By RICK HAYES
MT. VERNON — — Giving Vietnam veterans the welcome home they never received and providing a way to start their healing process is one of the goals of the Run for the Wall.
Mt. Vernon served as one of the pit stops for the 10-day journey on Tuesday that began a week ago in California and will end this weekend in the nation's capitol. About 400 cyclists fueled up at the Circle K store on 44th Street and were served lunch at Waterkotte's Harley-Davidson.
"This is day number seven since we left Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.," said Ken "Catfish" Ward, the central route coordinator. "The ride has been absolutely perfect. We've had great weather, great support along the way from cities like Mt. Vernon with the fuel station and the Harley shop and all the volunteers that feed us and everything. We get that kind of support all across the country."
Ward began his experience as a Run for the Wall participant seven years ago.
"I told my wife when I found it on the Internet I wanted to do it one time just to experience it for myself and as a tribute to the guys that came back from Vietnam, to thank them, and to remember the ones that didn't come home. Once you do it one time and meet all the good people and see some of the healing these guys get that they need after coming back from Vietnam it gets in your blood, it's hard to give up," Ward said.
Phil DuBois is a Vietnam veteran who is making the cross-country trek for the eighth time.
"The first four years I did it partially in New Mexico, my home state. The last four years I've done it all the way from L.A. to D.C.," said DuBois. "The reason I do it is to honor the men who have died, our veterans who have been killed in action, those missing in action and for the families."
DuBois said the ride offers an opportunity to help families heal as well.
"At times, we take ashes all the way across the country. We take bios from the KIA's (killed in action) and MIA's (missing in action) for the families," he said. "For me, as a Vietnam veteran, it's a welcome home. We didn't get that when we came home. The reception we get in all the towns and villages is very uplifting. We're teaching the new generation … they can't seem to understand why the Vietnam veterans were treated so badly when they came home from the war. We are trying to make it better for other veterans from the Gulf War, Iraqi and Afghanistan when they come back."
The mission statement of the Run for the Wall is to promote healing among all veterans and their families and friends, to call for an accounting of all Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action, to honor the memory of those killed in action from all wars, and to support military personnel.
"It's a great ride and a great mission we run," said Mike Johnston of North Bend, Wash. "This means a lot to the families of MIA's and POW's that haven't been accounted for yet. That's what makes this ride so special."
Johnston added, "I've had contact with a young lady, Pam King, whose father Lt. Col. Oscar Materer has been missing in action since 1966. We've got to bring it home and get some closure for these families."
Johnston is also running in honor of Peter Paul Lauvi, whose son is Johnston's supervisor. Johnston said Lauvi was about 2-years-old when his father was killed in Vietnam.
"It's touching," said Johnston, who visits Arlington National Cemetery when he arrives in the nation's capitol to pay tribute to Eric Ward, a young man killed in Afghanistan.
Events scheduled for the weekend include a wreath-laying ceremony at the tomb of the unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery, the walk together at the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial and Memorial Day services on Monday.