Run for the Wall routes through Cookeville
Thursday, May 23, 2013
John “Slammer" Gebhards, recon route coordinator for 2013 Run for the Wall, speaks at Putnam County Veterans Memorial Building about the physical and emotional aspects of the 10-day ride to Arlington.
Run for the Wall (RFTW) group leaders were welcomed to Cookeville Monday at the Putnam County Veterans Memorial Building by local city officials, chamber of commerce representatives, numerous local veterans, and American flags lining their path.
Every year for the past 25 years, a group of veterans on motorcycles and support staff leave the Los Angeles area and embark on a 10-day journey known as Run for the Wall, an event that is both physically and emotionally enduring, leading to an arrival in Washington, D.C., to the Vietnam Memorial Wall and Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day weekend. The ride is the only motorcycle event allowed to enter Arlington.
The 10-day ride has a mission serving multiple goals – to serve as emotional healing for veterans riding the route and those encountered along the way, especially those from the Vietnam era; to continue to call attention to prisoners of war and missing in action (POW/MIA); to honor those killed in action (KIA) from all wars; and to support our military personnel all over the world.
The event currently hosts two routes across America. As participation continues to grow, an additional route is needed. RFTW group leaders are considering a third route that would lead through Cookeville, bringing an estimated 225 veterans on motorcycles as they make the trek to D.C. next year.
John “Slammer" Gebhards, 2013 RFTW recon route coordinator, introduced the group and provided insights as to what the event is about and how it impacts veterans throughout the country. The 2014 route coordinator John “Hardcharger" Barker and other group leaders shared touching stories of the therapeutic benefits of the ride.
Throughout the event, RFTW riders stop at numerous veterans’ hospitals and memorials generating inspirational stories of patriotic outreach and progress. Stopping along the route to present at schools is also a staple item in their itinerary since an additional goal of the group is to educate future generations as to the importance of accountability in wartime actions emphasizing that no one should be left behind.
"We ride for those who can't. We ride for the 58,267 names on the wall. We ride for those that haven't been found. Do we ride for ourselves? Yes. We ride for the healing,” said Dave Gladwill, an RFTW board of directors member. “We’re proud of what we do. We're proud of who we are. And we're proud to have you as a part of it."
The Cookeville-Putnam County Convention and Visitors Bureau has been assisting Putnam County Veterans Service Officer Chuck Mateyka in coordinating hospitality for the 30 plus riders that came through Cookeville on this week’s test run. A decision will be made by the RFTW board of directors in the coming months to allow Cookeville and other host cities along the new route to plan for the event’s 2014 arrival.