Guard forms in Reed City

REED CITY - A few at a time, they trickled in, winding their way down exit ramps from both directions, scooting along east and west on U.S.-10 across the mitten of Michigan, spilling out of the heart of Reed City and its neighboring communities, rolling into Osceola County.

Finally they were ready to head north on a very important mission.

“They” were members of the Patriot Guard motorcycle escort and were ready to ride from Reed City to Cadillac on Wednesday, Aug. 3, accompanying a replica of the Vietnam Wall.

The Wall pays tribute to those who fought the battles in Vietnam, the very many who lost their lives.

Some said there were 300 motorcycles at Northwind Travel Center in all. One man counted 385. Still others estimated 600 or more. Regardless of the actual number, every man, woman and child on one of those motorcycles gave this area a day to remember.

Reed City played an important starring role thanks to a combination of Mike Bell, a member of the Patriot Guards who had a plan to use Northwind Travel Center, the Marathon station, at the crossroads of U.S.-10 and the U.S.-131 freeway for however many motorcycles should show up. Early predictions ranged around 300, but as the spirit of being part of this important day became known, those expectations grew to possibly a thousand or more.

Bell explained his idea to Amber Nelson, manager of the station which is also an important trucking “oasis” of sorts, and she thought it would be a go. After talking with one of the owners of Northwind, Kevin Egnatuk, it absolutely was a go.

So much so that employees worked hard to lay out two specific staging areas that could accommodate likely several hundred motorcycles over a couple hour period, and to assure truck drivers that they could still come in, fill up, and get out again without any difficulty in movement through the cycles.

The only inconvenience might be in parking a truck during the early to mid afternoon in the area behind and to the north of the gas station. That proved not to be an issue either.

As more and more rolled in, people took pictures. Some climbed up little hills to get a bigger picture of the growing numbers. One got out of his truck at the gas pumps, clambered up on the load of wood he was hauling, and got a helping of pictures himself. Still others stood on tailgates and on bumpers.

The manager of the gas station? He got up on the roof. Took pictures, then went back to helping out inside.

Not only were truckers accommodating, many actually went out among the motorcycles, shaking hands with many veterans, thanking them for being here, as well as having been “there.”

People lined up along the east side of the road near the station, watching. Across U.S.-10 to the south, waiting. Even along the entrance ramp to the freeway, where the Patriot Guard and that awesome wall would move soon, accompanied by Osceola County Sheriff’s vehicles to the Osceola-Wexford County line, where they would turn over the escort responsibilities to their Wexford counterparts, who would continue with the entourage on into the City of Cadillac.

There in the city park, the Wall would be “built,” and readied for 24-hour a day observance, open to the public. In addition, the plans called for various other displays, including flags, a Vietnam Remembered Art Display, Walk of the Heroes Collection, Korea Tribute, 9/11 Tribute, Gold Dog Tag Collection for casualties since Vietnam and those for the Global War on Terror.

There was to be much music, taps, prayers, sharing of memories, and many tears over that time period, among other things.

For Reed City, it was an afternoon to remember. The gas station soon returned to a takeover of spaces needed again by truckers. The many coolers refilled so many times with bottles of cold water given free to the motorcyclists by Northwind were emptied out and put away. And the people who remained behind when the motorcycles left realized that not only had the parking lot emptied of two huge staging areas filled with motorcycles, but was left spotless.

Spotless.

Spots in many hearts? Filled with thanks for that Wednesday to remember.

Not only the motorcycles, mind you, but what they stood for.