The whole thing was awesome. From the sound of the first motorcycles rolling in at the Marathon Station out by the freeway here at Reed City last Wednesday, to watching the last ones later roll down the entrance ramp and north to Cadillac.

These were the moments for building memories. I heard laughter. I saw tears. I laughed some with others, and at times wiped away my own tears.

Hearing some of the stories that were being shared, seeing some of the injuries caused by a war from a long time ago, and listening to the pain still felt from not only those who had been through the hell of Vietnam and returning home, but to those who fought in other wars. And from 9/11. And the pain of the memories.

Man.

It was awesome, and many said it was healing. Bit by bit, one Patriot Guard said, each time they are called on to escort the wall or help the still hurting or be part of protection or part of a funeral, “We heal just a little bit more.”

I was proud of “my” Reed City. The way we turned out to see for ourselves, to feel the feelings, to extend our hands. To say thanks.

Our Marathon station, Northwind, went the extra mile to make sure things were ready. And they were. Areas were cordoned off as needed to accommodate not only many motorcycles, but also the continuing flow of trucks needing fuel. The station provided free water to the bikers, and a warm atmosphere.

And that favor was returned by those who came.

Bikers. Imagine wandering about that place for a couple of hours. Not a swear word did I hear. I saw hugs. I saw prayers being prayed as a man and a woman sat on their bikes and had lunch. I saw little kids wandering about, and young boys perched on bikes as though thinking some day, some day I will ride with these men and be proud too, and help them heal.

And when they left, there was one potato chip for a hungry seagull. One empty cup in that entire huge parking lot. And a whole host of memories.

When we went on up to Cadillac a couple days later to be a part of and spend time, we talked with many of these same people as though we had known them for years. And actually, we had met only moments before.

I took with me a picture of a young serviceman. My own “unknown.” A picture left in the cemetery urn at the grave in Cadillac of my mom and dad. I have no idea who the young man is. Or was. I don’t know if his picture had been left at perhaps his own parent’s grave or if someone had placed it on his. Perhaps the wind had blown it about, and someone picked it up and put it there to be found.

I took it with me back to Cadillac, determined to give it to someone who might find out the answer to the mystery. The first military man we happened by, I asked if he could help me out. Would he just salute for me so I could take a picture.

He never hesitated. Then I pulled out the picture and talked at length with 83-year-old Harry Ray Nelson and his wife Betty. He had been in WWII. Then got orders while at Ferris to go to Vietnam. And did.

I knew he was the man to take the picture. He looked at the young man in the photograph and said he would do all he could to find out his name, and the reason for his picture being where I had found it. I had no doubt. He took a liking to that young man, an unknown, just because. Me too.

The Wednesday and the Friday we spent with the friends we had never met was a new memory. An awesome one at that. All of several hundred of them … and thank you.