Sergeant First Class Leroy Petry may be retired from active duty, but that isn’t stopping him from undertaking an important mission with several hundred fellow veterans.
Petry is part of a convoy of hundreds of bikers who left last week from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., to ride cross-country for more than 2,200 miles in three different groups to Washington D.C., as part of the Run For The Wall.
As part of that mission, the group travels to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., and participates in the Rolling Thunder Parade, along with a candlelight vigil on Friday, May 23.
The ride honors the Americans who were killed or missing in all wars, as well as our troops currently serving in the military.
“My generation of soldiers I’ve seen treated extremely well (by civilians) because of the sacrifices of a lot of our Vietnam veterans, who not only had to fight a war but had to come back to a somewhat ungrateful nation,” Petry said in an interview with Land Line at OOIDA headquarters on Monday. “We owe it to them, because of their sacrifices and especially those who paid the ultimate sacrifice …”
Petry, 35, originally from Santa Fe, N.M., is the second living recipient of a Medal of Honor from the war in Afghanistan, which he was awarded “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.” The Medal of Honor is the U.S. military’s highest decoration.
On May 26, 2008, Petry and his unit were engaged in a firefight with armed enemies in Paktya Province, Afghanistan. He and two other members of his squad were wounded in an exchange of gunfire and grenades. All three men might have been killed if Petry had not picked up an enemy grenade that landed near all three of the men and tossed it back towards the enemy. The explosion amputated his right hand at the wrist and further injured him with shrapnel. Petry applied a tourniquet to his own wounds and continued to communicate with his unit by radio, coordinating support for himself and his fellow wounded Rangers.
After being fitted with a prosthetic hand, Petry returned to active duty in the Army until his retirement last year.
About 300 members of the convoy passed through Grain Valley on Monday morning. Petry and a contingent of about 10 others, including OOIDA Member David “Bounce” Talley made at pit stop at Association headquarters.
Talley, an Air Force vet who is riding for his ninth time, said the emotional impact hasn’t diminished.
“It only gets better,” he said. “In Kansas, I think every fire department in Kansas was on an overpass.”
Talley is one of several bikers who will be monitoring channel 19 on the CB to communicate with truckers on the path. The bikes will be moving five miles below the posted speed limit.
Talley said drivers who want to know what the convoy is up to, or who may be affected by their passage should “turn their radios on, because we’re telling them what we’re doing.”
With an estimated 300 bikes per group, 250 will ride in the pack with 50-55 bikes riding ahead to set up the fuel stops in stages. This ensures that they do not tie up the highways. In some parts of the journey, the bikers will receive an escort. Both the southern and midway routes also have teams providing alerts to drivers.
Petry said his experience with the ride so far has been a little rough, owing to mechanical issues with his trike. The transmission had to be completely replaced in the New Mexico leg of the trip, and at one point Petry said he wasn’t sure if he’d get to continue.
“It was like being injured and having to leave my unit all over again,” he said. “I wanted to go all the way and didn’t think I could, but the support we got, got me back on the road.”
In addition to the Run For The Wall, Petry said he recently toured Afghanistan with a group of combat wounded soldiers for Operation Proper Exit, to promote healing for soldiers who’ve physically recovered from injuries.
“It gives them an opportunity to leave the country not on a medivac aircraft, but on a normal aircraft, and to share their stories with troops on the ground,” he said. “It gave both groups an opportunity to learn that resiliency is in every one of us.”
Petry also expressed gratitude for OOIDA’s Truckers for Troops program, and said that he appreciated the support he and the rest of the veterans have received on the ride.
“The truckers I’ve seen along the way have been patient and they’ve had support,” he said. “I think they’ve been great, and to those that are veterans I want to thank them and the rest of you for supporting our cause. You’re there, riding alongside us…”
Having been involved with the run for a decade now, Talley says the biggest change is “we’re getting younger guys, like Sgt. Petry,” involved.
“When my brother talked me into doing it in 2005, I told him it sounds great, but ‘that’s for Vietnam vets’ and I’m a Cold War vet…” he said. “(There’s a generation of younger vets) that are starting to notice there are things out there they can do, in groups like this, where they can actually talk to somebody who knows (what they’ve been through).”
For Talley, the run is about rekindling a sense of fraternity and also to provide support for those who are still here and still dealing with the after-effects of combat.
“There’s a lot of things that go into it,” he said. “I was Vietnam-age, but I didn’t go. My younger brother was there in ’75, and he told me, ‘you’ve got Survivor’s Guilt. …’ There were over 2 million people in the military at the time of Vietnam and only about 20 percent of them went. Some of them feel pretty bad about that. And (the run) is trying to encourage the young guys to come do this because it’s a healing thing.”
For more information on Run For The Wall, click here.
“Land Line Now” News Anchor Reed Black and LL Staff Tyson Fisher contributed to this report.
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