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American Legion Multimedia Editor Steve Brooks traveled 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's filed reports from all three days of the ride.
7:30 a.m. – I walk across the Hampton Inn parking lot in Coldwater, Mich., toward the adjacent lot where around 300 motorcycles are parked. Soon, they'll be taking off for the final leg of the 2012 National Commander's Ride. And that does stir some emotions among the Riders. "There is some sadness that goes with that," says Joe Silva, a member of Overgaard, Ariz., Post 86's Sons of The American Legion squadron. "I was talking with some of my buddies, and we said that this is sort of like a family reunion. You come back each year and see old friends, and you meet new ones." Silva rode more than 2,000 miles just to get to Legion Post 1451 in New York – the starting point for this year's Ride. "I've been on two previous rides, and I enjoyed both of them," he says. "I love the people, and the cause is so great. It was worth the long ride."
7:45. a.m. – Amy Elliott is perched on the roof of the Hampton Inn to get photos from an elevated vantage point. She sends me a picture of a severed bird wing while she's up there.
9 a.m. – We start noticing a lot of people standing on overpasses, waiting to greet the Ride. They carry American flags and signs. Some are Legion Riders, some are other members of the Legion family, and some are just area residents who want to show their support for the Ride. I've seen a lot of this on the two previous Legacy Runs I've followed. It's really pretty cool.
10:45 a.m. – We approach Indianapolis' north side on Interstate 69. As we drive past the exit for Anderson, Ind., I point to the left and tell Amy and Derek, "22 miles south of here is where I live." I can't think of a single reason why I shared that information. I don't host many parties or get-togethers. The neighbor's llamas don't approve.
12:25 p.m. – The Ride arrives at Northside Harley-Davidson, a massive dealership, on 96th Street in Indianapolis. A lunch of grilled hot dogs, potato chips and cookies is ready for them.
12:35 p.m. – Past Department of Virginia Commander Andy Robertson has been on six Legacy Runs. He still gets a rush out of the public support the Run receives along the way. "So many people – in the middle of a work week – find the time to come and support our team," he says. "And those Riders who can't make the Run are also out there supporting us. It's a real surge of energy when you look up and see that." Robertson knows the end of the Ride is approaching. He'll be thinking the same thing he also does the minute it ends: "It's 360 or so days before we get to do this again."
12:55 p.m. – We arrive at Post 500 in Speedway, Ind. A 9-iron away sits Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home to the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400. The post typically provides parking and serves breakfast during both of those events, so preparing for the Ride to arrive is sort of old hat for its membership. "We get a lot of traffic during those times," said Post 500 ALR Chapter member Phil Haworth, who is ready to help guide bikes through the post's parking lot. "But I know the post itself has been preparing for this visit for the past two to three months. I think it's a real honor for the Ride to end up here. That's really why I'm involved. I just wanted to help out and be a part of it."
2:01 p.m. – The Ride starts pulling into the post, led by an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department motorcycle officer, who stands on his seat as he passes in front of the post. National Commander Fang A. Wong stands along Georgetown Road, saluting the Riders as they pass; Auxiliary National President Kris Nelson stands beside him.
2:25 p.m. – Chuck Patterson traveled a few miles to take part in this year's ride. Actually, a couple thousand. A member of John R. Rowe Post 17 in Hawaii, Patterson and his group flew in to Indianapolis last week, rented bikes and then rode down to Manchester, Tenn., and Virginia before heading to upstate New York for the start of the Ride. "It's the cause," says Patterson, when asked why he'd spend 15 hours in the air to then turn around and ride nearly 2,000 miles on a motorcycle. "It's a great cause and an amazing program. Every year I meet all these guys, and then you've got to turn around and say goodbye. It's a great group." Like Robertson, Patterson gets a kick when he sees the support for the Ride along the way. "When I get emotional is when you're driving down some road in the middle of nowhere, and you see some kid waving a flag," he says. "Those kids are being taught what this country is all about what being told what we're doing and why we're doing it."
2:36 p.m. – The Speedway Legion finally already has laid out chips and salsa, and cupcakes and cakes for the Riders. The kitchen staff has the fryers going, preparing to deliver what will likely be more than a few dozen chicken wings.
3:31 p.m. – The mass of motorcycles takes to the track of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – the most famous race track in the world – for a sort of victory lap. It's pretty awesome to see. And I am not sure what the speed restrictions were, but at least one Rider comments later that he crossed the finish line at 80 miles per hour. Well done, sir.
4:02 p.m. – Following the ride around the track, National Commander Fang A. Wong has a few words for the Riders. "Myself, my wife and Doug (Malin, the commander's aide) have spent the past three days with you, and we've gained a different perspective of what you're all about," he says. "Let's go back to your posts, your squadrons and you're units, and let's spread this excitement, this care and this concern. If we do that, I believe our future will be much brighter." Wong's tenure as national commander will end in less than a week. His appreciation of the Riders and their efforts won't. "You might see me (at next year's ride)," he says.
4:06 p.m. – The donations being to pour in – more than $76,000 today, to be exact. Murrells Inlet Post 178 in South Carolina contributes $16,700 on its own. The total – along with the more than $73,000 that was donated prior to the beginning of the Ride – brings this year's donation total to $289,181. And the national convention – where another couple of hundred thousand typically is donated – still remains. These people are amazing.