Tuesday, November 10, 2015

~ Veterans Day ~

“Vietnam helped me realize who the true heroes really are in this world. It's not the home-run hitters.” - Willie Stargell

Bikers all across America salute our veterans. Some organized bike rides make the hair stand up the back of your head.  

We ride in their honor. Today is no different.  

Mike Ulibarri is my high school buddy.  Mike was an awesome athlete in high school, baseball, and cross-country where he excelled. I was on the cross-country team, but not anywhere close to Mike's talents. We graduated together from John F. Kennedy High School in Barstow, California. We were the first graduating class at this new high school  -- an honor.  I went on to college at San Jose State and Mike joined the Army.  At Fort Ord, he set most of the physical fitness records!  Records that stand today.  A real athlete.

All Gave Some, Some Gave All

Mike is low-key but a real biker.  In high school, I called him "motorcycle Mike."  I only heard about the Veterans celebrations by chance when reading an article in the Barstow Desert Dispatch.  He was front and center in remembering and honoring another friend, Gene Christiansen who was reported missing in action in Vietnam. It was then that I heard about the Veterans Day Celebrations that occurred every year at the Barstow Cemetery, exactly on the 11th month, the 11th day, at the 11th hour.  My open letter below to the Desert Dispatch was to honor Gene.  His name appears on panel 33W70 on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Gene Christiansen, "You are not forgotten"

My first ride was called the 'Freedom Ride.'  Days before, I had sent out flyers encouraging other bikers to join me on this ride to Barstow. I'm not sure what I expected, but having other bikes would be a very positive sign. My brother, Gilbert, agreed to ride with me and meets me at the Foster Freeze on Main Street of Barstow at 9am. I had sent flyers to some of the bike shops. To make a long story short, I arrived promptly at 9am after leaving Three Rivers at 5am. Gilbert was there but no one else. We would be the Vietnam escort to the cemetery.  Our 'Freedom Ride' is an honor. Our American Flags wave freely behind our bikes.  We stop by the memorial on Main Street that honors Gene Christiansen. We continue respectfully to the cemetery. Silently, I say a prayer for Gene, "Can you hear me, Gene, this is Robert."  Silence. Our bikes make noise as we ride toward the cemetery.

The ceremonies are very respectful. Those that speak, do not mix words. Words of thanks, freedom, and America rings out.  Flags abound. At precisely 11am, there is a slow-moving Air force plane that flies overhead.  Precision by our military.  There will be many such days ahead in the years to come, precisely at 11am, on the 11th day, on the 11th month.  In 2011, we added the 11th year to the sequence.

These moments are shared all across America.  'Taps' stops us all cold in our tracks.   The 'twenty-one gun salute' wakes us up abruptly.  We remember.  We honor.  We give thanks.

Twenty-one gun salute.

Locally, the call for bikers to escort the traveling Vietnam Wall to Orosi and Tulare was met by thousands. 

As we rode into Orosi, I felt like it was an honor parade. Little kids waved, and old men stood at attention, proudly with their right hand at their head in salute.  Banner abounds. 

They feed all the bikers and thank us for escorting the traveling wall.  No, we thank you for this honor.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Desert Dispatch, editorial letter by Robert Griego

Even Einstein knew, that at the speed of light, you could only be in one place at one time.  As the Barstow community came together last May 30, 2002, to honor a fallen soldier, I was here at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in Three Rivers, California.  I read earnest the kind words spoken at that ceremony by my high school friends Mike Ulibarri and Bobby Martinez. I too was a graduate of John F. Kennedy High School that summer in 1967. Barstow has always been home for me though I have not lived there since I left for college in 1967.

My name is Robert Griego and the National Park Service has been my life now for thirty-two years. The National Park Service, along with our entire Nation, honors the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. 

The Director of the National Park Service, Fran Mainella, has asked the Park Service family to participate in the National Moment of Remembrance this Memorial Day.  In a letter to all National Park Service employees, she said “…Last Memorial Day, the National Park Service joined civic groups, business leaders, and families across the nation in a moment of remembrance to honor the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. For Memorial Day 2003, I again ask the Park Service family to participate in the National Moment of Remembrance and to reflect on the significance of this important day. “

Her words are important, especially at a time when our Nation has again felt the pains of war and we again take time to honor those men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms.   

Barstow has many veterans to honor and here a few: *Sebastian Griego, Leo Griego, Rick Aguayo, Louie Mata, Mike Ulibarri, Fred Dokie, *Clarence Griego, Charles Lemus*, and *John Lopez.

Undoubtedly there are hundreds more.

This Memorial Day I find myself standing face-to-face with panel 33 W 70 on the Vietnam War Memorial here in Washington DC.  I came to honor a fallen soldier from Barstow who was my good friend, *Gene Christiansen.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Hundreds gather to welcome wall in Cutler-Orosi

  • 9:00 PM, Nov. 2, 2011
Veterans and others escort the Vietnam Veteran Tribute Wall from Goshen to Cutler-Orosi on Wednesday. DONNA-MARIE SONNICHSEN
Written by Donna-Marie Sonnichsen
Some saw it as a chance to heal, others to show respect that they felt was long overdue.

Vietnam veterans, veterans from other wars and even those who never served gathered by the hundreds in Goshen on Wednesday to provide a motorcycle escort for the American Veterans Traveling Tribute and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall tribute headed to Cutler-Orosi.

With collective engines rumbling loudly, they rode in staggered formation in front of and behind the three trucks it took to carry the 380-foot wall, which was to be assembled in Cutler early this morning.
Emotions ran deep and even the biggest and burliest people were not immune to being overtaken by emotion.
It took Vietnam veteran and ex-Navy SEAL Rick Morales Jr. of Armona eight failed attempts before he could bring himself to see the wall that carries the names of his two older brothers. But in the end, he triumphed and was better for it.

"They don't call it the wall that heals for nothing. I was able to see my brothers' names and I was able to see their faces the way I remember when they left, and it helped me let go of some of the things I wasn't proud of," Morales said before breaking down.

Morales put in 22 years in several wars and police actions, enlisting when he was 16 after hearing of his brothers' deaths.

"Being Native American, from as far back as I know, my family served. This is our land and historically we've always fought for our land. Not just because we're Native American. It's also because of all the people that came here to get that American Dream."

The memorials will be on display following today's opening ceremonies and will remain open to the public until being dismantled Sunday.

There will be an honor guard manning it at all times, and not just for security, said Ray Moreno, a Vietnam veteran who helped organize the event.

Returning Vietnam vets were shunned, demonized, and neglected because they served in an unpopular war.

"Johnny Cash said it best in a song [Drive On] about the Vietnam Vet....'It took them 25 years to welcome me home,'' said retired National Park employee Robert Griego of Three Rivers," and that's what we're doing is welcoming them."

He was not a Vietnam vet, but always carries a piece of paper with the names of nine classmates [from Barstow, California] who are among the more than 58,000 names on the wall, as well as a 10th name from his New Mexico hometown [La Joya].  "It's time to stand up and salute them."

Respect. Honor. Heroes.

A memorial in honor of Gene Christiansen.

"I always carry the names of my friends who are not forgotten"

Mike Ulibarri and Robert Griego.

Veterans Day Freedom Ride.

Mike Ulibarri, Tudie Martinez, & Dennis Strickland.

Warnell Roberson, we grew up together in Barstow, CA.

Bikers from Southern California honor our Vets.

My bike rests and so does my brother, Moite Griego

My brother-in-law, sister and brothers

Mrs. Ramona Griego, "Gold Star Mother" of Clarence Griego.  Barstow, CA
Robert Griego, Robert and Elva Esquibel, Gilbert Griego.  Barstow, CA

2011, Cutler-Orosi Vietnam Memorial Traveling Wall Escort:

 2013, Tulare Vietnam Memorial Traveling Wall Escort:


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Thank you brother....I agree. For the last 10 years, I ride to Barstow in honor of Veterans Day. One year it occurred on the 11th month, the 11th day, the 11th hour, on the 11th year.