It’s all about remembering.
Mike Denman and his wife Sharon decided to take a 5,380-mile motorcycle ride to show how much they remember and care for U.S. veterans.
The Stansbury Park couple rode in the “Run for the Wall” in May, a national recognition of military men and women who fought in Vietnam. 2019 was the event’s 31st year.
Mike is a veteran of the Utah National Guard 115th Utility Division Detachment based at Camp Williams. The unit no longer exists. Because of his service, Mike has always had a soft spot for those in the military.
Mike was born in California. He moved to Utah in 1978, worked in Salt Lake City, did some college. Sharon is also from California and the couple met in Utah. They have five children and have lived in Stansbury Park for 19 years.
“I am retired and bored,” Mike said. “But boring would be great if my wife was retired with me!”
He installed security systems for many years. The work fit in nicely with his National Guard assignment as an interior and exterior engineering conduction contractor.
The military was a good part of Mike’s life.
“I liked it. It was just fun,” he said.
Mike has been to Germany twice, Korea, Guatemala, Alaska, Honduras and Jamaica. He served during the first Gulf War.
How did he feel about the war?
“I did my job,” he said.
Mike isn’t really a biker dude, he will admit. But his brother, Vernon, got him involved with the Patriot Guard in St. George.
“He used to live in Tooele, and got involved with the group, and even did the ‘Run for the Wall’ a couple of years ago,” Mike said. “He kept telling me and Sharon about it.”
Mike finally relented and got a motorcycle. Then he threw his back out and had to have surgery, then another. Now he was in a quandary.
His wife was not sure about the motorcycle now.
“She said, ‘well Vernon has a Spider bike. Maybe if you get one of those and the doctor says OK’….” Mike said.
A Spider bike has three wheels and is much more stable. You can ride sitting straight up, with less bending, leaning into turns and such, Mike said.
“The doctor said it would be OK, as long as I was careful,” he said. “So, I went ahead and got the Spider.”
With that issue revolved, Sharon took over.
“She was the instigator; she made all the arrangements,” Mike said.
There are three routes the riders can take. All of them start in Ontario, California. There are two other routes that go through different portions of the United States.
The Denmans decided to take the Midway Route with Vernon. The entire group started in California and then took different freeways to Washington, D.C.
“We left from Tooele to St. George to collect my brother,” Mike said. “Then we rode to Flagstaff, Arizona. From there we joined the route going toward D.C.”
It took the group of nearly 600 riders 10 days to get there.
“We had a whole lot of fun, and met a whole lot of interesting people,” Mike said.
The group stopped at a lot of schools, especially in smaller communities.
“We would go in and see a short program, then the kids could go outside and check out all the bikes,” Mike said.
“It was also a nice chance to get off the bikes and stretch our legs a bit,” he said. “Then we would hop back on and drive to the next little town.”
Sometimes the bikers would be a bike parade for the kids.
“They would really love it,” he said.
Many times, the group would ride under an overpass and there would be people on top or fire department and police, waving and cheering, he said.
The group rode though other adventures.
“Once we stopped at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base outside of Fayetteville, North Carolina, we were allowed to ride right up on the runway,” Mike said. “Then a group of four F-15s flew over the group in the missing man formation.
“We were close enough to feel their exhaust,” he said.
The group drove through lightning storms, rain and managed to avoid some tornados.
The ride was amazing, Mike said. He and Sharon expected to pay for gasoline, but that only happened twice. It turned out most of the time a donor would pay.
“We had support vehicles and they would get to a gas station ahead us and get everything set up,” Mike said. “Everything would be organized, and we would just drive, fill our tank, and drive on. It was amazing.”
Lunch and dinner were provided every day for free. Meals were provided by volunteers from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, schools and other volunteers, Mike said.
One time was memorable because the riders were in a gym and a lone bagpiper started playing “Amazing Grace.” He walked around the entire gym and walked back out. Then the VFW gave a presentation about the Battlefield Cross — two boots, a rifle, and a helmet.
“There were a lot of biker guys crying,” Mike said.
“People were just there to support us and what the ride stands for,” he said. “There was just a spirit at each stop.”
Mike and Sharon also got to try some new foods.
“It is there I tried smoked baloney for the first time. I went back for fourth’s — it was that good,” Mike laughed.
As the riders approached D.C., the Denman’s group pulled in first. The other groups were just a few hours behind.
“We would go out and wave and welcome them in,” Mike said. “Then we would go out and welcome the next group in. All told there were about 3,600 bikes there.”
They arrived on a Friday. On Saturday the entire group was able to take their bikes into Arlington National Cemetery and did a presentation at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The next stop was the Vietnam War Memorial Wall.
“Each morning during the trip, we would have a little stop and talk about what the ride was for, and encourage each other,” Mike said.
“Each day they would read a bibliography of a solider that was killed in Vietnam. My wife and I each took two of those names,” Mike said.
When the couple got to the wall, they found each soldier’s name and placed the laminated biography underneath it.
“That was the first time I had seen the Wall and it was humbling, very humbling,” Mike said.
On Sunday, the Denmans left the hotel at 6 a.m. and waited in the Pentagon parking lot.
“We waited until about 12:30 p.m. and by then there were over 1.5 million bikes there,” Mike said. “It was hot. There were three fire trucks there spraying water for us to get cooled off.”
Sharon had to fly home before the event was over. But there were more adventures to come.
And how was his bum feeling?
“I got a real nice seat cushion and my back felt great,” Mike said.
The next day was Monday, Memorial Day, and Mike and Vernon started back.
Halfway back, Vernon’s wife died.
“It was her wish that he go on the ride and complete it,” Mike explained. “She had been fighting for several years.”
The brothers stopped at other places along the route, meeting interesting people.
Mike is very grateful the Ride was so safe.
“There were 586 bikes involved in our group and there was only one accident,” he said. “… One guy even called us the ‘rolling bubble’ because of our safe trip.”
Lots of times the police would have all the exits blocked so there was no one else on the road, Mike said. Sometimes the group had a police escort through the entire state.
When Mike and Vernon got home, the odometer on his bike read 5,380 miles.
While he drove across the nation, Mike talked to another rider.
“It really hit me the most and I realized that if you want to love your country, you can’t stay in one place,” he said. “You have got to get out and see it. By seeing it, you get to appreciate and love it more.”
The purpose of the “Run for the Wall” is to recognize the soldiers that gave us our freedoms, Mike said. This beautiful country is part of what they fought for.
“That is it,” he said. “To recognize those soldiers.”
The Denmans can’t go next year, but the ride is on the family schedule for 2021.