Celebrating Veterans with The 2022 Tour of Honor and Veterans Rock in Dudley, NC

As we come into Memorial Day weekend, we are challenged to remember those who gave their lives in service to their country. One particular way we can do that blends with another thing we love to do with long weekends: travel.

About The Tour

The Tour of Honor is a first responder and veteran-focused motorcycle tour that visits memorials and museums across the United States and contributes to charity. The tour began after a visit to the memorial at Shanksville, PA following 9-11, and a sub-route continues to honor just 9-11 sites for riders who want to focus on that specifically. “We are well over 1000 riders now,” said NC rider and tour sponsor, John Morton. “You ride your ride how you want to, whether you want to make it a traveling tour or you are a trophy runner racing to win the prize for a particular region.”

Participants register through the tour website and earn trophies based on how many memorials and monuments they visit during the tour dates. Additionally, $25 from each registration fee is contributed to the rider’s charity of choice: Fisher House FoundationGold Star Family Memorial Foundation, or Gary Sinise Foundation First Responders Outreach. According to the tour website, profits after expenses are divided equally between the three charities. The tour runs from April 1 through September 30, and riders are encouraged to visit as many memorials and monuments as possible.

Veterans’ Rock, Dudley, NC

One of the locations on the tour is Veterans’ Rock in Dudley, NC.

Veterans’ Rock is a giant painted rock that honors all branches of the military with a specific nod to its local military installations. The rock was a labor of love and volunteer effort from the community and Discipleship Christian Church. It was painted by the pastor of the church who is also a commercial artist. Visitors to the rock are welcome to come and sit on flag benches and take as much time as they need to pause and reflect.

Final Thoughts

Wherever you find yourself this weekend, take time to reflect on those who have sacrificed in service. No freedom that we have in America came free; men and women fight daily to defend and keep it this way. Sometimes that fight costs lives.

It is easy to forget about this sacrifice because we live in a place that is not constantly a war zone. We argue over gun control and who should be allowed to do certain things in this country, but even that argument is a gift we should thank our military for.

America is a free country–not a perfect one. We are free because of our form of government and the laws in place that protect individual rights and expression. We are unique; no other country is quite like us in their organization. We built a nation on mutual respect and integrity. It is the right to keep it that way that our military defends.

Show thankfulness for the land you live in. Voice respect for those who choose to honor and protect it. Be a gear that keeps the engine of our country moving–not a cog in the wheel.

Freedom Isn’t Free: A Veteran’s Story

I grew up on amazing stories of how the roads got wound into tight knots around my house and lost brides became ghosts. Later, the fairy tales were replaced with war stories of incredible bravery and survival. There were dozens of stories. In these stories, enemy fire landed beside him and didn’t go off or in the place behind him after he left.

Entire teams of guys were killed, and he was the only survivor…multiple times. They were his mates, his buddies, his family. But he had a family back home to get home to too; a wife and three young sons were praying for him. Back then, there was no internet, video chatting, or other instant forms of communication. They wrote letters.

Every time God saved him was a confirmation that there was something more in store for him. After multiple tours, multiple dangers, and multiple saves, he finally returned home. Then he was assigned to a base in Colorado. There his eldest son met the love of his life and married her. He finally retired and moved back to Carolina. Not long after, his newly married son and daughter-in-law had me.

The bulk of my childhood was spent going back and forth between Colorado and Carolina. We spent three days on the road just getting from one state to the other. Instead of theme parks and vacation spots, our summers were dedicated to family. I didn’t mind. For me, nothing could be better than grandmama’s house, curling up in granddaddy’s lap, and hearing his stories.

We were spoiled on local pickles, french fries, and Southern-style barbecue. We dug our toes into the sands of Topsail Beach, went shopping, and stayed up late watching movies. And every year, about this time, I realize it all would not have happened if he hadn’t made it back home alive.

Ernest Whitman is not ashamed of his service; he wears it proudly. He doesn’t hide his stories. Ask him about anything, and he will tell you. Not every veteran came home so freely…especially from Vietnam. Nor were they welcomed as they should have been. But in my family, he is and always will be a hero. To many of those who served with him as well as to the new soldiers fighting in his regiment, he is a hero too. We are proud of him.

Today is not just another day out of work. It’s not a great day for shopping or grilling or beaching it. First, show some respect for the men and women who gave their lives to ensure those freedoms for you. Then, throw an extra hot dog on the grill and enjoy it.

You are blessed beyond measure to be an American and to be free.