This coming Monday the nation will take time to honor two wonderful groups of heroes. On Memorial Day we honor from dawn until noon the War Dead. More than 1,050,000 men and women have lost their lives on the field of battle to defend this nation and our freedoms. At noon we hoist the flag from the half staff position to the top of the pole to honor the War Injured. They are the ones who came home blind, deaf, lame, in wheelchairs, brain damaged, suffering from PTSD, burned, and other maladies that we can’t imagine. In November we will honor all the Veterans but this Monday we honor those who made a greater sacrifice.
Before I sat down to write this column I was chatting with a friend about the subject matter I write about each week. I shared that this week would be a column honoring the War Dead and War Injured, and that I was also going to concentrate on the acts of patriotism that we see and hear across our county , state, and nation. Margaret asked how I would define patriotism, and I referred her back to the 1964 Supreme Court case when Justice Potter Stewart was trying to define another word when he stated, “I know it when I see it.”
That’s patriotism to me because I really can’t put a finger on it exactly. It’s songs, it’s parades, it’s fireworks, it’s military service, it’s service to the community, it’s voting, it’s protesting, it’s many other things, actions and feelings. But we know it when we see it.
This weekend almost 600,000 motorcyclists will be converging on the nation’s capital to honor the men and women for whom this holiday is intended. I can’t get into my brain what 600,000 motorcyclists will look like, or sound like, but I do know how they will be thinking during the ride. Rolling Thunder has grown into a national moving monument.
For me this year’s Rolling Thunder ride to Washington, around the Pentagon, past Arlington, down Pennsylvania Avenue, around the Tidal Basin, moving within yards of the Washington Monument, through the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, and then standing tall at “The Wall” will begin in Coarsegold as Frank Gilb rides down his driveway with his adult daughter holding on as they start down Highway 41. Frank, a retired LAPD officer, will follow the route planned to Ontario to meet up with a larger group who will meet up in Arizona with more bikers until they have met up with thousands of others. Each of these men and women are just like Frank Gilb. They have set aside the time, planned the trip, budgeted the expenses, and made the commitment to make the ride.
Frank was sharing with me a couple of weeks ago about one school in a very small town that sets up tables to feed all the riders and to greet each one. Toys are given to the kids, money for scholarships is collected, and the kids bond with the bikers who have explained why they ride to honor the fallen.
Frank shared about one veteran who greets each rider as they enter Washington under a particular bridge. This elderly man stands in full dress uniform with a sharp salute for the five or six hours it takes for all the riders to pass him by. Frank is a rugged man but I could hear it in his voice just what that single man’s salute means.
Frank is going to pay honor to the POW I know only because his name was on the bracelet I wore during high school. Capt. Samuel Deichlemann never came home as his plane was lost in Laos. Samuel’s brother died in the military a few year later during a training exercise. I have the rubbing of the captain’s name from The Wall but Frank is going to place some flowers under his name and get me a photo of Samuel. I have never seen his face. Samuel went down on Sept. 6, 1968.
Rolling Thunder, for me, will end when Frank returns to his driveway, just as the other 600,000 riders will do into theirs. They will be showing the elected leaders the high esteem with which our veterans are held.
Others will go to prayer services, others will place flags in cemeteries, and others will orate about the sacrifice. Each act will be an act of patriotism. Indescribable in words but understandable when witnessed.
Be sure to enjoy the picnics, the boating, and the family gatherings. Just remember to take time to give thanks to God that these very brave selfless veterans meant it when they said they were willing to defend to the death our rights.
Enjoy the displays of patriotism this weekend. You’ll know it when you see it.