D.C.-Bound Vets Roll Into Reno
Motorcycle-riding veterans are making their annual 3,000-mile cross-country trek across the country. We met up with the 50 riders who spent quality time with veterans in Reno.
It's a fast 10-day drive from Sacramento to Washington, D.C. They make 50 stops with one purpose in mind: visiting hospitals and homes, to talk to veterans. Leader of the pack is Jerry Conner, president of the National Veterans Awareness Organization (NVAO) told us why: "The most important thing is to thank them. The most important thing is to be with them, and to hold their hand during these times."
Getting treatment at Reno’s VA hospital is Bill, a Marine Corps veteran. Bill has heard those thanks you’s from strangers and friends over the years, and they still have impact. What does it mean to have these riders come by and say hi? Bill said "A lot."
Reno was stop number 3 in this nationwide ride, where they speak at schools about patriotism, take part in memorial services for military personnel, and here in Reno talked to veterans at the VA hospital. Vietnam era vet Mike Rinowski says they “Give them someone to talk to and let them know that they're not forgotten about. We represent thousands of people across America who support us."
Mike spent a bit of time with bill today, handing over a card some school children signed to show him he's not forgotten…that a sacrifice made decades ago still means a lot. Mike told us, "I was just talking with him about life in general , where he's from, what he did, how are things going for him. Family…whatever he wants to talk about." Jerry Conner says all the interactions “are an amazingly emotional experience. Some of these veterans don't get a whole lot of visitors through the year."
Also riding is Vietnam War veteran Kelly Rafferty. He told us the benefits of this ride are 2-sided. It gives a boost to the vets they meet, but also to those making the drive. As he put it, "If I make one person smile this whole trip, the trip has been worth it to me. So rain, snow…it doesn’t matter." He told me about the thrill of seeing patriotism, like the people on overpasses waving American flags. The ride, now in its 13th year, gets bigger as it goes with vets joining in as it moves east. They'll get to Washington D.C. by Memorial Day, where 4 of them will go to Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. For Mike, the ride is about one thing: "The tears of joy and thanks." Does he get that often? "Often enough, yes."
The National Veterans Awareness Ride is paid for through donations, including from American Legion posts and fundraising, including sales of t-shirts, pins and hats.