Friday, May 22, 2009

‘Krazy Karl’ is bound for The Wall

On this Memorial Day weekend, I can’t help thinking about our Life Member “Krazy Karl” Haartz.

On his big blue Honda Gold Wing, Karl is doing “The Run for The Wall.” He should be rolling into DC about now, along with thousands of other bikers.

For those soldiers who never made it home, the annual “Run for The Wall” is a motorcycle pilgrimage by military veterans, friends and relatives and others, which starts in California and ends at The Vietnam Veterans Memorial – The Wall – in Washington, DC.

This event takes hundreds of motorcycle riders right past our OOIDA headquarters on the way to Washington, to the Wall.

On Monday, May 18, one big roaring division of the pack rolled past OOIDA headquarters on I-70 east of Kansas City, MO, and a crowd of OOIDA employees were out on the shoulder to greet them. We did this last year, too.

As the pack rolled by – all of us out there waving like crazy and whooping it up – one of the bikers pulled out, slowed down and guided his bike to a stop on the shoulder – RIGHT THERE where we were standing. The leather-covered rider – denim vest covered with patches and badges – swung off his bike and introduced himself to our elated group.

“I’m Krazy Karl, Life Member!”

One of our own? We screamed and converged on him for hugs. Our Land Line photographer Nikohle Ellis quickly snapped some shots, and Land Line Now’s Reed Black put a microphone up to catch an interview on the fly. Karl Haartz served in the infantry in Vietnam in 1966-67. He now lives in Thornton, NH.

Karl told Reed (who’s another Vietnam vet) that because he knows trucks, he was assigned to communicate with truckers by CB as the motorcycle convoy moves down the highway.

“Most of them are very good, very appreciative,” Karl told Reed. “We have 1 percent in every group, but that’s what freedom is all about. ... If they get mad at being hung up 10 minutes, so be it, no problem.”

Then he was gone, off to catch up with the pack. I yelled after him that every single one of us at the HQ was riding with him in spirit. It was a wistful moment as we watched him streak on down the interstate.

A little Web research tells me that “The Run for the Wall” was started in 1989 as an effort by James Gregory and Bill Evans, two Vietnam veterans who made the trip to raise awareness that we had thousands of men and women still unaccounted for from all of our wars.

The riders are scheduled to arrive in Washington, DC, during the Memorial Day weekend where they’ll participate in the annual Rolling Thunder observance at The Wall. The trip takes 10 days to reach the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where the Run officially ends on Sunday evening before Memorial Day. It’s a tradition that will likely continue for a long time.

And if the pack continues to run down I-70 on its central route that takes them to Arlington, then our staff running out to I-70 to wave will likely be a tradition, too.