In unison, it seemed, more than twenty Harley-Davidson’s® roared to life in the pre-dawn hours of September 20th in Clark, NJ. No doubt the wedding party sleeping off the effects of nuptial festivities from the previous day grumbled in their beds before tucking heads beneath pillows for a few more snooze-filled hours. But for the Rolling Thunder® Inc., New Jersey Chapter 2, and Veterans Canada members on their way to set up at Warinanco Park for the 20th Anniversary Freedom Run, the only protest would come in the form of the 30-mile, mid-day ride to demonstrate for the cause.
On Saturday, a small group from the Rolling Thunder®, Inc., Maryland Chapter 1— Lam, Mike, Dan W, Dave, Dan H, and I — rode over 230 miles to participate in the event. Arriving at the hotel, we met Brenda, Chairman of the Board for Rolling Thunder®, Inc., NJ 2, and a small group of riders from Canada. Unused to the custom, I fumbled on the French greeting head-butting Joss as he attempted to kiss me on the cheek. Is it left then right or right to left? No matter. Joss soon sorted me out.
Then came towering “Tiny” and Brigitte. Her accent sounded familiar. “Where are you from?” I asked. “From Germany, the Schwarzwald region ” said Brigitte. “Wirklich. Meine Mutter war Deutsch. Diesen letzen April war Ich im Schwarzwald. Really. My mother was German. This past April I was in the Black Forest.” Despite my slight difficulty understanding her dialect, Brigitte and I soon straddled our communication differences, chatting mixed German-English style.
At 6:30 on Sunday morning, conditions weren’t favorable. Inside, my brain floated in a soup of insomnia induced fog. Outside, it was cool, the sky a blanket of dark gray streaked with raggedy clouds that promised rain. After a short ride to the park, Brenda staged us behind National and New Jersey leaders and our Canadian supporters. With Kick Stands Up at 11:30 there was plenty of time to fill.
First on the agenda, inspired by the fallout from the previous night’s merrymaking, was the need to eat. Breakfast at The Colosseum Diner — generous portions of eggs, hash browns, French toast and sausage, along with coffee and water to rehydrate weary cells, was ideal to drive away lingering effects from revel-rousing.
We returned to our position. Some napped, others strolled through the park, shopped, photographed, engaged in conversations and traded mementos.
In July, “Rain Man”, Dan W, “Freeway”, Greg and “Weebles” rode to Canada to attend a Pow Wow and Veteran-honoring ceremony. They met some of the members of the Canadian contingent –“Joss” (Jocelyn) and Larry “Love”. For the New Jersey ride, Joss was accompanied by wife, Lyne while Larry brought along Linda, his fiancée.
Larry’s patches drew my attention. He wore a beaver-adorned badge of the Royal 22nd Regimental Infantry and one indicating service in Cyprus. In the 90s, I visited Nicosia on the Turkish side of the island. It seemed incongruous to see shell and bullet-riddled buildings while sunning on a near-deserted beach. Larry explained the association with Britain’s Queen, her red-coat and bearskin hat uniformed guards and his experience in Cyprus.
At nineteen, Larry was part of the force to liberate Cyprus during the Greek coup d’état. Moving civilians from their homes at bayonet point was a life-changing moment for him, he said, one he will never forget.
The regimental home for Joss and Larry is La Citadelle in Quebec City. They invited our chapter to visit next year and promised a tour. I expect that the twelve-hour, 750-plus, arduous mile ride will leave anyone butt-busted, bug-besmirched, wind-struck, and fume exhausted (all feelings I’ve come to know and love so well). Will it be worth it? Based on displays of camaraderie –sharing stories, laughter, challenges and pins and patches — combined with a mutual mission of vets honoring other veterans, Prisoners of War (POW) and Missing in Action (MIA) at events such as this past weekend’s, I expect nothing less.
Just in time –“ 11:30 sharp” (more or less) — my fog lifted. I was grateful; the vroom, vroom, pop, pop, pop, and occasional burst of backfire made by hundreds of bikes revving up is not the best feel-good remedy.
Escorted by police and led by Rolling Thunder®, Inc. founder, Artie Muller, bikes rumbled through the streets of central New Jersey and headed to the Vietnam Memorial in Holmdel. Sunshine gleamed off chrome and steel. Flags fluttered in the breeze. Crowds cheered and waved. All spotlighting the New Jersey Freedom Ride.
“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.” Nelson Mandela
*All photos property of author except where noted