Local group to Run for the Wall in cross-country motorcycle trek

Published 7:37 pm Monday, May 7, 2018

PORT NECHES — A group of locals are gearing up for a cross-country motorcycle ride but this is no sightseeing trip.

The group — Emmett Hollier, Bobby Manuel, Randy Balsamo, Jimmy Quebedeaux, Eric Lavergne and Mike Pierson — will leave later this week destined for Ontario, California, then travel the southern route to Washington, D.C., where they will stop at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial during the 30th Ride for the Wall.

Randy Balsamo, left, talks about the upcoming Run for the Wall in which he and other locals will take part.
Mary Meaux/The News

Another local, Joe “ChickenJoe” Connors, an Army veteran, will do half the run this year.

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The run is to “promote healing among all veterans and their families and friends, to call for an accounting of all prisoners of war and those missing in action, to honor the memory of those killed in action from all wars and to support our military personnel all over the world.”

Shirley and Bobby Manuel discuss Run for the Wall with fellow riders.
Mary Meaux/The News

There are three routes — northern, central and southern — and the riders keep together in a formation, or platoon.

Groups stagger out along the highways and stop together when they need gas. The towns they stop in know in advance and hold fundraisers to pay for the gas for the riders while local groups make sandwiches and snacks and meals for the riders. Their only expense is lodging; some opt to sleep under the stars.

Vietnam veteran Jim Rose, left, who is disabled with complications from Agent Orange, talks with Jimmy Quebedeaux and veteran Joe “ChickenJoe” Connors. Quebedeaux and Connors will be taking part in Run for the Wall.
Mary Meaux/The News

A portion of the group gathered recently outside the The Neches River Wheelhouse, where they spoke of the physically and emotionally taxing run and what it means to them.

Manuel is retired and was in the U.S. Navy from 1972 to 1978. He learned of the run from ChickenJoe between 2007 and 2008 and started taking part in the “mission,” as it is called, the next year.

He said that during the run there the first-timers ride with a chaplain.

“It can be emotional,” Manuel said. “We look after them. Sometimes it can be a sensory overload.”

Hollier is dedicating his ride to his brother, Donald, who served as a U.S. Marine in the Vietnam War and died from complications from Agent Orange in 2014, as well as a list of friends and relatives who were in the military.

Hollier is new to the ride and knows the trip is emotional.

“Someone told me that when you ride through Arlington Cemetery and when you see the (Vietnam Veterans) wall, if you don’t break down, you’re not human. I think that’s what stuck with me.”

Quebedeaux is riding in memory of Wally Landry, who died from complications of Agent Orange, and for those still dealing with Agent Orange like Jim Rose. Rose, who is 100 percent disabled from Agent Orange, was in the U.S. Army from 1962 to 1968 and served in Vietnam from 1966 to 1968.

Jennifer “Flame” Connors, ChickenJoe’s wife, has served as the missing man coordinator and took part in many runs. She brought out an ID style bracelet with “Capt. Ronald W. Forrester USMC 27 Dec. 72 NVN.” Forrester was a Texas native and is listed as missing in action.

Jennifer Connors explained that many participants wear bracelets such as this in hopes of bringing attention to those that never made it home and in hopes their remains are located and they are brought home.

A lot of participants in the run are veterans and younger ones who served during Desert Storm and Afghanistan now want to be part of something.

“We realize they need healing. The technique is hard and it not about getting into the bottle or drugs,” she said.

The local group will head out between May 10 and May 11. The Run for the Wall is held from May 16 through May 25.

On the web: www.rftw.us