Churches refuel veteran riders: Cross-country motorcycle run makes annual stop in Wilson

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All of the motorcyclists in the Run for the Wall might not remember they’re in Wilson, but they know it’s the home of the “spaghetti church.”

“Five years ago we opened this route and have been coming here ever since,” said Jerry Jones, of Seattle, Washington, a road guard for the event that brings together 350 veterans and their families to ride across the country from California to Washington D.C. to bring awareness to veterans, prisoners of war, service members missing in action and those killed in action.

“We have been talking for two days that we were coming to the spaghetti church and everybody was just looking so forward to coming here because not only is the food good, but also the hospitality that they give us is just unmatched,” Jones said right before the group headed back onto the road bound for its next stop in Hopewell, Virginia.

Shiloh Pentecostal Holiness Church in Wilson is the host for the event where the midday meal is served with help of 60 volunteers from Bizzell Grove Pentecostal Holiness Church in Princeton and First Pentecostal Holiness Church in Goldsboro.

“It’s definitely an honor because the sacrifices they have made are some of the reasons why we can still come and have church like we do, so it is a tremendous honor to be able to host them,” said Danny Harris, lead pastor for the Shiloh Church Road place of worship.

This is the 30th year for the ride, which began May 16 in Ontario, California and will end up at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall on Saturday.

“We are riding for those who can so that we never forget those that have not come home yet and also the families of the POWs and MIAs that have not been confirmed yet. They are still waiting for answers about what happened to their loved one,” said Daryl “Top” Neil, of Phoenix, Arizona, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Army from 1975 to 1997. “Every year the town opens up its arms. The church loves us to death. God bless all of you. Thank you so much. We do appreciate it.”

The group was received by Wilson Mayor Bruce Rose.

“You couldn’t ask for anything more hospitable than what we have gotten here,” Jones said. “The food is just tremendous.”

Don Jenkins, of Goldsboro, with First Pentecostal Holiness Church, was one of the spaghetti meal’s cooks.

“We do the cooking for this event and then bring it over here to Shiloh in Wilson,” Jenkins said. “We just feel like it’s what God calls us to do and what we’re supposed to do to support this mission for the Run for the Wall. That’s what it’s all about, just supporting them. We’ve learned that these guys want spaghetti when they get here. They tell people ‘We can’t wait to get to eastern North Carolina so we can eat some real spaghetti.’ It’s a lot of fun and we enjoy doing it.”

John Howard, of Goldsboro, who rode with wife Andrea Howard for the event, was the chaplain for the bike run.

“I’m a veteran of the U.S. Navy,” Howard said. “This ride is bringing healing. It’s bringing awareness. It’s bringing education to this generation about what the Vietnam War is all about and accountability for POWs, MIAs and KIAs that are perhaps still in country.”

“This event is a reminder for all of us that are here right now that are veterans, especially Vietnam veterans,” Jones said. “We didn’t get much of a welcome as we were coming out at that point and this ride, to me, has been a solidifying part that America is so great, that, no mater what has happened, it is still the greatest place to be.”

Ron Hart, a member of Tar River Bikers for Christ, of Middlesex, said the ride was “awesome.”

“We were on the bridge holding flags and just escorting them into the church here,” Hart said. “It looked like miles of motorcycles. Anything we can do for our vets and for this country of ours, we just wanted to be a part of it.”

Robert Toney, from Nashville, and also a member of the Tar River Chapter of Bikers for Christ, joined Hart on the overpass running the flag line.

“Just being on the bridge waving the flags and the people coming by blowing their horns turning on their lights, it was just a good feeling, especially on this weekend,” Toney said. “This is the third year for me.”

Toney said recognition for Vietnam veterans is “long overdue.”

“These guys, they just bind together and they have all done jobs for the country and veterans are just special,” Toney said. “It gives you faith in America and makes you feel good.”

“It’s one of those things that happens so many times when you try to minister in the name of the Lord,” Harris said. “You get more blessed than the ones you are trying to bless, so it’s definitely that way here. They are the most appreciative group that you could probably ever do anything for. It’s a definite honor for us to be able to be involved in it.”