- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 20, 2015

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - What sounded like rolling thunder rumbled into Wayne Wigley’s right ear - his bad ear - as about 400 Harley-Davidson, Honda, Suzuki and Kawasaki motorcycles, to name a few, passed sidewalks lined with veterans and their supporters Tuesday.

He watched the riders wave, salute and blow kisses at him from their black, gray, crimson and cobalt blue motorcycles.

He waved back with a miniature black-and-white flag blowing in the air among the American flags extended from other spectators’ hands.

Wigley’s flag read “POW, MIA. You are not forgotten.”

Wigley, a Tuscaloosa Veterans Affairs Medical Center patient being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder and a Vietnam War veteran who served in the Navy for three years, nine months and one day, said that’s what these riders are riding for - the prisoners of war and missing in action, for those who can’t and to honor veterans, living and dead.

“I have some very dear friends who didn’t make it back,” Wigley said.

The riders made a stop at the VA as part of the 27th annual Run for the Wall bike ride.

Made up of veterans, their families and supporters, Run for the Wall is a motorcade of motorcycles that crosses the country in 10 days, beginning in Ontario, California, and ending at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. New riders join the ride each day, ending with more than 1,000 riders at the wall.

“We do this to remind people about our POWs and MIAs who are still unaccounted for,” said Ray Brammer, a rider from Colorado and a Navy veteran who also served during the Vietnam War. “We’re all about bringing our men and women back. We don’t want any of them left where they were.”

The denim of Brammer’s vest was barely visible beneath pins and patches - one of the American flag and another representing the prisoners of war and missing in action.

He said the trip is not only about remembering the missing, but honoring the veterans the riders can still share stories with - those at VA hospitals who served in conflicts like Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and Desert Storm.

The motorcades stop at several VA hospitals along the ride - including the Tuscaloosa VA for the 15th consecutive year - to eat and visit with fellow veterans.

“Every year around April, employees and veterans start asking, ‘When is Run for the Wall?’ The coming of spring, it’s something they always look forward to,” said Damon Stevenson, spokesperson for the Tuscaloosa VA. “It reminds our veteran residents here that they’re not forgotten. We’ve seen a lot of tears shed when they share stories about their military service.”

The camaraderie is his favorite part of the ride because it is cathartic, Brammer said.

“The vets who have been there, we use this as a healing process. You get to meet some of your brothers and sisters that you served with,” Brammer said. “A lot of veterans have never talked about their time and experiences, and here they can find people like themselves and talk about it and open up a little bit.”

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Information from: The Tuscaloosa News, https://www.tuscaloosanews.com

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