Hundreds of American Legion Riders spent most of this week raising nearly $300,000 for The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund. In Indianapolis on Aug. 25, some of those Riders got to hear from two of the people who've benefited from their efforts.
During the first-ever American Legion Riders Expo, two Legacy Scholarship recipients thanked the Riders for their efforts and told them how receiving the scholarships made a difference in their lives.
"Family is obviously very important to each and every one of us, and I realize I'm now a part of a much bigger family," said Jennifer Clapp, who now works in the banking industry after graduating from college. "It means so much to me that you thought of me after my father made such a sacrifice."
Clapp's father, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Douglas V. Clapp, 48, was among seven Army soldiers killed in 2004 when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed while flying from Fort Hood, Texas, to check on progress in repairing vehicles damaged in Iraq.
The Legion Riders also heard from Taylor Curry, the son of former 23-year Air Force veteran David Curry and also a scholarship recipient. Taylor graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design and now works and lives in New York in the photography business.
"Truly, the work that all of you do – you made a difference in my life," Curry said. "There are always student loans, but because of you I don't have to pay back as much as I could have."
The speakers were part of the opening ceremonies of the Expo, which took place at historic Stout Field and was part of this year's American Legion Legacy Run Home. During Day 1 of the Expo, Riders underwent basic and advanced skills training, and took classes in such areas as intersection awareness, group riding, rider reception and alcohol awareness. Participants also took part in a charity ride to raise funds for the nearby Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center.
Today, more classroom training will take place, as well as a performance from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Drill Team Demonstration, a Candlelight Celebration honoring Legacy Scholarship recipients and a night ride through Indianapolis.
Stressing a lifetime of safe riding is one of the focuses of the Expo, said American Legion Riders National Ad-Hoc Committee member T.J. Haynes, a Department of Texas Legionnaire. "We've got servicemembers who are surviving over in Iraq and in Afghanistan, and then coming home and dying on our highways because of motorcycle wrecks," Haynes said. "That's unacceptable. That's what this next couple of days is about. We have a chance to make history here again. Let's do it."
Past National Commander Robert W. Spanogle, also a Legion Rider, urged the Riders to make the absolute most of the Expo experience. "We want this program to grow," he said. "All we need to do is share our success stories, listen and communicate. We're here to learn."
American Legion National Commander Fang Wong – who spent this week on the entire National Commander's Ride – praised the Riders for their efforts and urged Legion leaders at every level to learn more about the program. "I believe our leaders should spend some time with you at the state and post level, just to see how you spread the word of The American Legion," he said.
Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger, adjutant general of the Indiana National Guard, was one of the guest speakers at the opening ceremony. Telling the Riders that he, personally, has delivered 25 American flags to the families of servicemembers killed in the line of duty, Umbarger praised them for their support of the servicemembers and their families left behind.
"Thank you for being there when they're welcomed home, for carrying the flags, for going to the grave sites," he said. "You're always there. You make sure they're welcomed home, and you make sure that if they gave their life, you are there for the families. I'm honored to walk in the ranks with you."
Members of the 5th Special Forces Group out of Fort Campbell, Ky., also attended the ceremony and were made members of The American Legion. Command Sgt. Maj. Dwayne Cox said trying to thank the Riders, and the Legion, for what they do has been a difficult task for he and his soldiers.
"We came up here to honor you, but you make it impossible for us to tell you ‘thanks,'" Cox said. "You won't let us take a step back without you saying ‘thank you' to us. I'm absolutely humbled to be here among you."
County music singer Autumn Letendre sang the national anthem and later told the story of her song "Raise Your Flag." In 2006, Autumn's husband, Marine Capt. Brian Letendre, was killed in Iraq. Autumn gradually put her thoughts down about the experience and about the respect and love she had for her husband; the results became the lyrics for the song.
Autumn said the song honors the legacy her husband left behind, and she thanked the Riders for the Legacy they're leaving behind.
"Know that I raise every flag for you, and I stand for you," she said. "I may be a Gold Star (wife), but I believe that when you become a Gold Star, you'd better shine. I hope I shine for you today."