I admit it: I was one of those schmucks who actually enjoyed high school and had mixed emotions at the end of the school year. I was relieved to be rid of teachers like Mr. Rice, whose primary requirement for giving a good grade was the possession of two X chromosomes, and the toad-like Mr. Holland, who had no neck in the back, a gullet the size of a small child and a penchant for flunking students in Health and Safety.
But because my parents were divorced, I would spend half my summers with my father and half with my mother 78 miles away. The lengthy absences - along with work and vacation schedules - meant I had some friends who I likely wouldn't see again until school resumed the following fall.
I think that just about describes how most of the Riders who finished the Legacy Run Thursday afternoon felt. A look of relief was on many of their faces - maybe that was exhaustion after traveling 1,400 miles by motorcycle over five days. But it was also apparent that after people head their separate ways during the national convention, many would not be seeing each other again for possibly quite some time.
"It's a mixture of pride and sadness," Texas Legionnaire T.J. Haynes told me. "You're proud to have accomplished this - especially with this many people. But you're a little sad that it's over."
Haynes was one of the planners of the original ride. He's seen it evolve over the course of five years and likes the direction it is headed. "It gets better every year," he said. "The Run is improving, and a lot of that has to do with the participation from the local people along the way. That support was tremendous this year."
That was something that stood out to me as well. Crossing through Wisconsin, we came across another overpass filled with Legionnaires and people just there to see the group and wave an American flag in support. It reminded me of scenes - albeit appropriate or not - that occurred in this country right after the start of the Persian Gulf War and immediately following Sept. 11, 2001, when patriotism was at a level the highest I'd seen since I was an 11-year-old kid watching the U.S. shock the Russian national hockey team in the 1980 Olympics. That was an incredible moment; unfortunately, it usually takes something a bit more important, violent or catastrophic to generate that kind of widespread patriotism.
But this week, at least on a dozen or so overpasses and at a handful of Legion posts, patriotism was at its best.
Terry Smith, a friend of Haynes and a fellow Texas Legionnaire, also has participated in all five Runs. He's noticed a trend that he thinks is very good for the future of the Legacy Run. "What makes me feel really confident about what we're doing is all the new faces I've seen," he said. "I see knew faces each year, and a lot of them are younger people. And we are getting more women on the run every year, it seems."
Virginia's Shane Gregory was one of the new faces this year, joining the Run after his father - New York Legionnaire Mike Gregory - participated in it last year and convinced Shane to join him this time. "We had a great time on this Run. I loved it," Shane said. "I've never seen so much patriotism. We're coming back next year."
Another rookie was Debbie Miler from Auburn, Ind. "I love it. I've met so many people this year," Miler said. "All of them have asked me if I'm going to do it again next year. I want to do this as often as I can."
Heading into the convention, the Run has raised more than $360,000 toward college scholarships for the children of U.S. servicemembers killed while on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001. National Commander Clarence Hill, who took part in the entire Run, said the Legacy Fund is something every American can get behind.
"The biggest impression I got was on all the stops that we made. People gave $1, the worker who gave me 50 cents, people who gave $5, $10, $20; on every stop, when we explained what we were doing, we got a donation," Hill said. "Everyone identifies with the need to educate our children, and they understand the hardships associated with doing that when a family has lost a parent. This cause is an easy one to support."
And it provides a great sense of accomplishment. "Everyone on this ride is working for the same goal," said Ohio Legionnaire Grant Martin, while standing in the parking lot of Legion Post 537 in Milwaukee Thursday afternoon. "Everyone involved in this should feel a great sense of pride."
Yeah, they should. It's pretty cool to see a group of people this large motivated solely by the desire to make a difference in the lives of others. I'm proud of what the Legion Riders do, and I'm glad I got to witness their efforts firsthand. Even if it was nice to sleep in a bed last night that I get to stay in for another six nights before I have to pack up again.
Until next year...