By Ted Waddell
LOCH SHELDRAKE May 13, 2005 On Saturday, there was hardly a cloud in the sky, but the sound of thunder rolled across the county headed for the state capital and, a week later, predicted to arrive in California.
A small cadre of former Vietnam War comrades-in-arms gathered at the kick-off of the local community college's annual kite festival in Loch Sheldrake before setting off on their motorcycles for Albany, at which point a quartet of biker vets will embark on a sojourn to California.
In Albany, they joined a group of Gold Star Mothers to honor their sons killed in military service.
It's an organization nobody wants to belong to, Frank Bair, founder and president of Rolling Thunder, Chapter 4 New York, said of Gold Star Mothers.
"The price of admission is exceedingly high," he added. "At this point in time, most Gold Star Mothers are very elderly women."
Bair said they were riding to Albany to raise awareness about the Gold Star Mothers program and, on behalf of the state's five Rolling Thunder chapters, present a donation of about $5,000 to help fund Gold Star Mothers programs.
Later that day (or first thing Sunday morning), the four riders, all local Vietnam vets Bair, Vinny Scotti, Cliff Patton and Bob Lewis of the national organization put their boots to the metal as they departed for California to participate in POW/MIA ceremonies at San Francisco Bay aboard the U.S.S. Hornet and watch as Gold Star Mothers and Blue Star Mothers light a flame they will carry back across the country for a candlelight vigil at "The Wall" on Friday, May 27 in the nation's capital, making ten stops along the way to promote the POW/MIA cause.
The following Sunday, they will hook up with an anticipated 500,000 fellow Nam vets in a massive POW/MIA issues protest in Washington, D.C.
While in D.C., the group of local vets plans to visit veterans' hospitals, hopefully including Walter Reed Hospital.
On the subject of military personnel still listed on the rolls as prisoners of war (POW) or missing in action (MIA), Bair said, "Many people think it's dead, but it's not not until everybody's brought home."
According to U.S. military records, there are about 1,800 American soldiers listed as POW/MIA from the War in Southeast Asia.
Bair himself served in the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam from 1964-67 and saw action in a lot of the war hot spots.
Later on, he was stationed at Camp Lejune in North Carolina and Virginia's Quantico Marine Base, where he taught hand-to-hand combat, mortars, 45-caliber pistols and demolition at OTS in Camp Barrett.
A bit closer to home, Bair was instrumental in unmasking a fake-Vietnam War vet.
Not one to suffer charlatans or fools wisely, he posted the phony vet's photo on the "Wall of Shame," a website devoted to warning other veterans organizations of people masquerading as servicemen.
"If he pops up someplace else and tries to pull this stuff, it's not going to work," added Bair.
Along for the ride to Albany was Inga Dubar, whose dad served in the Korean War. She is a member of Star Touring, a group of motorcyclists sponsored by Sager's of Monticello.
"I'd love to go the whole route [to the West Coast], but I'd miss my graduation at Sullivan County Community College, said the photography/ graphics major soon to be awarded the college's prestigious Manville B. Wakefield Photography Award.
"I think it's good they're doing the ride and protest," said Dubar. "Everybody's so unsure what the future's going to hold. . . . I support the vets 100 percent, and I'm dead-set against making new ones."
Vincent "Vinny" Scotti of Narrowsburg earned his combat spurs in Vietnam from 1969-70 as a member of the 2nd American, 75th Ranger Battalion, G Company.
"I'm riding to California for the POW/MIA issue which the government will not recognize," he said. "The government has to respect, recognize and fess up we have to get some people out there to look for these guys."
On the 40th anniversary of the declared end of the Vietnam War, Scotti was asked if he and his fellow vets ever got their hard-earned dues from the American public, dues that were often paid in blood, pain and lingering tears.
"Who knows, who cares," he replied.