In 1985, the Air Force transferred Rick MacDonald to South Dakota. He missed that year's annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally – and hasn't missed once since.
A former motorcycle rider and the current Department of South Dakota commander, MacDonald made his way to his 27th rally on Aug. 6. Once there, he was very happy to see an American Legion presence in the form of the Legion-Soldier's Wish Salute and Serve Our Nation's Heroes tent prominently set up between the rally's two busiest traffic paths: Main and Lazelle streets.
"I think it's really good that the Legion is here," said MacDonald, a member of Post 303. "We need to tell people what we do and what we can do for them, and this is a great place to do it. So many of these people are veterans – a lot of them Vietnam veterans – and we need to reach out to all of them. So many veterans get out of the military and don't even know that they are entitled to any benefits. We need to be able to tell them the benefits available to them because of their service. Having a tent here gives us a chance to reach so many veterans we might be able to otherwise reach."
With the HISTORY's Cross Country Cookout 80-foot Smoker and Grill nearby – and with smoker owner Trace Arnold occasionally promoting Soldier's Wish and the Legion – hundreds of people stopped by the Legion-Soldier's Wish tent Aug. 4-6. During those three days, Legion and Soldier's Wish staff talked about the relationship between the two entities, shared information on Legion programs, collected donations and added names to the Soldier's Wish mailing list. Veteran after veteran stopped by the tent. And many had Legion connections.
Several American Legion Riders were in Sturgis, and more than a few found their way to the Legion-Soldier's Wish Tent. Jerry and Terri VanTassel – both Legion Riders from Post 135 in Franklin, N.J. – came more than 1,800 miles to get to Sturgis, joining seven of Post 135's Legion family members on the trip. Jerry towed four motorcycles behind him.
The couple said the Legion tent was the first booth they visited on their first trip to Sturgis and that it was great to see a Legion presence at the rally.
As to the rally itself ...
"It's different," Terri said of the rally.
"It's totally different," Jerry concurred.
T.J. Haynes – a member of William M. Randolph Post 593 in Converse, Texas, and a member of the American Legion Riders Ad-Hoc Committee – also stopped by the booth. Haynes attended his first Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in 1968 – as an escort of a nuclear warhead while he was still in the service – and has attended 20-25 rallies. Haynes – who will head to Indianapolis in a little more than a week to ride in the 2013 Legacy Run – also made it a point to stop by the Legion tent.