The wounded warrior in front of me rode so well, and so fast, dusting me in the flats, that for a while I forgot he was a veteran. And then I noticed and remembered what was different. Staff Sgt. Matthew DeWitt has no arms. They were blown off by a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq. As I watched him navigate the difficult terrain, snapped into handlebars with a prothesis on each arm, the obvious questions surfaced: How in the hell is he braking? And shifting?
Well, thanks to his absolute determination not to let his injuries stop him from his love for bike riding—and Ride 2 Recovery’s fantastic mechanics and technicians—DeWitt rode a specially outfitted mountain bike with a pad on the back of his seat that allows him to lean back to brake. He manipulates small buttons on the frame of his bike with his knees to shift. Which, unless you actually see him do it, seems impossible.
Talk about humbling.
And there were 19 other stories just like DeWitt’s. Men who had suffered, survived, and come to Crawford, Texas, to join their brothers in fellowship for Memorial Day weekend for the third annual Wounded Warrior 100K ride, sponsored by former president George W. Bush.
It’s easy for critics to make partisan remarks, like “George Bush should be riding with wounded warriors, ’cause he caused their wounds.” But most would withhold such cheap shots if they’d ever observed the countless meetings he has held over the years with families of the fallen and wounded vets—and purposefully never publicized. He carries a profound respect for our military men and women and understands and appreciates more than anyone the sacrifices they have made. And he is determined, through the Military Service Initiative of the Bush Presidential Center, to find ways to help veterans with jobs, housing, education, their families, and women’s issues.
“We have two goals. One is to continually remind the country about the importance of supporting vets,” Bush said at the ride. “You can help a veteran find a job; you can help a veteran who is homeless; you can feed a veteran; you can love a veteran. Second: we are going to analyze what works and what doesn’t work among the organizations helping veterans. Our first focus is on helping vets find jobs. We are aiming to make sure that the outpouring of support that is so predominant in our country is channeled in an effective way.”
Signs of gratitude and support were everywhere at the Crawford ranch. For example, John and Tania Burke of Trek Travel showed up with brand-new bikes for all the warriors. The mood was supportive, respectful, humble, and grateful. And reminded us all that Memorial Day is not National Barbecue Day.