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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Riding 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.
So I’m asking you good people – rider or not, veteran or not – to pay 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.
Invisibility 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.
Don’t let us be invisible, even when we seem to demand it. Look twice. Save a life. Veterans are everywhere.