"The real voyage of Discovery lies not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes"
Marcel Proust

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Run for the Wall

This week I set out with my family on a two-day drive to Virginia. We traveled Missouri’s I-29 down to meet my old friend, I-70, in KC. Not long after we merged onto I-70, we noticed some people standing on the overpass ahead. One woman, with a happy anxious smile, was waving an American flag-- using the full length of her arms and twisting her torso slowly back and forth to keep the flag in motion. Cool morning air and moisture from pregnant rain clouds had brightened her big ruddy cheeks.

Within the next 5 miles we saw a lighted sign supporting veterans. At the next overpass we encountered more military supporters sporting rain gear and waving flags. We began to anticipate each overpass, wondering how many people, 6 or 12 or 20, would be there waving flags, smiling, and laughing. Caught up in their joy, we began to honk and wave at each bridge of supporters, inviting ourselves into their circle of camaraderie.  We wondered how far behind us the heroes followed. Who were they? They must be close. Assuming they were flying into KCI from the Middle East, when did their plane land? Who was on the overpass—their sister or brother or parents or spouse?

While most “welcome home” messengers were atop bridges, one couple had parked on a frontage road. The white-haired man paced in the grass away from his pick-up truck, his hands crammed into his blue-jean overall pockets and his baseball cap bowed towards the earth, while the woman stood near the front headlights rigidly facing the oncoming traffic.

Just before the Concordia exit, we enjoyed our last celebration with strangers above us. This time they held a huge flag that draped over ¼ of the length of the bridge. At the Concordia exit, a policeman stood next to his motorcycle and two rows of flags lined the exit road like runway lights leading these soldiers home. The flags continued down the street to the downtown.

We were sad to see the welcome parade end, but it seemed a fitting spot. Just over the other side of the exit is the St. Paul Lutheran cemetery of which Ted and I had written about in our I-70 book. Here in this cemetery 25 men were laid to rest after they were killed defending their home, their families, and their town. Fifteen Civil War soldiers are also buried here. On October 10, 1864, Bushwhackers (southern sympathizers) led by William Quantrill neared the German town of Concordia intending to kill those who were opposed to slavery. A group of brave townspeople rode to meet them. Of that group, 25 would give their lives for the freedom of others.
The smiling flag-wavers were also awaiting a group of people that were willing to give their lives so that others could be free. They were there to welcome a group of over one hundred motorcyclists who were veterans of wars and friends of veterans. Their tour, “Run for the Wall,” was stopping in Concordia to fuel up on gas and food on their journey from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. Their 2-week journey would culminate at the Vietnam Wall in D.C. on Memorial Day weekend. Concordia means “harmony.” What a beautiful place to be welcomed—where the soil claimed brave men who defended freedom and where that pride and honor to freedom still lives on. 
Learn more about "Run for the Wall" at http://www.rftw.org