washington, D.C., on Memorial Day in front of the beautiful symbol honoring all those who died in Vietnam. Thousands of names on a wall with the soothing sound of water endlessly falling with a peace that is only found in the finality of death.
They entered the interstate, and those in front glanced back, as the ones in the back of me gracefully took their place in the formation they made heading east. I came side-by-side with the formation, and as I passed them, I beheld the beauty and the dignity of these brave people, riding into the wind, who desire nothing but to silently leave a sleepy small town in Indiana, and go quietly, compelled to make this run, by something only they and their comrades can understand. They seem resigned to the fact no one seems to care, and it doesn’t matter because they do, enough to make this journey.
Tears fell down my face as I struggled to understand exactly what this means to them. They are survivors. Year after year they pass through here. There isn’t much, if any, fanfare. I hear many expressions about how thankful we are for our freedom in America, and yet year after year, as a community, we never take part in this joyous event. Some of them sleep in hotels, most sleep in tents, this year at the Harrison County fairgrounds. I thought how fitting that the grounds of the oldest county fair in Indiana would play host to these wind riders from the past. I wondered just how thankful I really was.
I know my husband, a Vietnam vet, always knows when they are coming. He quietly goes to wherever they are, just to have a few hours communing with those who know what he experienced, and it helps ease the unending torment that is forever a part of his mind and being. He is withdrawn, silent and very sad after they leave. He wants to ride with them one day; hopefully, that time will come for him.
We parted company as they headed for the Sherman Minton Bridge. I felt the quiet strength of these riders as I watched them go down the road. They have paid the price, they have proved themselves, and continue to do so as they show love, honor and respect for those who died and for the POWs left behind and never heard from again. They will not forget. They will not give up, and they still are serving us by not doing so. Meanwhile, I continued on with my planned routine, just as all the rest of us did, except I felt a keen awareness that I was able to do so because of what every soldier, past or present, has sacrificed and is willing to sacrifice today. The reasons for war are debatable; the respect due a soldier is not.
Maybe next year we could watch them as they go by, silently waving a flag in appreciation of all they have done. Maybe we could give them a home-cooked meal or supplies for the journey, or gas for their vehicles. Maybe we could do something, as a community, to show we do remember and we do care. We can be innovative when we want to be.
They faded out of my sight, and I remembered thinking it is true, ‘old soldiers never die, they just fade away,’ slowly, one by one they ride off into the sun, heads held high, bikes bright and shiny and with sad eyes, still holding the essence of war inside their souls as they ‘RUN TO THE WALL’ for another year.
Pat Wolfe is the Harrison County auditor.