Veterans’ national ride coming through; On 25th anniversary of event, number expected to grow to about 600

For the 10th consecutive year, hundreds of motorcycle riders — many of them war veterans — are expected to roll through downtown Raton Saturday morning as part of the annual “Run For The Wall” that is marking the 25th anniversary of its riders traversing the nation, heading for a Memorial Day weekend arrival at the national Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“We ride for those who can’t” is the slogan of the event, referring to prisoners of war and those missing in action.

The number of riders coming through Raton this weekend is likely to be more than previous years. The Independent Riders of Raton, a local motorcycle group that organizes the activities planned for the riders in Raton Saturday morning, have been told by a Run For The Wall official that since this is the 25th anniversary of the event, about 600 riders are anticipated to make the Run’s central route cross-country trek that begins Wednesday from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., and comes through Raton. A year ago, some 350-375 Run For The Wall riders came through Raton.

The ride has a long history of coming through Raton, although there was a period when it stopped coming directly through town and making a stop. However, the Raton stop on the Run route was re-established 10 years ago.

The Independent Riders of Raton raises money each year to be able to provide fuel to the motorcyclists as they head on the next leg of their journey.

The riders — whose numbers grow as they cross the country — will spend Friday night in Eagle Nest and many will visit Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park near Angel Fire that night. The riders are expected to arrive in Raton about 8:45 a.m. Saturday, refueling at the Conoco station on Clayton Road. During the stop — expected to be about an hour — the Independent Riders plan to recognize local individuals and organizations that made donations and helped with fundraisers to raise the money necessary to pay for the fuel.

After gassing up, the parade of riders will drive north on Second Street, through downtown and onto Interstate 25 at Raton’s northern on-ramp. The riders are expected to cruise through downtown starting at about 9:45 a.m. The local Independent Riders ask people to line the street and wave flags to show support for the Run For The Wall riders. They are scheduled to parade along Trinidad’s Main Street when they get into Colorado on their way to that night’s stop in Goodland, Kan.

Saturday’s Raton visit will occur on day four of the 10-day ride on the Run For The Wall’s central route. Other bikers choose to take the southern route that passes through Las Cruces during its time in New Mexico. Both routes start in Rancho Cucamonga and all the riders will converge again in Washington, D.C., for the Memorial Day weekend Rolling Thunder Parade.

The annual Run is designed to “promote healing among all veterans and their families and friends, to call for an accounting of all Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action (POW/MIA), to honor the memory of those Killed in Action (KIA) from all wars, and to support our military personnel all over the world,” according to the event’s website.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense’s Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, there remain 1,648 American personnel who served in the Vietnam War still unaccounted for in southeast Asia. From the Korean War, 7,918 American servicemen are still missing, and another 73,677 are still unaccounted for from World War II. There are even 126 listed as missing from the country’s Cold War period. More recently, the government office lists six servicemen unaccounted for from Iraq and other conflicts.

As it has in many years past, this year’s Run For The Wall passes through Raton on Armed Forces Day, which is designed to honor those who have served or are serving in America’s military forces. The commemoration was created in 1949 to replace separate Army, Navy and Air Force days, which had been held until then. The reason for the change was the creation of the Department of Defense, which brought all the branches of the military under one authority.

The Run For The Wall was started in 1989 as an effort by James Gregory and Bill Evans, a pair of Vietnam veterans who had traveled across the heartland of America on motorcycles, talking to local radio, TV and newspapers about the fact that there were thousands of men and women still unaccounted for from many wars. The first year of the formal event drew 115 motorcycles, but only 15 went all the way from San Diego to the nation’s capital.

Now, the Rolling Thunder Parade in Washington, D.C. annually features about 350,000 motorcycles starting from the Pentagon parking lots, parading through downtown Washington, and ending at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

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