HERE’S ANOTHER SNAPSHOT into the Alaska trek, prompted by news I received this week from Lorie Butcher, of Valley City, Ohio.
You may remember her father-in-law, Orval Butcher, from The River Towns Ride of two years ago. Lorie wrote to let me know that Orval departed the world on August 2. He was 90.
Here’s what I wrote about him two years ago:
“I stopped for a glass of orange juice in Sutton, WV, a little town on the Holly River. I was standing out by the iron piggy drinking it when an old gent in a Navy cap walked up, opened his wallet and showed me a photo of himself on a Harley right after WWII. After witnessing much carnage while serving on a destroyer in the Pacific, he vowed to live! Orval Butcher rode motorcycles all over America, took Arthur Murray dance lessons, learned how to ski, and how to sail.”
- His wife, Betty, at 18, in front of their humble home. He smiled when I said my wife had lived in a trailer, too, as an infant, in Huntsville, Alabama
- Orval Butcher, 88, family man, Navy man, Harley man. Well done, sir!
- If you think of it, drop Orval a note or a card and thank him for his service. He’s at 461 Airport Road, Sutton, WV, 26601
Orval and Betty had a son, too. I didn’t know that two years ago, or maybe I overlooked it in my notes. But it was Alan Butcher’s wife, Lorie, who kindly wrote to tell me of Orval’s passing.
I’ve thought of Orval quite a few times over the last two years, and had reason to again on the Alaska trek. Believe it or not, another 88-year-old Harley man, widower, Navy veteran of the war in the Pacific, walked up to me, opened his wallet and took out a photo of the bike he rode way back when. It happened in Wyoming this time, on May 28.
Richard Bruggink was on his way home to Denver after visiting his grandchildren in The Equality State. (Women got the vote in Wyoming in 1869, nearly three generations before the states ratified the 19th Amendment.)
Here’s the bike Richard bought as a 20-year-old Navy vet, in 1946. It’s a pre-war Harley, 1940. “You couldn’t find a new one in those days,” he said. He braced his right hand against his left, thinking the picture might come out shaky if he didn’t.
For a backup shot I asked him to rest his hand against the gear packed on the iron piggy.
Then I told Richard about Orval. He got a kick out of that.
There aren’t many of these guys left anymore. A lifetime later, how many are carrying photos of their post-war Harleys in their wallets? I’ve been made aware of two so far.
Richard told me his grandchildren are always after him to speak of his experiences fighting the Japanese in the Pacific. He won’t. In due time, those stories will go out of the world with him. “I still have war nightmares,” he said. “I don’t like to talk about it.”
Then he volunteered this: “At least we knew who we were fighting.”
Richard was interested in this thing I was doing, riding to Alaska, sleeping in the weeds. “Do you carry a pistol?” It was clear by his tone that he was hoping I did. But, no, I’m not packing. I’ve got pretty good radar that tells me when I ought not to be in a certain place anymore.
When we parted, Richard said, “You’ll be in my prayers. For your safety.”
Then I was off down the road, riding into weather.
I camped that night on a lake shore in Boysen State Park, Shoshoni, Wyoming.
The piggy and I had 2,698 miles behind us, and 8,643 to go before we’d be home again.
Tony DePaul, Cranston, Rhode Island, August 28, 2013