Petaluman rides motorcycle across country for veterans

It's one thing to ride a motorcycle across the country in the name of fallen veterans. It's another to have a close brush with a tornado, hit a deer and keep going, all with only one good eye.

That's what Petaluman Victor Vaz did this May after a friend invited him to join an event called Run for the Wall, now in its 25th year. About 1,500 participating motorcyclists take to the highway to ride from California to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., all to honor fallen or missing-in-action soldiers and to promote healing among veterans and their families.

Along the way, riders make stops at memorials, veterans' hospitals and schools.

"You're not doing it for yourself, you're doing it for those who can't," said Vaz, who never served in the armed forces but had friends who did.

At the beginning of the trip, he received a picture of Major John O'Grady, who went missing in action in Vietnam. He carried the picture on the back of his motorcycle all the way to Washington.

"I'm really proud of what he did," said friend and neighbor Bob Berry, who served during the Vietnam era and lost three friends during the war. He first got to know Vaz through a car detailing business that Vaz ran for about 10 years. "It meant a lot that he rode to the wall."

Vaz, a one-time Elvis impersonator and skydiver who says he's been riding motorcycles ever since he "came out of the womb" is no stranger to adventures.

But his ride to Washington in honor of veterans, he said, was different — and better — than all the rest.

"I like to do new things, to have adventures," he said. "But out of everything I've done, this takes the cake. Nothing will ever surpass it."

Vaz, 51, grew up on a ranch in Petaluma and "lives the motorcycle life," as one friend put it. He looks the part with pierced ears, salt and pepper rockabilly hair, and a closet full of leather jackets.

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