The morning sun rose brightly upon a long, black omnipotent wall as volunteers scurried about preparing for the day’s dedication. It seemed like a century, but had been a year since the temporary wall was retired, meeting its new permanent home at Woodring Veterans Park in Enid, Oklahoma. At 80% the size of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., this wall serves as a beautiful tribute to the veterans who gave all. It lends healing to those who came home and those families and friends who were left behind. I saw much of this healing over the weekend I spent in celebrations of the dedication of the wall.
The celebrations began on Saturday with the Ride To Remember (see article this issue). Sunday, I was honored to ride with the Enid Moose Riders on a lunch ride in which we discussed the continuation of the Ride to Remember for many years to come.
On Sunday evening, I attended the Legacy Awards Banquet in which 5 Oklahoma Veterans were recognized in a beautiful ceremony honoring their outstanding service work. We heard stories of valor in each of the five men, Elmer Young – Army; Coot Nelson – Marine; Paul Tyree – Navy; RD Lawrence – Air Force; and Jack Murphy – Coast Guard. The Keynote Speaker for the evening was Col. Lee Ellis, author of Leading With Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton. He spoke of the 5 years he spent as a POW in Hanoi Hilton after his F-4 combat jet went down over enemy territory. Through his POW experience, he has since created 14 leadership principles that helped him and his compatriots resist, survive and return home with honor. As our keynote speaker, he shared how the prisoners were treated and how the enemy worked diligently to tear them down and force them to share military intelligence or speak untruths and propaganda in front of cameras. However, regardless of how the POW’s were treated, they maintained a leadership and respect for the senior ranking officers within the camp. It was communicated, by captor and Senior Officer Capt. Robbie Risner, several rules to live by in Hanoi. Albeit, by a silent hand language created by the prisoners or tapping Morris Code, they communicated across prison cells and through cell windows. Number one was to Be a Good American; Live by the Code of Conduct. With that, the prisoners would do all they could to maintain their silence until the torture was just more than they could stand. At that point, they would give something that was of little substance, but satisfy the enemy enough to get free of the torture. In his book, he refers to this as Lesson 7, Clarify the Culture. As he wrapped up his talk, he reminded us of how much our lives affect those of others. I’ve read his book and I’m honored to have gotten to meet him and hear him speak at both the banquet, a private lighting of the wall and at the wall dedication. For more information or to order the book, go to: www.FreedomStarMedia.com.
Following the banquet, a select few of us, including my newfound friends from Carry the Flame, were invited to a private toast as the Wall was lit for the first time. If I wasn’t already moved by the grandeur of the wall, the monument softly lit at night left me speechless. The black granite pieces loomed in the darkness as each letter of every name on the wall lit brightly. The quiet of the chilly night air brought elegance and a peace to the Wall like none I’d felt up to that moment. A toast was given by Don Allen who built the wall at Woodring Veterans Park. He noted how impressed he was at how this being the first wall he’d built turned out so magnificently and how so many will enjoy it in the future. He said, “Instead of toasting us and all our successes, let’s toast those who can’t be here with us today and those who still have a cross on the wall.” Col. Lee Ellis wrapped up the toast at the wall by saying, “We always need to remember their sacrifice and not let them be forgotten. You all have done a great job insuring that. This is a legacy. Keep telling the kids what this is all about. Somewhere along the line they’ll reconnect.”
The following morning, Veteran’s Day 2013, was the dedication of the Wall. I’ve never spent a better Veteran’s Day with such a large and caring group of Veterans. Veteran riders donning leather and patches recognizing the branch they served, the brotherhood they support today or simply American patriotism rode in from across several states. It was a humbling day filled with remembrance of those who had been lost in Vietnam and other wars in our history. Not only was I moved by those who were visibly shaken touching the names of those they’d served alongside in combat, but the friends and families of those who never returned home. The sadness in many of the Gold Star Mothers and the Widows who lost their young sweethearts, still aging their long faces, dressed in red, white and blue, sat quietly, proudly waving American flags. Our country lost several heroes; men and women of valor in this war. May we never forget them and always welcome home our veterans of yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Be sure to put Woodring Wall of Honor and Veterans Park on your ride destination list and visit soon. It’s incredible to have this memorial and legacy in our own state to pass on to the warriors of our future.