CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It was an emotional scene at the state Capitol Thursday morning when several bikers opened up about why they take the “Run for the Wall” cross country trip every year.
“We’ve got a lot of disabled veterans that would love to go on this trip, so we ride for them,” said Ralph Oswald, of Tampa, Florida.
The annual 10-day trip begins in California and ends Friday at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. A candlelight service is held there.
“A lot of guys don’t attend,” Oswald said as he started to tear up. “It’s too emotional. I’m starting to break up talking about it because we all have friends that are on there.”
It was the first trip for Kristen Ranker, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She said she rides for her grandfather who was killed in World War II at the age of 22.
Ranker, who has been on the entire trip since California, described the ride as “interesting, challenging, exciting and scary.” She said the stops in each state have made the journey worth it.
“They’re all waving their flags and it kind of upset me because I was thinking ‘that was kind of the welcome home he (her grandfather) would’ve got’” she said.
A lot of the bikers said they don’t ride for anyone in particular and that it’s just a way to support the veterans.
“I’m not a Veteran,” said J.R. Eckart of Corydon, Indiana. “I’ve just always had a great respect for our veterans. It gives all these people good memories to associate with their military career instead of the memories that they’ve been carrying for a long time.”
Eckrat has participated in the Run for the Wall since 2009. He said every year he knows when they’ve made it to West Virginia.
“They’re so friendly. They want to meet you. They want to talk to you. It’s like ‘welcome home’ instead of ‘welcome to our town’,” he said.
Ranker said entering the Mountain State meant she was getting closer to home.
“I’m from Pennsylvania so — home — it’s the trees and the beauty and the smells. I love West Virginia. I just think it’s beautiful,” she said.
“Run for the Wall” has three separate routes that all lead to Washington, D.C.
The bikers next head to Rainelle. They’ll spend Thursday night in Lewisburg.