TOPEKA — Hundreds of motorcycles roared through Topeka on Monday morning as they made their way east on Interstate 70 to Washington, D.C., where they will gather over the Memorial Day weekend to honor U.S. military veterans.
The motorcycle riders were taking part in the annual Run for the Wall event, which began Wednesday, May 15, in the Los Angeles suburb of Ontario, Calif.
Bikers participating in Run for the Wall are taking three different routes, including the one that ran along I-70 through Topeka. Riders from all three routes will converge this coming weekend in Arlington, Va. The Run for the Wall event will conclude on Monday, May 27, at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
As is their custom, the bikers traveling east on I-70 made a quick stop shortly after 8:30 a.m. Monday at the Kansas Turnpike Authority's East Topeka Service Area, where they topped off their fuel tanks with gas and enjoyed some bottled water, fruit and snacks.
The bikers were welcomed to the East Topeka Service Area by the Kansas Turnpike Authority; Kansas Department of Transportation; the Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs; and Kansas ABATE — A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments.
Several bikers said they had been with the ride the entire way, since its starting point in Ontario, Calif. Others said they had joined along the way.
Among those who have been on the ride from its beginning was Stan Long, 69, of Roseburg, Ore.
Long said the bikers encountered some heavy weather as they traveled through Colorado and the Rocky Mountains.
"Colorado threw everything it had at us," Long said. "It tried to drown us."
Nobody was any worse for the wear despite the adverse weather conditions, said Long, who is a Vietnam veteran serving with the Marines.
Long said he had been on five previous Run for the Wall events.
What brings him back?
"Just the whole experience," he said. "They always say it's not the destination, it's the ride. Well, on this one, it's the ride. You meet all kinds of new people. It's great."
While the bikers enjoy the camaraderie they share on their journey, they said the seriousness of what they are doing is never lost on them.
Their ultimate mission is to honor those who have served in the nation's military, especially the ones who sacrificed their lives for their country.
Jacki Marsh, 64, the mayor of Loveland, Colo., also started the ride in Ontario, Calif. She said when Vietnam veterans came home, "There wasn't a welcome." She noted one veteran she knew who had been wounded 14 times, and who lost his left arm, had rocks thrown at him when he returned. A car event went up on a sidewalk and tried to run him over, she said.
Marsh said the Run for the Wall has been an emotional experience for her, seeing how Americans now want to honor their veterans.
"When you go through these cities, and it can be pouring down rain, snowy or windy, and you see people standing on the bridges, waving flags and saluting ... I cry every time," she said. "These veterans are finally being given the respect and gratitude they were due in the '60s and '70s."
Among bikers who joined the ride as it was in progress was Ryan Stout, 43, a Marine veteran who lives in the St. Louis area. Stout said he joined the ride near Goodland in western Kansas.
Stout said this year was the first time he had been on the Run for the Wall.
"It's been awesome," he said. "It's just a good way to honor veterans."