I’ll admit, I pushed the snooze button a couple times, but when I received a knock on the door by the Department of Texas vice commander I knew I should get my behind in gear.
Post 385 in Blanco, Texas, has some great people. They served us a delicious dinner last night and did it again this morning with breakfast to get us going. A special thanks to Commander Carl Struck for hosting us, and Auxiliary member Randi Weeks for going above and beyond to make everyone feel welcome and taken care of.
During our morning briefing, National Vice Commander Steve Sweet told us of something special we were going to do on this leg. We were going to travel on a long stretch of open road, and he wanted to make sure every rider got an opportunity to lead the pack. We got a brief explanation on how we going to do it, then we hit the road. About 20 minutes into our ride we started switching out. The plan was each person would take a turn up front for a couple minutes, then peel off and move to the rear. The plan sounded good, the execution was just a little discombobulated. But for one spectacular moment I was leading Team Vision on the 2019 Centennial Ride.
We stopped for fuel in Lampasas, where we picked up a rider who was still active duty but wanted to join us for a bit. He’s from Evant, Texas, which is up the road a bit, so this was his chance. I’ll say he had a cool bike: a Harley-Davidson painted classic military style, olive drab with a big ol’ star in front.
One of the best things about riding through the U.S. is seeing local folks come out on the route to greet you as you pass. As we rode through Evant, it seemed like the whole town came out to wave flags and cheer as we rode through
The next post we visited was right on the Legion Memorial Highway, Post 222 in Hamilton, Texas. The post was named after a WW1 draftee who was the first to lose his life overseas from the area, Bernard Cunningham. There I met Paul I. Baines, who was in the Navy during Vietnam on the U.S.S. Kittyhawk. He was proud to tell a story about Adm. Zumwalt visiting the Kittyhawk on Christmas Day.
When we took off, we left quickly, and I’ll admit I wasn’t ready. But I caught up as we moved towered the next town. We were moving quickly as we entered Stephenville when I spotted a police officer quickly turn around and flip on his lights. I wasn’t sure if he was escorting us or pulling us over. Turns out it was the later, as he got in front of one of our support vehicles and pulled it over. Apparently, even though we were riding at least the speed limit, we were impeding traffic.
We had a quick stop at Post 240 in Stephenville. And although they were extremely happy to see us and serve us food, the riders were a bit spent. Post Adjutant Roger Easter did a great job of hosting the event. One interesting fact: Mayor Doug Svien had declared Aug. 2, 2019, American Legion Centennial day. We sure do appreciate that.
Our next stop was Mineral Wells Post 75, where I got a detailed tour of the post by Commander Mike Brooks. Post 75 was on the verge of shutting down until a few years ago. My impression was that the Riders came in and were a driving force to revive the post and keep it going. They also had a bingo hall which brought in a lot of income. And like the Hamilton Post, its namesake was the first of their local boys to be killed in action overseas during WW1, Farris Anderson.
We had a long ride to our final stop of the day in Wichita Falls. Being a fairly large city, we once again got a police escort through town. I was impressed how drivers, even on the other side of the road, would pull over for the sirens. Sadly, that doesn’t really happen that much anymore in my hometown of Los Angeles.
In Wichita Falls we were welcomed by the biggest crowd I’ve seen yet. Members from Post 120, Post 169, and Post 264 all came out to great us. Since it was the end of the day I was able to grab a drink or two and discovered a regional colloquialism. Back in California we call beer that comes from a tap a “draft beer” but in this part of the country I guess it’s called a “draw.” Go figure.
After I had a couple I got the chance to sit down with some of the young leadership of the post and district. We did something that is strictly forbidden at my post: We talked politics. I must admit it was enlightening. We took on the topic of why California and Texas have such a different point of view. And we did it respectfully. That’s the most important part. We’re not enemies, we’re Americans, and we’re not that far apart. We all want the same things: to work, to be happy, to be safe, and to raise our families to live a long and prosperous life. If as a nation we could just talk to each other as family instead of foes, there is no telling in what we could accomplish.