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Cost of Freedom Tribute exhibit on display July 4 weekend

American Veterans Traveling Tribute delivers replica of Vietnam Wall

A replica of the Vietnam Wall will be at Grays Harbor County Fairgrounds July 3-7.

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Each year on the Sunday before Memorial Day, more than 300,000 motorcycles and riders silently wait in the Pentagon parking lot for the clock to strike noon. When it does, every bike roars to life and the wave of "rolling thunder" solemnly rumbles down Constitution Avenue to the Vietnam Wall. One-third of a million bikes are probably better heard and felt, than seen.

"We ride for those who cannot," says the Rolling Thunder Inc. advocacy group. Since the first "Run to the Wall" in 1987, the group has parlayed its motorcycle tribute into many victories for POW and MIA issues.  

Rolling Thunder Inc. keyed the Missing Service Personnel Act of 1993, which requires substantial evidence to list servicemembers as Killed In Action (KIA). It co-authored the Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act, which stopped protests near funeral proceedings for servicemembers. It won approval for a POW/MIA postage stamp. It is currently working toward House Resolution 111, which will ensure the investigation of the whereabouts of all missing POW/MIA servicemembers from every U.S. war.

On July 3-7, the Washington Chapter of the American Veterans Traveling Tribute (AVTT) will bring the Cost of Freedom Tribute exhibit to the Grays Harbor County Fairgrounds. Their display includes a precision 80 percent replica of the original Vietnam Wall - a full 380 feet long, longer than a football field including end zones. If you don't happen to have the change for an East Coast trip lying under the cushions, a visit to the Traveling Wall delivers a very similar experience.  

The tribute boasts dozens of displays, photos, and historical documents, along with computers allowing search of name locations. A local Ride to the Wall will be held at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, July 6, with the public able to participate. A candlelight prayer vigil will be held on at dusk on that day.  

"I touched the wall and the wall touched me," reads one of the sewn patches available through AVTT.  The concept of "fellowship" in college is financial - a sponsor's part is to pay the tuition, and the student's part is to study. There is a design partnership in construction, when one person designs a building, another finances it, and a third builds it. And there is a partnership in freedom - the POW's part of it was to lay his life on the line, and our part of it is be sure that we do not take the freedom for granted.  

AVTT extends our part of it. They work hard to pursue the interests of any living POW that they possibly can, encouraging membership and support from all Americans willing to do so.

A mission statement at avtt.org reads: "Our Cost of Freedom Tribute is a one of a kind outdoor tribute, depicting Honor, Respect and Remembrance of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country. All conflicts the United States of America has been involved in are represented. Paying respect to veterans, active duty military, police officers and firefighters; anyone whose daily job is to put themselves in harm's way, to protect and defend our way of life, in locations around the world or here on the home front. It creates a great forum for communities to raise local awareness and the chance to host an event that can raise funds that stay in your community to help local causes. We are committed to helping our nation's heroes, one community at a time." AVTT's follow through on that intention has been impressive.

Most of us have seen the way a diverse crowd can come together at a concert or sports show; the Ride to the Wall achieves this bonding at a far more convincing level. The candlelight vigils are not being held for the purpose of media relations; they are being held for servicemembers who died so that we can enjoy the right to control our own lives. The AVTT officials consistently gain high marks for professionalism and helpfulness.

To participate in the July 6 Ride to the Wall in Grays Harbor, or for more information about the weekend's tribute, contact the Washington Chapter at www.rollingthunderwa1.org.

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