If it wasn’t enough to have served their country faithfully, hundreds of veterans rode into the Georgia War Veterans Home (GWVH) this week with bike engines roaring on a multi-state run to raise scholarship money for the children of fallen soldiers post-9/11.
The American Legion Riders is a charitable organization known for raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for children’s hospitals, schools, veterans’ homes, severely wounded service members and scholarships. One of the Riders’ most heartfelt projects, The Legacy Scholarship Fund, annually raises millions for children of U.S. military personnel killed since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Barely 11 a.m. and the stifling heat of a southern August morning had already settled upon the event stationed outside the GWVH Kenneth Birdsong Recreation Center. The unmistakable smell of delicious smoke filtered through the humidity as the facility staff toiled over a massive grill preparing a hot dog lunch for the riders.
American flags lined the entire campus giving the event an atmosphere of patriotism and formality. Despite the asphalt amplifying the heat, dozens of local veteran riders, who were not participating in the race, were hard at work readying the area for the entrance of more than 300 Legacy riders. Several wheelchair-bound GWVH residents mingled with early arrivals and anxiously awaited the appearance of the motorcade.
The ride, in its 14th year, departed last Sunday from the Department of Florida Post 347 in Lady Lake, Fla. — the largest American Legion Post in the world — on their way to the 101st National Convention of the American Legion in Indianapolis, Ind. A five-day journey, riders made stops at veteran retirement homes, hospitals and children’s hospitals along their way.
The sound of hundreds of bikes traveling down Vinson Memorial Highway could be heard miles in advance before appearing in formation in front of the GWVH buildings. The group snaked throughout the campus, revving their engines and putting the full force of the machines on bold display.
The riders were orderly as they parked in multiple rows, which took up the entire vacant parking lot next to the entertainment pavilion. A line quickly formed of bikers wanting to shake the hands of the GWVH veterans that had braved the outdoors, with its unrelenting sun, to be present.
“On behalf of the Georgia Department of Veterans Services (GDVS), we welcome, with great excitement and appreciation, the American Legion Legacy riders to Georgia War Veterans,” said Russell Feagin, a highly-decorated veteran and director of GDVS Health and Memorials. “Our residents sometimes are forgotten, and an event such as this makes them feel appreciated for the sacrifices they made on behalf of our country.”
Bikers and residents of the home sat side by side conversing as they enjoyed their lunch under the shade of the pavilion hangers.
Several members from the Conyers, Ga. Post 77 came down to greet the national American Legion commander who was riding in the event and support the fundraising efforts for the children of Gold Star Families.
Grady Vine, a retired Army Airborne veteran and very busy grandfather and great-grandfather, said he enjoys riding his bike whenever possible, especially for a great cause.
“I love riding my motorcycle, and we do this for the kids,” said Vine. “We do this to raise money for the children who have lost a parent and need help with their college costs. That’s why we are here, and we do what we do.”
Every biker sports a personalized leather vest with emblems of their service including awards they received during their time in the military. Scanning the crowd, the Vietnam patches are numerous and are present on both male and female riders. It is a war that still haunts many, despite the decades removed, to this day.
Willie Benton, also from Conyers Post 77, is a veteran of the Army’s 11th Armored Calvary Tanker Division in Vietnam. His main job was to operate the machine gun during his two-year tour of duty. His faith is evident by several religious patches sewn on the front of his vest.
“I had these patches made special for me because Jesus helped me get through Vietnam,” he said. “I lost a lot of friends over there, including my best friend, and I know I would not have made it back without my faith in God.”
No matter the enormity of the veterans’ scars, visible or invisible, it is evident they cannot leave behind the motivation to serve others selflessly.
For more information on the Legacy Run or the American Legion, visit www.legion.org.