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Bikers Escort Medal Of Honor Recipients Through North Texas

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Joel Thomas
Joel is an Emmy Award winning journalist with more than 15 year...
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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - It was an unlikely herd of people gathered in a big crowd listening to a man in a leather vest yelling instructions while standing in the bed of a pickup truck…

“We’ll go up here and turn around on Royal Lane,” the man shouted to hundreds of  bikers, police officers and firefighters.

Behind the crowd, 303 motorcycles of all shapes and sizes gleamed in the sun. Many had large American flags attached to their motorcycles.

The group was escorting nearly two dozen medal of honor recipients from D/FW Airport to Gainesville for a weekend of ceremonies in their honor.

The entourage stretched nearly a mile long. Hundreds of people stopped along the road side to wave as they passed. Others greeted the motorcade with salutes and flags hung from fire department ladder trucks.

“It’s just our way of saying to them ‘we honor you and we respect what you stand for,'” said Ted Waite, one of the riders.

If you want to know why people go to so much trouble for this trip, meet retired Army Specialist Gary Wetzel, a medal of honor recipient who was part of the convoy.

“There’s people who care,” Wetzel explained about why people react to Medal of Honor recipients the way they do. “And what’s neat about it is its all different walks of life, all different backgrounds. But the common bond is what the flag stands for — united, we the people.”

Wetzel was a helicopter gunner shot down five times in Vietnam. He lost his arm in combat. He didn’t tell us much about how it happened.

“Did you lose it when you got shot down?” CBS 11 reporter Joel Thomas asked Wetzel.

“Just trying to survive,” he responded.

CBS 11 News found out Wetzel was shot down and under intense enemy fire in Vietnam.  As he tried to rescue one of his injured crew members, a rocket blew him out into a rice paddy. He crawled back on the chopper, used his machine gun to knock out enemy positions, and helped drag his crew member to safety despite passing out — twice.  America dubbed him a hero.  But to Wetzel?

“Just a soldier,” he said.  “Just a soldier.”

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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