In 1989, two Vietnam veterans embarked on a 10-day journey across the heartland of America. Their journey took them from Ontario, California to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. and along the way, they spoke with local news outlets to raise awareness about United States servicemen and women – across all wars – who have yet to be accounted for.
Run for the Wall [RFTW] has grown since its debut 27 years ago, and Pocahontas County native Tim Brown was among this year’s 500 plus participants.
“It’s a cross country event for veterans, put on by veterans to support veterans,” Brown explained. “The main mission for the ride is to bring accountability to all missing in action; the return of all prisoners of war, and the return of all remains of those who have been killed in action. Our main focus is to bring attention to that and to support it.”
In addition to the ride’s primary mission, the riders were given the opportunity to take part in other missions.
Before RFTW commenced May 18, Brown traveled to Seattle, Washington, where a Fallen Heroes Cart was awaiting an escort. The cargo cart was specifically designed to carry the remains of those who have been killed in action as they are returned from Afghanistan and Iraq. Brown joined the escort in Seattle, and as they passed through Ontario, California, the cart was handed over to the RFTW participants. Using RFTW’s southern route, the cart was escorted across the country until it came to its final destination – Washington Dulles International Airport, just 26 miles west Washington, D.C.
RFTW riders were given an opportunity to raise money for education, as well. A stop at the Montvale Elementary School in Lynchburg, Virginia, gave the riders an opportunity to give back, and they raised upward of $5,000 in 24 hours – $890 of which was raised within the first half an hour by Brown and the 35 others in his platoon.
From there, the riders traveled to different V.A. hospitals to visit wounded and terminally ill veterans.
“At least twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day,” Brown said. “Through an extension of Run for the Wall called Keep the Faith, we’re able to bring about ways in which we can help them. Out of the twenty-two that commit suicide a day, thirteen of them are non-combat veterans. There’s a lot of stress on veterans for various reasons, and we feel that it’s really important to take care of them.”
When not visiting veterans, the riders typically made three stops each day. Among the stops were numerous visits to national exhibits, memorials, monuments and museums in remembrance of wars fought throughout history.
When traveling, the riders rode either side-by-side or staggered in a tight platoon formation, with no more than two to three bike lengths between each bike.
“We’ve had some pretty crazy times,” Brown recalled. “I’ve done some sliding and some skidding – heart in your throat moments. But that aside, it’s been a wonderful experience, and I couldn’t have asked for a better one. As long as God’s giving me breath, I’m going to keep doing it year after year.
“This ride was my way of giving back. It’s my way of saying ‘Thank you’ to all the veterans who have come before me – thank you for giving me the freedom to do what I’m doing. This is my way of saying ‘I appreciate what you’ve done for me’ – for allowing me the opportunity to get on a bike and ride through a country that’s a free and wonderful place. There’s no other place on Earth like the United States.”
Brown arrived at The Pocahontas Times office Thursday morning on a Harley Davidson, and immediately, the eye is drawn to his vest – black leather decorated with a number of buttons, patches and pins. An American flag sits just below his left shoulder, and, on his right, rests a black flag in remembrance of those who are prisoners of war or missing in action.
Beneath the POW/MIA flag, the golden sabers of the 9th Calvary’s insignia shine in the bright sunlight. The pin is worn for Brown’s neighbor Steve Leask – a veteran who served in Bravo Company, 1st of the 9th Calvary [1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry] during the Vietnam War.
However, Leask was not the only veteran to whom Brown dedicated his ride. Descending from a long line of military men, Brown rode to honor those who had served before him and are serving after him.
Brown’s grandfather, Walter H. Brown, served in Patton’s Army during World War II, and his father, Howard Lee Brown, served in the 101st Airborne. At one point, Brown’s father and uncle, Donald Brown, were stationed on the same base in Germany, although they served on opposite ends.
Another uncle, Jack Ramsey, was a Marine, and both of Brown’s sons currently serve. Tim, Jr. followed in the Army footsteps of his grandfather and great-grandfather, while Christopher followed his father into the Air Force.
A young Brown had every intention of joining the Army as his father and grandfather before him did, but fate had other plans. At the age of 17, Brown met with an Army recruiter and had every intention of enlisting the very same day. However, the recruiter lacked the proper paperwork and told Brown to return in one week to complete the process.
When the recruiter failed to show on December 18, 1974, Brown turned his attention to the Air Force, and with his parents’ permission, was able to enlist the very same day. He spent the next 20 years stationed at different bases around the world – including RAF Mildenhall, Ellsworth Air Force Base, and RAF Weathersfield – where he spent time flying and serving as a helicopter mechanic.
Brown retired from the Air Force in 1995 and has remained in Las Cruces, New Mexico ever since.
“It’s been absolutely amazing,” Brown said of his ride. “The patriotism we run into – the gratitude, the compassion, the hospitality – has been phenomenal from the people across this country. We have been blessed with fuel, food, major discounts on lodging, and it has been a wonderful experience to be a part of this, to be able to have an impact and to be recognized. To see people on all the overpasses – just filling the overpasses up with firetrucks and flags and waving – it’s almost too much to take in.”
Cailey Moore may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org