The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, with its two, 247-foot-long stone walls with the names of more than 50,000 Americans who died or went missing in that war, was dedicated in Washington DC this month in 1982. More often than not on Veterans Day over the ensuing 32 years, Myke Shelby, Vietnam vet and owner of San Diego Harley Davidson who is better known as “New York Myke,” has trekked east on Veterans Day to visit “The Wall.” But this year, the former mayoral candidate and talk-radio host found a cause in Ocean Beach that seemed equally fulfilling.
Supporters of the Ocean Beach Veterans Plaza, a proposed $1 million monument to be constructed at the grassy edge of Abbott Park just north of the Ocean Beach Pier, decided they needed a little something extra at their fundraising kickoff. They contacted Shelby, who delivered as only he can. On November 11, Shelby and dozens of Harley riders roared down Newport Avenue, the main drag that has been home to a few biker-friendly bars over the years, and parked along a one-block, temporary motorcycle-only zone on Abbott Street.
The park was briefly dominated by black-vested bikers, many of whom wore attire with patches such as “Combat Veteran” and “Patriot Guard Riders.” Later, when donations were requested, the first envelope to be handed over to Tom Perotti — president of the Ocean Beach Community Development Corporation, which is spearheading the effort — contained contributions collected from among the bikers.
The Harley ride-in was perhaps the highlight of the Veterans Day celebration, which included a color guard, local vets from World War II and other conflicts, and the first public display of a 3D model of the memorial supporters hope to build in two years. Speakers included Lt. Cmdr. Christina Pickett, a member of the first wave of women to serve on the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson; community leader Dave Martin, a former Marine and 2013 Veteran of the Year in state senate District 39; and San Diego City Council member Ed Harris, another former Marine.
But it was Shelby’s passion and firebrand populism that most ignited the crowd. “I’m a Vietnam veteran, and I’m damn proud of it!” Shelby said to applause. “America isn’t just a piece of land. America is an idea. I went to war because I love what it stands for. The inalienable rights given to us by our creator that can’t be taken away by a king, a czar or a president,” he said.
Applause was polite and a bit muted when Shelby delved in political themes in this often left-of-center community — he criticized Hillary Clinton for her comments following the 2012 Benghazi attacks; denounced the current government for pulling troops out of the Middle East prematurely; and took swipes at what he called the “nanny state.”
“I did not go to combat to fight for someone’s minimum wage. I did not go to combat to fight for someone’s welfare check. I did not go to combat to fight for somebody else’s security blanket. I went to combat to fight for the freedom of every American.”
Perotti commended Shelby for speaking his mind. “That’s what makes this country great — to express your ideals without any retribution,” he said.
Plans call for the plaza, dubbed “Life’s Journey” by its architect, to consist of a 5-foot-high representation of Sunset Cliffs with four 15-foot-wide granite walls that include the names of honored veterans. An adjacent walkway with a tide pattern and inlay of stars representing those lost in battle would run west from Abbott Street to the beach. It would replace the sidewalk medallions created 19 years ago at the foot of Newport Avenue, where sand and foot traffic have rendered unreadable the names etched into the concrete.
Information on the project and how to donate can be found at obcdc.org.