By David Tanner, associate editor
Like many young men of high-school age in the Vietnam era of the late 1960s, best friends Steve Davenport and Bob Cupp were drafted to serve Uncle Sam. Uncertain of their future, the two made a pact that if something happened to one of them, the other would take care of his mother.
Not long after that, on June 6, 1968, the unthinkable happened. Cpl. Robert William Cupp was killed in action. He was buried on his 21st birthday.
Steve was deeply affected by the loss of his friend, and although it took some time to heal, he has fulfilled his promise to take care of Bob’s mother, Emogene Cupp.
“He always sends me flowers and has for all of these 40-some years. He’s pretty special to me,” said Emogene, now 91, from her home in Alexandria, VA.
Emogene’s daughter, Sue Rampey, also speaks highly of Steve.
“Not only does he come to DC to attend every Rolling Thunder since it began, and the services at The Wall on Memorial Day, he has come some Veterans Days also,” she said. “Plus, he sends my mother flowers for Mother’s Day and Gold Star Weekend and has done that for years.”
The families connected again this past May, when Steve, an OOIDA life member and owner-operator trucker now living in Lewisville, TX, made his 29th annual pilgrimage to attend the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally which ends at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
“Most people don’t know real heroes,” Steve said. “My heroes are memorialized on The Wall.”
While Steve chooses to ride his custom Harley-Davidson chopper in the parade, Emogene rides in a more conventional vehicle. She is 91, after all, but still manages to make it to The Wall each Memorial Day for observances.
It’s a wall she helped build, in fact. During the late 1970s, Emogene was president of the American Gold Star Mothers, a group brought together by the tragedy of war but forged by the love for their sons and daughters who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
It was around that time that Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund president and wounded veteran Jan Scruggs was trying to set up an office to get The Wall built. Scruggs found his office, and Emogene volunteered to help the cause however she could.
In the early 1980s, many people resisted the idea of a memorial to Vietnam vets, but Scruggs’ perseverance paid off and The Wall was dedicated Nov. 13, 1982.
“I was there all the way through,” said Emogene.
“She broke ground for the first panel,” adds Steve. “And as things have evolved, the message of The Wall has created a healing effect for a lot of guys, especially me.
“I had a survivor’s guilt going on for a long time in the ’70s,” he said. “I was at Bob’s funeral, and I couldn’t even face his parents for about 10 years.”
Steve has always taken his responsibility to Emogene seriously, and their bond remains strong.
Steve’s Harley-Davidson chopper is a rolling tribute to her son. Front and center on the gas tank is the name Robert W. Cupp, painted to look like an etching from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Steve also has 75 other names memorialized on the tank.
“There are five guys I went to school with whose names are on the bike,” he said. “The other 70 names – I never knew the guys personally, but I met their mothers through Bob’s mother, so I did the chopper in tribute to the Gold Star Mothers.”
Steve gets to DC often, and not always by motorcycle. He was recently invited to a White House function as part of the Champions of Change program and National Transportation Week. Even when he’s trucking, Steve never passes up an opportunity to visit the capital and his second family.
“If he has a truck run in the area, he also calls or stops by to see my mother and takes her out to eat,” Sue Rampey said.
Steve says he’s considering a new paint job for his rig, something similar to the tribute on the chopper. He hopes to have it completed in time for the 30th anniversary of The Wall in 2012.
The awareness is part of the healing.
“There’s lots more attention paid to these things now than there used to be, and that’s what the hope was when it all got started,” Steve said.
Trucking and the U.S. military have much in common: service to their country.
A number of professional drivers get their first trucking experience while in the service, and trucking remains a popular career choice for vets. According to the OOIDA Foundation, 35 percent of Association members have served in the military.
“I know many owner-operators that have served and have Harleys. And, you know, it’s a way that the circle stays unbroken,” Steve says.
The 33-year trucker is proud that his generation, aided by Gold Star Mothers like Emogene Cupp, stood together to get the Vietnam Veterans Memorial built.
“You go to DC and stand for the guys the politicians left behind. That’s what the Rolling Thunder is all about,” he said.
“Our generation is probably one of the most activist groups this country has ever known, and I’m kinda proud of it, you know? It gives me purpose and keeps me going.” LL
Editor’s note: Steve is an OOIDA alternate board member and was seated in April 2011.