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  • John English

Retired vet organizes annual motorcycle ride to pay respect to fallen comrades

Run For The Wall is an annual motorcycle ride where veterans travel from California to Washington, D.C. for the Memorial Day Weekend to pay their respect to fallen soldiers.

For Weatherford resident Billie Dunlap, it’s much, much more than just that.

A native of Fordyce, Arkansas, Dunlap retired from the military as a captain 06, one step below an admiral, following 37 years of service in the United States Navy.

Dunlap, 61, who flew Tomcats during Desert Storm, said he originally decided to take part in the Run For The Wall 12 years ago.

“A friend of mine from work had been doing it for many years and told me about it,” Dunlap said. “I said I would give it a try.”

The run is a 10-day cross-country trip that follows three separate routes, including a southern route that Dunlap takes.

“My thought was that I would ride part of it and see what it’s all about,” Dunlap said. “So I drove the last two days from Virginia to D.C. in 2011. After that, I started getting more and more involved, and by 2015, I was riding all the way out to California and completing the whole thing.”

The Weatherford man rides a total of 6,500 miles over the span of three weeks every year and follows a specific routine upon reaching the nation’s capital.

“We all arrive in Washington, D.C. on the Friday before Memorial Day,” Dunlap said. “We have our ceremonies at the Vietnam Wall on Saturday. Then on Sunday, we have a fourth route, that departs from Washington, D.C. to Marseilles, Illinois, to the Middle East Conflicts Wall. We call that the sandbox route, because it’s dedicated to the more recent warriors, which I am.”

Dunlap entered military service in April 1981 as an Army “11 Charlie” Infantry Mortarman with the 39th Infantry Brigade of the Arkansas Army National Guard and quickly rose to the rank of sergeant E-5.

He said the fellowship that exists among the riders is a big part of the draw to the Run For The Wall.

“I do it to get in touch with some of my older veteran peers,” Dunlap said. “It allows me to reconnect with my military family. I wanted to do something to give back to the veteran community of retired, disabled and missing-in-action families. In fact, Run For The Wall was originally established in 1989 by a Marine gunnery sergeant to highlight the fact that there were verifiable living servicemen in captivity in Vietnam.”

The Veteran support organization is a 501c3 and was established the year after Rolling Thunder, a large motorcycle rally in Washington, D.C. designed to raise awareness about servicemen who had been abandoned in Southeast Asia following the Vietnam War.

Dunlap rides from Texas to California to Washington D.C., and then back to Texas.

“The whole focus of this is military veteran families,” Dunlap said. “When I’m on the road, it is actually a very technical and mentally consuming operation. We’ll have as many as 400 or 500 bikes in a pack riding across the country. It actually allows you to compartmentalize your focus on the road, and when I was flying, we learned that— to compartmentalize and focus on what you are doing.”

Affectionately dubbed “Bugs” thanks to his penchant for the Bugs Bunny cartoon series, Dunlap said one of the more important aspects of the run is the stops they make at different towns along the way.

“The stops are all focused on veterans and veterans’ families,” Dunlap said. “We do outreach visits to families of the folks who are still missing in action or killed in action. We stop and visit veterans’ homes and veterans’ hospitals. We’re hosted across the country by Moose Lodges, by VFWs, by American Legions. We visit schools and receive programs from all over the country that are very patriotic.”

The reception, at times in fact, is overwhelming.

“It’s amazing,” Dunlap said. “A lot of the towns, like Colorado City, Texas, which is just down the road from here, the whole town turns out. We parade though downtown, down Main Street and they open up this big convention center and feed us a barbecue meal. People come out and talk with us and visit, and we are able to share the message and continue our mission to ensure that our veterans are not forgotten.

“A lot of the older Vietnam veterans come out to see us, and we’ve got some people over 70 and close to 80 years old riding with us across the country. We have some really durable people. I hope I’m able to do that when I’m 20 years older.”

In addition to the annual bike ride each May, Run For The Wall also supports an organization called “Homes For Our Troops,” which builds homes all around the country and donates them to disabled veterans. 

“We support other veterans’ groups like that, and we attend and participate in their ceremonies to break ground and do preparation and key delivery to veterans all across the country,” Dunlap said.

The Parker County man, who completed a short tour with the 301st Tactical Fighter Wing of the U. S. Air Force Reserve at Carswell Air Force Base just prior to selection to the U. S. Navy’s Aviation Officer Candidate School, said the riders make it a point to meet up again later in the year to catch up.

“We typically have a series of reunions in the early fall,” Dunlap said. “It’s usually about four or five months after the event where we all just kind of get together and see each other again.” 

Dunlap retired in July 2018 and is presently a project engineer manager with Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Fort Worth.

When reflecting on his time associated with Run For The Wall, Dunlap said one memory really stands out.

“The gunnery sergeant who started this typically rides between the three routes,” Dunlap said. “He’ll ride one day with one route and then move over to another one. Well one day, years ago, he was riding between routes and stopped at a hotel and saw a motorcycle out there. He left his card on it because it had Vietnam War stickers on the bike. It was a guy who had ridden part of one of the routes and decided to go home.” 

The man was a Vietnam veteran who was suffering from PTSD issues, and his wife had just committed suicide. 

“Gunny put this card on his bike and managed to meet up with him the next morning and got his story,” Dunlap said. “He said the guy told him he was going home, and Gunny said, ‘No you’re not. You’re coming with me.’ So he took him and went on to another route and rode with him the next several days. We found out later that Gunny’s intervention may have literally saved his life. 

“That fact that Gunny was able to come across him and make that connection touched his life, and he still rides with us today. We call things like that ‘the magic of the run.’” There are so many coincidences you come across that make a real difference in other people’s lives.”

Dunlap, who serves as vice-president and chairman of the board of directors for Run For The Wall, has received the following decorations: Legion of Merit (two awards), Meritorious Service Medal (three awards), the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Navy Commendation Medal, the Navy Achievement Medal (two awards), the Meritorious Unit Commendation, The Navy Unit Commendation, the Battle “E” (two awards), the National Defense Medal (two awards), the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the Southwest Asia Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary & Service Medals, the Korea Defense Service Medal, the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, the Navy & Marine Corps Overseas Service Ribbon, and the Armed Forces Reserve Medal with Mobilization “M” and the Gold Hourglass for over 30 years of service.

Dunlap is married to the former Gwendylon Cochran also of Fordyce, Arkansas, and they have two daughters, Jeanna and Cara.

For more information on Run For The Wall, visit

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