PORT ANGELES — American Legion Riders from Port Angeles escorted a terminally ill Vietnam veteran and his friend Sunday as they began their cross-country motorcycle trip to Washington, D.C., to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Bob Glaves, 63, of Alaska and Kelly Cook, 43, of Port Angeles left following a community sendoff Sunday morning.
Glaves, an Alaskan trucker, has been diagnosed with multiple types of cancer and it is thought that his illness was caused by chemical exposure during the Vietnam War.
Glaves joked that he is “on sabbatical” as he puts his health maintenance program on hold to fulfill this bucket list journey.
Doctors have said Glaves has about a year left to live, but he said he’s not going to spend that time feeling sorry for himself.
“My kidney failure will kill me before the cancer does,” said Glaves before beginning the cross-country ride. “They can’t fix it, so there’s no sense in sitting around crying about it. Go do your thing and get ’er done.”
Glaves wanted to do the trip without any fanfare or calling attention to himself, but he and Cook saw this as an opportunity to raise funds to help other veterans.
They are raising funds for Pennies for Quarters, a Port Angeles nonprofit whose goal is to build a community of tiny homes for Clallam County’s veterans who are experiencing homelessness.
Cook is the newest board member for the group, which has purchased 7.5 acres of land on Devanny Lane just west of Port Angeles off Airport Road.
“Bob and I are both incredibly private people,” Cook said. “The only reason that Bob has allowed his story to be shared with other people was for the sole purpose of raising money for Pennies for Quarters.”
Glaves said he is happy to be promoting the nonprofit.
“I think it’s a good thing they’re doing and we’ll see if we can raise money for it in the process of going there and back,” Glaves said. “The last thing I wanted was to be tied up in major exposure, but if it helps with Pennies for Quarters, by God we’ll get it done.”
Matthew Rainwater, president of the Pennies for Quarters board, said he was humbled and honored to have Glaves and Cook fundraise for Pennies for Quarters.
If all goes well, the two riders anticipate reaching New Jersey in seven to 10 days. There, the Blue Knights — a motorcycle club of law enforcement officers — will meet them and escort them to the memorial in D.C., Cook said.
Glaves said he’s scared of what Cook has organized once they reach New Jersey. She wouldn’t give him all of the details, he said.
“She’s got quite the ordeal set up,” he said.
Making that deadline depends on many factors, among them the dietary restrictions and sleep schedule Glaves requires.
Sunday’s ride was expected to bring the pair to the Port Townsend ferry terminal where they would push on and the American Legion Riders would return.
Cook and Glaves became friends in 2010 during a grueling two-week motorcycle race from Key West, Fla., to Homer, Alaska, Cook said.
The race was a fundraiser for veteran and Native American charities. About 800 started the race in Florida and 230 finished in Alaska, she said.
Glaves said it is wonderful to have Cook with him on the journey.
“Her husband, Mickey, and my wife, Mary, are the unsung heroes because they are allowing us to go do this,” Glaves said.
Cook, who grew up on the East Coast, said she has seen the memorial a few times, but expects this trip to be the most meaningful.
“It’s a privilege to be able to do this with him,” Cook said. “I’ve never seen it in this context, never with such meaning of someone who actually served in Vietnam.”
When Glaves arrives at the memorial he is prepared to see the names of his fallen brothers on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
That wall bears the names of more than 58,000 Americans who gave their lives.
“I’m expecting to cry, so I don’t want nobody around,” Glaves said.
As of late Sunday, a total of 27 people had donated $1,190 to Pennies for Quarters, according to the “Wall Before I Die” Facebook page where donations can be made.
More information can be found on the Facebook page, where those who want to contact them can leave messages.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].