About a dozen Vietnam veterans got a teary salute at the Bucket of Blood Saloon in Virginia City on Sunday, a layover on their way to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.
David John, who performs regularly at the historic saloon on weekends, asked the group, known as The Wall Gang, to stand in front of the stage as he and the Comstock Cowboys performed a tribute song called "The Wall."
John had written "The Wall," in honor of a friend who had served in Vietnam, as well as all veterans of that conflict. When the band plays it at their shows, band members remove their hats, as do men in the audience, and the audience stands as a gesture of respect to the vets.
Rich Wall, of Indiana, said the group was headed to Sacramento for the trip to the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington, D.C., also known as The Wall, to honor those who didn't return from that war.
"We do it every year," he said. "We left Indiana four days ago. This is a layover."
It was a layover that brought tears to the eyes of many in the crowded saloon, as the men were given a standing ovation.
The Wall Gang, according to president Steve Moore, one of the 12 at the saloon Sunday, said the group was made up of veterans - mostly motorcycle riders - from all over the country who visit the Vietnam Memorial as part of Rolling Thunder, a non-profit motorcycle organization 750,000-strong that calls attention to veterans issues.
Moore said about 175 to 200 riders join The Wall Gang, which meets up with Rolling Thunder on Memorial Day in Washington, D.C, making important stops along the way.
"We stop at VA hospitals and veterans homes," he said. "Those guys need to know they are not forgotten. These guys take three weeks out of their lives to make sure these vets are taken care of."
Their first stop after leaving Sacramento on May 14 will be at the Reno VA Hospital, he said.
The group also stops at schools to give talks on patriotism, flag etiquette and to let students know "the cost of freedom. It's not free," Moore said.
The goal of the ride, which began in 2005, is to remember the POW/MIA's, promote healing and encourage people to remember veterans and their families, according to the group's Web site.
The singer who wrote "The Wall" was moved.
"That was very emotional," John said. "That song, I wrote it two or three years ago, but it never gets out of date. Because we can't forget our Vietnam veterans."
• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 881-7351.
By David John
"He came back in one piece but you couldn't say he was really alive.
Part of him stayed in Nam with the rest of the boys that died.
He was never quite the same since he left to answer his country's call
You see he never really came back, he really died in that jungle,
His name should have been on The Wall."
ON THE NETwww.thewallgang.com