"I wanted to serve my country," said Wheeler, who ended his service as a Sergeant. "I wanted to accomplish something in life."
Both men will be observing Memorial Day on their bikes.
"Originally, we started out the ride the honor Vietnam vets. Now, we honor all veterans," said Wheeler. He's talking about the Vermont Thunder Ride, which is in its 22nd year.
Veterans and supporters will ride their motorcycles 132 miles Sunday, to represent the 132 Vermonters who died in Vietnam. Their names are etched on a memorial in Sharon.
"I have two friends I grew up with that are on there," said Reg Mongeur, a Specialist 5th class.
"About four of my classmates are on that list," said Wheeler, referring to high school classmates from Vergennes Union. He entered the war as part of the "Green Mountain Platoon" in 1965.
Fittingly, the community of men and women who ride begin at the memorial in Sharon.
"To honor the sacrifice that was given by these 132 people and all the other veterans in the United States of America," said Mongeur.
"It's very emotional," said Wheeler.
When Vermont Thunder started, there were just 14 motorcycles riding. On the 20th anniversary in 2012, there were 1,100. Last year's ride had 200, partly due to bad weather.
"I don't know anybody there," said Mongeur, describing what it was like to join the group in 2004. "But now I'd give my right arm for any of them."
Each year as we honor those lost, the ride brings back tough memories for the vets who survived.
"Anyone who fought in Vietnam and saw combat, you don't have to remind them," Wheeler said. "I was there last night. I'm there every night."
"A lot of hard times," said Mongeur. "Hard feelings. But a lot of love."
If you want to attend, there is a wreath-laying ceremony at 11 a.m. in Sharon at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the ride takes off at 11:30. It is free to ride. You can also join the ride in Richmond at 2:45 p.m. For more information, visit the Vermont Thunder website.
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