Feb. 12, 2015
By: Katie Egan


Local Contingent Masses to Escort Vietnam Wall Replica


A motorcade with a mission took over a 40-plus mile stretch of I-75 Wednesday.

Two-hundred-and-seventy-two motorcycles. Dozens of police and sheriff’s cruisers and emergency vehicles.

And one wall.

The noontime parade had a singular and simple goal — escort a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veteran Memorial Wall down the busy interstate to its weekend home at Veterans Park in Marco Island.

Normally, shutting down parts of a busy road means enraging many motorists, but few seemed to mind the slight inconvenience and short waits as the motorcade lumbered past.

Collier County Sheriff’s Office Corporal Chris Thomas said people understood.

“It went very well. It was a very good turnout, very heartbreaking,” said Thomas, a six-year veteran of the Army himself. “Some people got out of their cars to salute us.”

Marco is hosting the replica wall, which travels the country, for the second time. During its first visit in 2011, Lee Rubenstein, chairman of the Vietnam Memorial Fundraising Committee, said 15,000 people came out to see it during its four-day stay.

He said he expects a similar turnout this year.

“It shows Marco is a special place,” Rubenstein said. “It knows how to treat veterans.”

Wednesday’s motorcade started at the Daniels Parkway entrance to the interstate, with a massing the motorcycles that would form the bulk of the escort.

Around 12:30 p.m., a man in a bright yellow hat gave the riders the signal to start their engines and hit the road.

It was a balmy 64 degrees. Navy veteran Erik Miller, 41, thought it was a perfect day to go for a ride with friends, some of whom were also veterans.

“You won’t see this many bikers in one place,” he said and laughed.

In addition to the two-wheeled flotilla of cycles, the wall was also escorted by cruisers from the Florida Highway Patrol, the Lee and Collier County sheriff’s offices and the Marco Island Police Department, which led the motorcade.

Behind the law enforcement contingent were three Vietnam veterans on three different motorcycles, said Marco Island Police motorcycle officer Matt Goetz. They were followed by the truck that housed the Wall.

The Collier County Sheriff’s Office helped direct the motorcade through normal rush hour traffic and intersection closures on Collier Boulevard. The Marco Island Police Department took over at Isles of Capri, around County Road 952.

A minor motorcycle accident marred the wall’s arrival in Marco Island, but the two people who were injured were later treated and released from the hospital.

After the Wall had reached its destination, Gary and Micki Van Riper called the replica “very sobering.”

Gary Van Riper, 70, didn’t get drafted because he’s deaf in one ear. But he had friends who served in the conflict that claimed more than 58,000 American lives.

“It’s a reminder,” Micki Van Riper, 67, said. “Especially now with all the wars going on. Americans are still dying. People here watching the news can’t imagine what the families are going through.”

“It’s the least we can do, to honor those who pay the highest price,” she added.

The replica wall will be on display from 7 a.m. Thursday to 2 p.m. Monday at Veterans Community Park, 901 Park Ave.


Click here for more by Katie Egan