By Josh Arntz
The Dickson Herald

Published May 21, 2014

The sight of hundreds of motorcycles rolling through a small town often invokes fear, but Dickson welcomed about 285 riders with open arms and a warm meal Monday afternoon.

Oregon resident John “Hardcharger” Barker brought the bikers through Dickson this year as they traveled to Washington, D.C. for the Memorial Day weekend. The motorcyclists are part of Run for the Wall – an annual cross-country roadtrip in honor of veterans, specifically those missing, killed or injured in action.

“It’s a healing trip from Los Angeles all the way to D.C.,” said Barker, the Midway Route coordinator. “We’re the only motorcycle group that’s allowed in Arlington Cemetery.”

Run for the Wall’s board of directors tasked Barker with finding a third route to the Capitol last year, dubbed the Midway Route. Riders had taken either the Central or Southern routes before this year.

Barker explained the other two routes were up to 800-900 riders a piece.

“It got to be unsafe, so myself and 26 other people, we set up the Midway Route last year and ran it as a recon,” he added. “And this year we got, right now about 285 riders with us going across country.”

Ox in Dickson

Barker, who’s ran the last eight years, scanned the ride’s registration list, looking for people who lived near the new route and found a Dickson County resident.

“A gentlemen by the name of Ox, who’s run with us forever and runs with the Chaplain Corp, he lived in this area,” Barker recalled. “I got ahold of him and he said, ‘Let me take care of it.’

“He said, ‘You’ll love the response you get here,'” Barker continued, “and he’s right.”

Ox participated in Run for the Wall seven times previously, including four times on a Harley-Davidson.

“It’s 6,100 miles roundtrip I put on the Harley,” Ox said.

He’s also driven the “water wagon,” which rehydrates the riders every 100 miles.

Ox leads Mercy Hands Ministry.

“Our church is coming together here to thank our veterans for their service,” Ox said.

Lunch in Dickson

The bikers left Forrest City, Ark., Monday morning on their way to Cookeville that evening. The procession rolled down Highway 46 from Interstate 40 eastbound shortly after 1 p.m., greeted by a handful of people waving to them from the Thunder Alley parking lot, and more waiting at the church.

They stopped at exit 163 to fuel up first, before heading to Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Dickson for lunch. Volunteers with the church and Calvary Chapel of Dickson served them spaghetti with cake for dessert.

The cooks spent four hours Sunday preparing the meal.

“We had a blast,” said Connie Clifton, who helped organize the local response.

Jim Raynovic, of Phoenix, is on his first Run for the Wall, and appreciated the welcoming crowds along the way.

“One of the best parts is just seeing the support and the response from the community, especially in the smaller towns,” said Raynovic. “It’s really heartwarming.”

New mission

The 26th annual Run for the Wall left Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., Wednesday last week.

The ride officially ends at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Sunday. They’ll take part in the Rolling Thunder parade.

According to their mission statement, the riders journey 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.

If you’d like to donate a motorcycle, go online to RFTW.org and follow the dropdown link for “Combat Heroes.”

Colleen Creamer, The Herald, contributed to this story.

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