By Cornelia de Bruin
Triplicate staff writer
On Saturday, Robert Owen plans to pay tribute to friends who lost their lives more than 35 years ago in Vietnam.
"I've been waiting a long time for this," Owen said. "I was in boot camp with eight guys who died. I'm doing this for them."
Beginning 12:01 p.m. Saturday, Owen will lead a group of bikers from Del Norte County and Oregon down to Victorville to join together and head for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., in time for Memorial Day.
Owen is the Wall Road Captain for the Del Norte County and Oregon Bikers.
The 20-year-old rally, in support of veteran's and prisoners of wars rights, is a first for the Del Norte County/Oregon group.
Many of the riders, like Owen, have a mission.
Owen hasn't seen Vietnam since his tour of duty there ended in the late 1960s, but has been waiting for years to honor some of the men he served with there.
Owen served as a U.S. Marine lance corporal from 1967-1970. He saw combat 240 miles north of the demilitarized zone, and was permanently injured there. He was part of Phoenix Operation, a covert foray into North Vietnam.
After waiting years for a chance to pay his respects to his former buddies, Owen and a friend plan to leave Del Norte Fairgrounds at 3 p.m. Saturday.
They'll take Owen's Honda Shadow in the back of his pickup truck. Owens will alternately drive the truck and ride the bike.
In Victorville, the route turns east, heading to the Navajo Nation and points beyond.
Owen will relinquish his captaincy to "Chaplain" Joy Jeannette, president of Rolling Thunder Inc. Chapter One, of California.
"I'll give him a chance to captain again," Jeannette said. "It's a great honor to be a Road Captain with this group."
Every 500 miles or so, the group will camp at KOA campgrounds, meeting up with other bikers, partying and sharing memories of those who never came home.
"We're really honored to serve our vets by riding for those who can't," Jeannette said.
Once the group reaches Washington, D.C., Owen and the pack of 35,000 bikes from Crescent City and the rest of California will lead the cross-country riders into the nation's capital ¬Ė Owen driving his 1952 Henry J. Street Rod.
Owen invites those who can't commit to ride cross-country and back to at least join his group to Eureka, Fortuna or Garberville, then send them off to D.C.
"I hit it when I could finally go," Owen said. "This year nothing can stop me."
Join the Rally
To join Owen's and fellow bikers' trip to the Vietnam Wall, call 458-3910.