American Legion Multimedia Editor Steve Brooks is traveling with the Legacy Run Home's National Commander's Ride, sharing a minivan – and satellite radio – with photographer Amy C. Elliott and videographer Derek Tow. He'll file reports from all three days of the ride.
8:11 a.m. – We in the "media" crew arrive at Niagara Falls for a group photo shoot of all the participants in front of the falls. While walking down toward the falls, a black squirrel runs in front of me, stops, looks up at me and stands on its hind legs. He or she – even in its current position, I cannot tell – is begging for food. All I have is Dentyne, which I'm pretty sure will plug up its digestive system for weeks.
8:15 a.m. - I stop to talk with Bill Geddie, a member of the ride's advance team and a Legion Rider from Greenwalt-Flaherty American Legion Post 42 in Charlotte, Mich. A year ago, the Legacy Run made a stop at Geddie's post; its Legion Riders manned the pumps during a gas stop nearby. The impression the run made was enough to inspire Geddie to join up with the ride this year. "It was awesome," Geddie says. "I got to watch these guys last year. It was awesome seeing people standing along the road, greeting them. I wanted to be a part of it."
8:30 a.m. – Dick "Uncle Dick" Woods has served as the Legacy Run's ride captain every year since its beginning. But that doesn't mean the former Harley-Davidson employee doesn't get a bit nervous at the start of each ride. "You're so concentrated on safety," Woods says, "but you're also thinking, ‘Am I going to take a wrong turn?'"
10:25 a.m. – We hit a stretch of road closed down to one lane because of construction. This is going to mean a delay.
10:50 a.m. – Arrive at Post 535 in Salamanca, N.Y. The post is actually a house with an addition to it. And, as it turns out, it has a bit of a back story.
10:55 a.m. – Post 535 Commander Dennis W. Burger Sr. is pretty busy but takes the time to talk. "This is fantastic," he says. "We've never had a national commander stop at our post before. That's great, and what the Legion Riders are doing is great. It's an honor for us to be able to help them in their endeavor."
11 a.m. – Lunch is laid out on the table: three kinds of sandwiches, chips, macaroni salad and dozens of homemade cookies and desserts.
11:15 a.m. – I overhear Vicki Sampson, a member of 535's Auxiliary unit, talking to National Commander Fang Wong and his wife, Barbara, and aide, Doug Malin. "We all got together and made 457 sandwiches in an hour and 20 minutes last night," she says. "It was just the way it was supposed to work." Later, Vicki tells me it was a group effort among the Legion, Auxiliary and Sons. Four posts were involved. "It was great to see everyone come together like that," she says.
11:43 a.m. – The Ride pulls into the post, escorted by police officers from four different agencies, as well as a fire engine from the Salamanca Fire Department. Post 535's state-champion honor guard greets them, as do dozens of Legion family members from the area.
11:50 a.m. – I get the post's back story from Legionnaire John Sampson, Vicky's husband. Apparently, Mrs. Vesta, Gibson Terrill, a member of a prominent family in Salamanca was suffering from depression when she killed her daughter, Vesta, and then turned the gun on herself back in 1939. Strange happenings and sightings at the post have brought paranormalists to the posts through the years; apparently, both audio and video evidence of the haunting exist. "There our resident supporters," Sampson says of the apparitions.
1:05 p.m. – The Ride pulls into Salamanca One-Stop for a gas stop after leaving Post 535. I'm still amazed how quickly and efficiently these guys can refuel 300-plus bikes without an accident.
3:10 p.m. – While videographer Derek Tow sleeps in the second row of the Caravan, photographer Amy Elliott and I engage in a conversation about the TV series "Miami Vice." We're both big fans; however, I do grow a bit concerned when I'm able to start providing the names of episodes she describes. I'm not sure what that means.
4:31 p.m. – The skies open up while we're waiting at Flying J truck stop in Austinburg, Ohio, for the Ride to arrive for the last fuel stop of the day. But Theo Chambers, a Rider from Post 60 in West Virginia – and the department's vice commander – isn't complaining. "You just slow down, be a little more cautious, and be more aware of who's in front of you and who's next to you," Chambers says. "Just give the other people a little bit more space." It's been a good day for Chambers, who found out his stepson – Raymond Quiroz, a U.S. Marine with four tours in Iraq and a more recent one in Afghanistan – is one his way home from the latter country. And Chambers will meet up with his daughter and grandson – Raymond's wife and son – in Garden City, Mich., during the Ride. "The men before me gave to me, so I'm trying to give back to my son and his family," Chambers says.
7:03 p.m. – With a large welcoming committee waving American flags and cheering, the Ride pulls into Post 397 in Salamanca, Ohio. One of the greeters is Department of Ohio Commander Steve Masowick, himself a Legion Rider from Post 685 in Streetsboro. "The American Legion's best programs are veterans helping veterans and veterans helping children," Masowick says. "The Legion Riders are helping children. They're putting the children of our servicemembers in college. They put it on their own backs that they were going to do this."
7:15 p.m. – Beany Smith – a Legion Rider from Post 28 in Albany, Ind., and part of a contingent from the post that brought the 2012 Legacy Run flag to National Commander Wong during the Ride's pre-rally – is all smiles after an 11-hour day on his motorcycle. "Maybe on some other days it would feel like a long one," Smith says. "But the way we all work together, it doesn't feel like a long day. It's because of the reason we're all here. It's for the kids."
7:30 p.m. – Dinner, provided by Ohio's District 5 Legion Riders, is impressive: grilled chicken and hamburgers, corn on the cob, chicken and noodles, baked beans, pasta and potato salads, rolls and a 20-foot long table of primarily homemade desserts.
8:11 p.m. – It's announced that the national commander, along with his wife and aide, will each ride with one of the Riders during a leg of Wednesday's route. A drawing will take place at breakfast to determine who gets to provide the transportation. Wong then praises the Riders for the way they handled themselves through both the construction and the weather. "It really showed that The American Legion Riders are true professionals," he says. "The best thing is that everyone arrived safely."
8:30 p.m. – Unofficially, donations totaling more than $37,000 are presented to Wong. Post 737 in Lake Milton, Ohio, presents a check for more than $5,400; another $4,615 comes from Post 21 in Colony, Texas, while $4,000 is presented on behalf of the 34 Legion Riders from Post 239 in Worthington, Ohio.
Another $20 comes from a young boy who tells Wong, "It's from my college fund." The Riders have a way of motivating every demographic.
Today: The Ride stops at Michigan's Garden City Post 396 – the birthplace of the Legion Riders – for lunch, then finishes up with dinner at Post 157 in Quincy, Mich.