Vietnam vet Joe Carillo rides for those who can't

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

DOWNEY – Downey resident Joe Carillo took part in this year’s annual Run for the Wall (RFTW) event, which took him across an over 2,600-mile ride across the country.

RFTW was established in 1989 by Vietnam veterans James Gregory and Bill Evans as a way to raise awareness for the thousands of men and women who are still unaccounted for from all wars. The event sees military veterans and family members ride their motorcycles from west coast to east coast, starting in Ontario, Calif., and ending at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC. The entire trip takes around 10 days. 

Carillo served in the Marine Corp in various air wing stations during the Vietnam Era from 1969 to 1972. He originally planned to ride in last year’s RFTW, however was unable to do so due to last minute, unforeseen circumstances. He was one of thousands of veterans to make this year’s ride.

“It was amazing. It’s an amazing ride,” said Carillo. “…We ride for the ones who can’t.”

The ride started on May 13, ended on the 22nd, and culminated on Memorial Day. All the riders are escorted by police and highway patrol, and are greeted with open arms by the community members of each town that they pass through. Carillo described it as a “nationwide affair.”

“It’s pretty heavy; very emotional,” said Carillo. “It’s amazing how people stand over the over passes… People just come out and wait for us. It’s a very cool thing to see…the smaller the town, the bigger the patriotism is!”

The ride includes veterans from wars spanning from WWII to currently active military according to the RFTW website. However Carillo said that most of the participants were from the older generation.

“I would say 99% of these guys are all Vietnam era. There’s very few young guys you would see, like Iraqi or Afghanistan. You’ll see some, but not very many. Most of them, everybody’s grey haired. A bunch old dudes,” he said.

Ride participants are often times provided with food, gasoline, entertainment, and ceremony by many of the schools, organizations, and citizens within the towns that they pass through, however, other expenses and lodging are each rider’s personal responsibility. 

According to Carillo, this year’s ride somewhat struggled with the weather.

“We caught into a lot of rain. You know all that rain in Texas? We were right in the middle of that,” Carillo said. “We got into the middle of the rain, hail, thunder, and they don’t stop. They stop to pull over and put on your rain suit. You just keep going…we run between 200 to 350, sometimes 400 miles a day.”

Reflecting on his experience, Carillo emphasized that there is a need to not forget those who sacrificed for the country.

“A lot of soldiers during the 60’s and 70’s were patronized because of the Vietnam War, and because of that people have forgotten. We’re trying not to let them forget about this war and why a lot of people died and why a lot of people were lost. That’s why we ride for the ones who can’t…Hopefully people will recognize us older veterans that are from the Vietnam Era. They should appreciate and shake a veteran’s hand when you see one. Tell them thank you.”

Carillo plans on participating in his second RFTW in 2017.