Look Twice

Couple of days ago, I had the honor of delivering a short address at the opening of the Buffalo Chip Freedom Celebration Ride launching from Spearfish, South Dakota.

The following post is the approximate shape of that little speech.

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buff chip freedom rider

Hello, and thanks for having me. I’m afraid I’ve got a few holes in my memory, so I’m going to have to use these notes.

This year, I experienced the vast privilege of riding out from Los Angeles all the way to Sturgis with members of the inaugural Veterans Charity Ride, an event put together to help connect veterans with other veterans, and with needed services.

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Ten years ago, I had the even greater privilege of serving with men and women like them. That privilege came at a cost. I think it always does, but my cost was trivial. Some paid much more. Some paid everything they had, or would ever have.

There’s a saying among riders: “LOOK TWICE. SAVE A LIFE.

“MOTORCYCLES ARE EVERYWHERE.”

Some of us paste it onto our cars with bumper stickers. This week, Wyoming has it blazing on all their electronic freeway signs.

Look Twice

It’s a good reminder, but here’s the thing: next week, when the rally is over, motorcyclists will still be out there, mixing it up with cars, and we’ll still be less than 2% of the traffic stream. We’ll still be at risk and, no matter how tough and independent we think we are, we’ll still need that little bit of consideration from our fellow Americans on the road if we expect to get by.

Oh, sure, it’s a choice. No one has to ride a bike. But maybe looking twice, paying a little extra attention, is not too much to ask of our fellow drivers. Surely it’s not too much to ask of our fellow RIDERS.

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Becoming a soldier or a sailor, an airman or Marine is a choice, too. If you raised your hand and took the oath of service (and I know many of you have), you’ve heard it all before: “Hey, you VOLUNTEERED, Sunshine!”

But you learned something else, too: that we take care of our own. You may get rode hard and put away wet; you may get called things your mother can’t even pronounce, but at the end of the training day or when the firefight is over, the guys who need a helping hand or a listening ear, well… we do that for each other.

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We need to carry that ethic beyond our term of service. Your buddy is your buddy is your buddy. When he stumbles, we grab his elbows. When she falls out, we tote her ruck for a while. And when he’s wounded, we patch him up with whatever bandages we have left in the aid kit.

Next week, the Veterans Charity Ride will be over, too. But veterans will still be less than 1% of our nation’s citizenry – I call us “the real One Percenters” – and we’ll still be at risk.

truck bites bike sturgis 2015Riding motorcycles is dangerous. We all know that. More than half a dozen riders have already gone down for the last time this week, and that’s a tragic loss to our riding community.

For perspective, nearly four times that many American veterans will kill themselves… today. They’ll kill themselves because they – because WE, brothers and sisters – just can’t find the way through.

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So I’m asking you good people – rider or not, veteran or not – to payVietnam_20Veteran a little extra attention. To put your hand out, to open your ears and
your heart, to turn toward us and look us in the eye instead of politely looking away.

We’re spread pretty thin, but you’ll find vets in every corner of America. The stories of military service are colorful; they’re
compelling, and they’re part of our national biography. You need to hear them. We need to tell them.

nydailynews veterans paradeInvisibility is fatal. We vets need to talk with each other, but we need to talk with our neighbors, too.

So I’m asking all of you here today: go talk with that cranky old coot with the red Marine Corps flag in his yard. Sit down with your twitchy uncle who served in Vietnam. Maybe even have lunch with that kid who came back from the ‘Stan with a slight limp and a suddenly quieter demeanor.

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Don’t let us be invisible, even when we seem to demand it. Look twice. Save a life. Veterans are everywhere.

Thank you.

 

 

173rd sky soldier vet

Read all Jack's

Sturgis posts.

Comments

  1. Out-F-ing standing, Jack. You brought tears to my eyes yet again. I hate that, and I love it too because it makes me FEEL the message I think you’re trying to convey. Look twice. Save a life. Veterans are everywhere.

  2. As always you express more than mere words say. I am thankful to you for drawing the word pictures that too many can’t. Keep on living and writing not just for yourself, but for the rest of us.

  3. Charles Roller says:

    Hello Jack… it’s Charles Roller.
    Your friend.

    This was good the day I stood down in front of you and heard it live.
    It is good now.

    I will make this brief for now. Even though the word “brevity” is not often considered when others mention me.

    Meeting you, riding with you, and our conversations on the road are etched into the rest of my life.
    What a wonderful thing, to have happen to me.

    See you next year…

  4. Jack,

    Thanks. That’s all. Just thanks..

  5. Jack Burcham says:

    I drifted my way back stateside in 1970 as a combat vet with too many questions and nowhere to find the answers. Going back to the one good thing that was still pure and true for for me, I began taking long, soul-searching rides on my bike. Gradually, it began to clear my head. I even started talking to other combat vets, but I worried, wondering if it was the right thing to do. Like, “Who the hell am I? Quite honestly, I don’t know squat”. Then I read your stellar write-up on the Sturgis ride for the combat vets and realized it’s more a matter of reaching out – it doesn’t HAVE to be perfect, dammit. Thanks Man, I needed that.

  6. Jack, your writing always touches a place deep inside me. You did it again.

    Thanks.

  7. Celia Anderson says:

    Love the readyairman-500×363 photo you used in the “Look Twice” blog. I work with the AFA Association and was wondering where you found it or if we could use it for a postcard we are running. We like to focus on the airmen and their families and this is a great photo which sends a great message. We are all working for the airmen and appreciate everything you and your families are going through. All you writing is spot on. I come from an military family myself and enjoy everything you do!
    Can you help me?

    • Hi, Celia. Thanks for working with AFA. It’s a good organization.

      Not sure which shot you’re referring to. The guys pictured in theater are army; the rest are assorted veterans.

      Cheers,

      Jack

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