Daybreak carried the scent of smoke, the sound of rolling thunder and the sight of brothers in arms, but this was not a battle in the Vietnam War, albeit perhaps another chapter of that war's continuing history.
The smoke was from drags of early Saturday morning cigarettes, the rolling thunder from the engines of motorcycles and the brothers in arms were men embracing one another as they prepared for a journey to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and then back to The Wall's replica under construction in Perryville.
American Legion Riders from the Roscoe Enloe American Legion Post 5 and a couple other Mid-Missouri posts had been asked to pick up American and MIA/POW flags flying over the national memorial and escort them back to Missouri. Eight riders left for Washington from Post 5 on Tanner Bridge Road in Jefferson City at 8 a.m. with the "Star Spangled Banner" blasting from one bike's speakers.
"Of course I said yes, because it's a huge honor," said Jim "Big Jim" Rosenberg, the state American Legion Riders director, who was leading the other seven.
"This whole thing from beginning to end is going to be historic," Rosenberg said of the "Wall 2 Wall Motorcycle Flag Escort" ride.
He said the riders planned to stay in Evansville, Indiana, on Saturday night, then Charleston, West Virginia, tonight and Fairfax, Virginia, on Monday.
On Tuesday, the flag exchange will take place at 10 a.m. at The Wall in Washington. By Sept. 16, the riders planned to be traveling the last 40 miles from Arnold to Perryville.
Rosenberg was a little worried about having to drive through what would then be the landlocked remnants of Hurricane Irma, but he said they were keeping an eye on forecasts.
He anticipated their journey back from Washington would draw riders from as far away as New York, maybe up to 3,000 riders. He said 37 of the 39 last overpasses on the interstate to Perryville would have first responders and other people with flags and support.
He anticipated the ride will be the largest ever in-state one of its kind.
Mounted on the back of his lead bike is a handmade shadow box, signed inside by all the riders, for the American flag they'll be escorting to Perryville. Darren "Bear" Reuter made that box and the other that is mounted on his second position bike for the MIA/POW flag.
Rosenberg said the two boxes would be the first two items given to the museum to accompany The Wall replica.
Reuter said making the shadow boxes took him about 40 hours all together; he's been making such boxes for three or four years. The boxes, for him, represent all the men who never made it home from war, any war.
He is a captain with the Jefferson City Fire Department and a Marine Corps veteran. He said his grandfather served in World War II; uncles in Vietnam; friends in Iraq and Afghanistan, some of whom have been injured or killed; and his son is serving now as a Marine aboard a ship.
"Patriotism runs in my family blood, trust me," he said.
Down the hill from the driveway of Post 5 on Tanner Bridge, Capt. Corey Sapp and other members of the Jefferson City Fire Department had a large American flag draped from the extended ladder of a fire truck.
"We want to support the American Legion as much as we can," Sapp said, and he called the chance to raise the flag over the riders' procession "humbling and an honor." He's a National Guard veteran himself.
Mayor Carrie Tergin was also there and helped the firefighters fold the flag after the riders had left following a group prayer.
The other six riders aside from Rosenberg and Reuter are Cecil Goodin, Randy Owens, Dick Nelson and Dan Levasseur, all of Post 5; Bob Norris of St. Robert Post 331; and Rick Wright of Sunrise Beach Post 624.