Friday, May 29, 2009
"What I'm most proud of," said the tatooed man on the left, is that I'm an American." He paused and then said, "We are the American race, by ideal, not by blood."
His friend who he'd met an hour before (in the center of the photo) said, "We, as Americans, those who are veterans, know what war is."
He brought up a theme that the rest of the men shared, of a country too interested in things, kids too interested in new cars and stereos and not interested in history and the lives lost: people not interested in the sacrifices others made so the rest of us could have those luxuries.
Veterans keep the country safe, "So you can do what you want to do," he said.
These four veterans (one isn't pictured) shot the breeze on the grounds of the Arlington Assembly of God church, last Sunday, and they let me listen in. It was an emotional conversation with some tears, and words caught in throats, but also a lot of laughs, that circled around a few ideas including the heroic nature of the men who died, and the need to remember. They believe that America makes mistakes, but its overall history is in the right direction.
They were in town, of course, having made the annual “Run for the Wall” motorcycle trip from California and Florida, for the Rolling Thunder rally and remembrance on the National Mall.
“It’s a trip to bring attention to those who are missing,” said the man in the middle. “The accountability is not there.”
Untrusting of the press, and annoyed by how the ride and stories about veterans are treated, they did not give their names. With a friend, who isn't pictured above, they wanted only to be called "Four American Veterans."
When the man on the right said he never actually served, the rest insisted he was a veteran since he lived through the Viet Nam war, and since he spent a good deal of time thinking about, and worrying about, his brother, the man in the middle of the photo.
“I didn’t serve, and I wanted to give something back,” said the man on the right. And he wondered aloud why people in the area are so bothered by the motorcycles.
They told stories of riding through towns where the mayors came to meet them, where the riders were given keys to the city, where people cheered the route.
The man on the left said, “Ask them [people in this area] about the motorcycles, and then ask them, ‘Do you like living free?’”
The motorcycles didn't bother me at all. Maybe because I grew up with a couple of motorcycle-riding older brothers in the Vietnam-War era.
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