This week, 130 injured U.S veterans, with spouses, family members and supporters, cycled around Normandy's historic landmarks. It was no sedate trip around country lanes, but a grueling, six-day, 240-mile ride, interspersed with history lessons.
The cyclists, many of whom are amputees, ride a mixture of hand cycles, tandems and traditional road bikes.
"This is not a race, it's a ride" said Debora Spano, the Ride 2 Recovery spokesperson, "We help these injured warriors to challenge themselves both physically and mentally. When the ride is over, they take their bikes home and keep training. We chose Normandy because of it's glorious past and the connection between the sacrifices of ‘The Greatest Generation' and those of our modern-day heroes. Our riders have just devoured all this history."
"I stood looking at the rows of white graves in the American cemetery, over 9,000, and I thought, these guys did this for us" said Medal of Honor recipient Salvatore Giunta of Iowa. Giunta is the first living recipient of the nation's highest award since the Vietnam War, a volunteer with Ride 2 Recovery and a great source of encouragement for all his comrades.
Tourists and locals looked on in amazement as the riders rolled into the famous town of Sainte Mere Eglise. "We will never forget how you Americans gave us back our freedom," said Mayor Lefevre in his address to the group., "I just wish you could stay with us longer."
The riders did have time to visit the local museum and participate in the folding of a 48-star World War II flag, before heading off on yet another leg of their epic journey.
The ride finished in Caen on July 6, but as a reward for all their exertions, the riders were at the finish line of Stage 6 of the ‘Tour de France' in Lisieux, Normandy, on July 7.
With their awe-inspiring display of endurance and determination, the riders have won the hearts of the people of Normandy, just as their forefathers did 67 years ago.
The trip was made possible by United Healthcare and American Airlines, Air Compassion for Veterans.
The American Legion has actively supported Ride 2 Recovery and wounded warrior cyclists in Virginia, California, Texas, Colorado and Wisconsin with American Legion Riders, which provide motorcycle escort for the cyclists; donations; volunteers to assist with ride support; sponsoring meals or use of American Legion post facilities. The American Legion is also planning a welcome ceremony and celebration for the Ride 2 Recovery cyclists at The American Legion 2011 National Convention in Minneapolis. For more information on Ride 2 Recovery, click here.