On May 20, Vietnam Veterans Walter New and Fred Salanti will begin a journey on their Honda Goldwing Motorcycles to Arlington, Virginia. They won’t be alone. As members of the Old Guard Motorcycle Club and joined by hundreds of other bikers across the nation, New and Salanti will escort the cremains of three veterans to their final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery. Although now only ashes, the three will be placed with other heroes who fought for their country throughout history.
Three veterans- three wars. Isaiah Mays, born in 1858 and a Buffalo Soldier in the Indian Wars, was a recipient of the Medal of Honor. He received a pauper’s burial at the Arizona State Hospital where he had been wrapped in a sheet and buried in the ground without a casket or headstone for 78 years.
Johnnie Franklin Callahan’s ashes remained with his grandson while his family sought, in vain, to have Callahan interred at Arlington. Callahan served in the Navy during World War II and received a Silver Star, the nation’s third highest award for combat valor. Callahan picked up a live bomb dropped by a Japanese bomber on the deck of his ship and threw it overboard.
James William Dunn fought in the Vietnam War and like Callahan, earned a Silver Star Medal. As a combat medic, he ignored his own safety repeatedly to help injured troops in the midst of battle. His daughter will lovingly accompany his cremains to Arlington.
Securing the interments at Arlington was the work of the Missing In America Project (MIAP). In about 2006, Salanti became aware that all over the country, unclaimed remains of veterans sat on shelves in crematoriums and mortuaries. Those veterans never made it to the cemetery and he asked himself, “How can we let this happen?”
As a result, Salanti founded MIAP, the non-profit that locates, identifies and inters the cremains of veterans. An Army veteran who fought in the jungle of Vietnam for two years, he felt the deceased were due honor and respect for the service to their country. Because many funeral homes are still not aware of MIAP and may have veteran cremains, Salanti says, “We still need to look.”
New, who served in the Air Force and suffers from the affects of Agent Orange, met Salanti in Grants Pass around the time MIAP was founded, he said. He joined eagerly in the effort after observing first-handedly how Vietnam Veterans were treated in their own country when returning from war. A Shady Cove resident, New is the trip coordinator.
Because the members of the Old Guard are not getting any younger, New has planned the trip carefully. Every 100 miles, a 30-minute break will offer some relief and lunch is a 90-minute respite. “Three guys have handicapped plates on their bikes,” New said. With an amused pride he related the double-takes those license plates garner.
The bikers, mostly veterans, leave Redding for Sacramento on May 20, said New. On the 21st, the official escort leaves Sacramento traveling to Elko, Nevada -then through Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Illinois, West Virginia and Washington D.C. until they reach Arlington. Along the way, bikers will join up, although sometimes only through their own state. A parade in Elko will honor the veterans and in Grand Junction, Colorado, 500 people will line the street holding American Flags as the bikers and their precious cargo roll through town.
The cadre arrives in Arlington on May 27. On May 29, the funeral services for Mays, Callahan and Dunn will take place with hundreds of bikers standing by reverently. New, who could not bring himself to visit the “Wall” until thirty five years after his retirement from the military, said umpteen emotions will be felt and that bikers are not above letting a tear or two roll, unchecked, down their cheeks.
For more information or to make a donation go to www.MIAP.us or call Salanti at (530) 229-9000.
By Margaret Bradburn
Of the Independent