Pictured: The Wisconsin Hero Bike. It was left at The Wall during Memorial Day Weekend, 1995.
Of the more than 400,000 items left at The Wall, one really stands out.
The Wisconsin Hero Bike is by far the most well-known item left at The Wall. It was a special tribute left by Vietnam veterans and the state of Wisconsin to honor the 37 POW*MIA service members unaccounted for from their state, who served in the Vietnam War.
In the early morning hours of May 25th, 1995, a group of Wisconsin bikers joined together to ride their motorcycles into Washington, D.C. as part of the annual event, "Rolling Thunder" Also referred to as a "Run to The Wall," it called for veterans and military supporters make their way to the nation’s capital on Memorial Day Weekend in support of those unaccounted for and those who never returned.
After a three-day trip, the Wisconsin bikers, also known as the "Committee," arrived at The Wall. From the trailer that accompanied them, they unloaded a motorcycle that veterans and supporters from the state of Wisconsin had helped put together.
The motorcycle was carefully brought down to the apex, in front of The Wall, where more than 58,000 fallen service members from the Vietnam War had their names inscribed in black granite.
Commonly misidentified as a Harley-Davidson, the Hero Bike began life as a Harley-Davidson police special, but under the watchful eye of The Committee morphed into a custom-built chopper constructed of Harley components. Built as a unique way to honor of 37 Wisconsin Vietnam veterans who have been listed as POW or MIA by the Department of Defense (DoD), it remained on display for three days at The Wall, through the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
From that moment, it truly became a sight to be seen. Symbolically, those souls enshrined on the Memorial can ride it. However, until all Vietnam-era POW*MIAs are accounted for, the bike is not allowed to be ridden or sat upon.
To this day, no one has done so.
When one sees it up close, the detail on the motorcycle can almost immerse the visitor with emotion. It gives sentiments of loss and sacrifice. It is powerful, symbolic, and almost heart-wrenching.
Affixed upon the bike are non-military issue service identification tags (also referred to as “dog tags”) for each of the "Wisconsin 37." The names of each of them are painted on the fender and gas tank, with the emblem of the "Wisconsin 37" placed at the gas tank's center. Pictures painted along the sides of the bike depict scenes of war;a man overcome with grief in the battlefield, The Wall shadowed behind him, Huey helicopters flying overhead of an anonymous soldier.
The bike's seat is made of fringed leather. It features a Vietnam Service Medal ribbon accompanied by crossed rifles. The words, "POW-MIAs-BRING EM HOME OR SEND US BACK" is plastered across of it. The handle grips, also made of leather, also have Vietnam Service Medal ribbons embossed upon them.
The bike is a piece of recognition and Vietnam service pride. It acknowledges that these 37 men, fellow comrades, and “brothers” are not forgotten.
To this date, the remains of 11 out of the 37 men from Wisconsin have been recovered.
Currently, the bike is available for view on VVMF's Virtual Collection.
Construction of the bike began in 1994. Donations began pouring in from supporters across the state. That year, the bike's license plate which reads, "HERO," was also registered to the people of Wisconsin.
The group responsible for its being, "Bike For The Wall Committee," consisted of a group of Wisconsin Vietnam veterans and motorcycle enthusiasts. It was led by, "Hogman" Bob Thompson, "Polack" & Marlene Pezewski, "Shooter" & Deb Rutkowski, Ron Mungo Oleszak, "Kickstand" & Jen, and "Gator" & Carla "Pig Heart".
The “Hero Bike” was truly a gift from the people, laid at a people’s memorial. It continues to inspire generations and shows how a nation remembers its heroes.
On May 29, 1995 the bike was delivered to the National Park Service's (NPS) Museum Resource Center (MRCE) and accessioned into the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection. The MRCE facility is home to the thousands of items that have been left at The Wall. Every day, items left at The Wall are collected by The National Park Service. There, they are catalogued and preserved. Approximately 4,000-6,000 items from this Collection will be on display in the future Education Center at The Wall once it is funded and constructed
While the motorcycle may not be considered any more meaningful than a letter, a Budweiser can, or a pack of cigarettes left at The Wall- it is similar in that it was left as a tribute to those who died in battle. The bike joins a long line of testaments, words, and pleas for understanding. The "Hero Bike" is just one way a nation is finding ways to heal from the Vietnam War.
You can see a selection of items left at The Wall on VVMF's Virtual Collection here.