The American Legion's Operation Comfort Warriors  (OCW) program received more than $4,000 in donations thanks to a contingent of Nebraska antique tractor owners.
During the nine-day, 425-mile Tractor Relay Across Nebraska, the group collected donations for OCW, and personally contributed as well. This is the third year for the tractor rally but the first time it has collected donations for a nonprofit.
Relay coordinator Donelle Moormeier of Cortland, Neb., said the group selected OCW because 100 percent of donations go toward gifts for wounded servicemembers and their family members. "It was very important for us to know this money was going to the vets and their families," she said.
About 125 farmers registered to ride at least one of the nine segments. The group traveled between 30 and 60 miles each day, at about 12 miles per hour. There were some veterans among the farmers but most participated because they wanted to support the troops.
"They (veterans) are the reason we can make this drive," Moormeier said. "We fly with flags on our tractors because they have fought for us, and we have the freedom to do this type of thing."
Moormeier said the fundraising morphed into something bigger than what the group anticipated. "We've had a great response from The American Legion posts all across the state," she said. "It is something that everyone wants to support. It affects everybody."
Throughout the event, American Legion posts and other community organizations welcomed, fed and cheered the farmers.
After the seventh day, American Legion Post 203 in McCook sponsored a community cookout in a park to welcome the farmers and solicit OCW donations. A couple hundred people flowed into the park in the rural farming town.
Among the contributions received that night was a $1,000 check from an anonymous donor.
"I wasn't wounded but just having a hand in this makes me proud to be able to help our young servicemen and women," said retired Marine Dan Stramel, commander of Post 203. "It's an honor to help provide the dollars needed for comfort items for their relaxation."
Stramel said he appreciates what the farmers are doing.
"What we need is civilians taking care of veterans," he said. "Veterans will always take care of veterans. My goal has always been to get the public or civilians of America involved in helping. We need that support from the American public."
At age 86, World War II veteran Wendell Argotsinger was likely the oldest veteran participating in the rally. In fact, Argotsinger was one of only about 10 farmers who traveled the entire route.
"It's interesting to go across Nebraska," said Argotsinger, of Dennison, Iowa. "I've been on two tractor rides across Iowa. We've been up to South Dakota and Wisconsin, but I had never been to Nebraska before. That's why we're here — for the fun of it."
But beyond the chance to bond with other antique tractor buffs and explore a different area, the farmers are also united in their desire to assist wounded servicemembers.
"OCW sounds like a wonderful cause," Argotsinger said. "I hope they continue to get some more donations."
Moormeier is optimistic that "we will probably give to OCW again next year." To her, OCW is important because of who it helps.
"The other night in Alma, one gal said, ‘I just have to thank you. My husband is a vet, and you don't know how important this is to us.' "