Father rides 12,000 miles for his fallen hero son | News
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- For years, Don Blanchard told his family he wanted to ride his Harley-Davidson across the country.
But for years, that was a dream deferred.
"My son Aaron told me before he left for Afghanistan that I should just go for it," Blanchard said from an I-95 rest stop.
He finally decided to go for it, leaving his home in Yakima, Washington behind.
"I figure I'd have between 10- and 12,000 miles by the time I get back," he said.
And despite the noise of the Harley on the road, he says there's still plenty of quiet time.
"I pray a lot," he said. "And I talk to Aaron."
His 32-year-old son, a Captain in the Army, an Apache helicopter pilot, was killed April 23 while deployed in Afghanistan.
"The first week he was there, they had a mortar attack," he said.
Cpt. Blanchard served two tours in Iraq as a Marine.
But his dream was to fly Apaches, so he joined the Army and quickly became a pilot.
"It's what he always wanted to do. Even when he was little, he wanted to fly."
Don said, "He went after his goal in life to become an Apache pilot, and he did it."
That's when something rumbled and roared inside of Don.
While grieving the loss of his child, he realized his son's legacy was living life to the fullest.
"He accomplished something with his life and in the same breath, I realized I needed to too."
That was his inspiration for the 12,000 mile ride to the four corners of the United States.
He's raising money and awareness for four military support charities: The Fisher House, Wounded Warrior Project, Patriot Guard Riders, and The USO.
"The USO really is number one for me," he said.
"While we were having to get through airports to be reunited with our son's body, we couldn't think straight, we couldn't do 2 plus 2 let alone get to a plane."
He said the USO made sure they were in the right place, every step of the way, even to their seats on the plane.
That's why he stopped in Jacksonville Wednesday.
To say thanks to the folks at the USO office at Jacksonville International Airport.
"Wow, we're so excited to have him here," said USO office director Jim Bury. "He's doing so much to help an organization that'll help others like him."
Blanchard travels 300 miles a day, and will spend two nights in Jacksonville before hitting I-10 west.
And as rough as it can be at times, this is an example of a father's unflappable love of his son whose inspiration can't die.
"This is definitely therapy," Blanchard said. "The best way to describe it is you just feel free."