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Legacy Run Day 1: Rain, support and tears

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Legacy Run Day 1: Rain, support and tears
Leslie Throckmorton hugs National Commander Jimmie L. Foster during a Legacy Fund donation ceremony in Michigan Sunday. Leslie’s husband, Army Staff Sgt. Josh Throckmorton , was killed in the line of duty July 5 in Afghanistan, leaving behind her and three young daughters. Photo by James V. Carroll

American Legion Multimedia Editor Steve B. Brooks will be chronicling the Legacy Run for the second straight year.

5:20 a.m. - "I'm waiting for the curling iron to heat up. I need to curl my hair." Not my words. The first words I hear - coming from the hallway of the hotel - on this, the first day of the 2011 Legacy Run.

7:00 a.m. - Kenneth N. Dowden Wayne American Legion Post 64 in Indianapolis again comes through, serving the riders breakfast: scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes, and biscuits and sausage gravy. The post ends up donating all the tips left from breakfast and the dinner the night before to the Legacy Fund - the amount exceeds $800.

7:12 a.m. - Talking to National Commander Jimmie L. Foster, who is traveling with the riders for the entire Run. Ask him if he's ready for his tenure to be up. "It's bittersweet," he says. "I have met amazing people all over the country. And everywhere I go, they want to feed me."

7:15 - Chief Road Captain "Uncle" Dick Woods meets with all the road captains, going over last-minute details. "Remember, this is not about us," he says. "This is about the kids."

7:25 - Talk with Dale "Pug Man" Taylor, a Rider from Post 331 in nearby Brownsburg. It's his third Legacy Run; the smell of his pipe reminds me of my grandfather's basement in Edina, Minn. "There's going to be a little bit of nervous energy, but I've been on enough big rides that there aren't many nerves," Taylor says. "But there's always excitement. It's going to be an adventure."

7:35 a.m. - All of the riders assemble for the final meeting before departure. Mike Baxbaum, command sergeant major of the Army Corps of Engineers, and Sgt. Maj. Matt Unger - also of the Army Corps of Engineers - will serve as the ride's medics. Unger urges riders to stay hydrated. Woods urges them to stay cool in another way - no passing and no engaging other traffic in any way less than civil. "A lot of times they think we're a funeral procession," Woods jokes. "I kind of try to look really sad."

7:59 a.m. - Woods blows his horn, meaning kickstands are up in five minutes. Engines begin to rumble. It reminds me of the sounds of the Indianapolis 500 seconds after the much-anticipated declaration, "Gentlemen, start your engines." Same goose bumps ensue.

8:03 a.m. - Woods leads the more than 250 motorcycles from the parking lot of Post 64 toward Interstate 70. Foster, National Adjutant Daniel S. Wheeler, Department of Indiana Commander Michael Miller and Indiana District Commander Rich Brown are among those seeing the riders off.

8:05 a.m. - I drive the first leg of the Run, meaning I have control of the Sirius satellite radio. A steady diet of Alt Nation, Lithium and First Wave follows - sometimes to the chagrin of my two companions.

8:50 a.m. - Around 40 miles into the ride, the first of many groups of supporters appear on an overpass, holding flags and cheering as the Run passes underneath. Seconds later, the rain begins. I've only been on one other Legacy Run, but on five days last year we didn't see a drop. But rain does not stop the Legacy Run, and the group continues.

9:50 a.m. - The first gas stop. Waiting on the exit ramp between Warren and Huntington, Ind., are Legion family members from Post 7 in Huntington. They showed up an hour earlier to place dozens of U.S. flags along the ramp and overpass. "We're all veterans," Post 7 Commander Don Wieging says. "We believe in each other."

10:45 a.m. - In advance of the main group, we arrive at Post 47 in Fort Wayne for lunch (hot dogs and sloppy Joes, which provides the potential for Coney dogs, along with macaroni salad, pretzels and potato chips). The Fort Wayne Fire Department has brought two hook-and-ladders to the post, bridging a giant American flag 40 feet in the air between them. Legionnaires from throughout the Fourth District of Indiana are present. Ernest "Blue" Garr of Post 47 and five other Legion Riders will join the Run at that point. It's Garr's fourth run. "This makes it a lot easier for me because I didn't have to go to Indianapolis," Garr says. "We're happy to be out here to support them and join up with them"

11:35 a.m. - The main group arrives under police escort; many of the riders are now in rain gear. During lunch, Foster presents Post 47 with a plaque of appreciation, then takes donations for the Legacy Fund. $6,700 is raised, including $5,000 from Post 47's Legion Riders. The total raised so far: $182,323.80.

1 p.m. - We stop just miles north of the Indiana-Michigan state line at an overpass and climb up the hill (American Legion photographer James V. Carroll climbs like a ring-tailed lemur) to talk with people lined up to support the ride - again holding U.S. flags. The supporters are from Indiana and Michigan, representing three different Legion posts and both Legion and Auxiliary members. They arrived at 12:20 p.m. "We wanted to welcome them to Michigan," says Gig Wagner, a Legion Rider from Post 259 in Bronson, Mich. "We do this stuff all the time for other rider groups." Around 35 minutes later, the skies open up again before the Run hits the overpass, reducing visibility greatly. But again, the riders continue.

3:10 p.m. - During the gas stop in Charlotte (pronounced sharr-lot, not Charlotte like the other city), Mich., Paul Racine of nearby Vermontville and a member of Post 42 in Charlotte pours cat litter over what looks like an oil spill near one of the pumps. "This is what we do," Racine says when asked why he's there. "I was excited when I found out the Run was coming here. This is history."

3:24 p.m. - We head toward Post 42 in Charlotte, where the riders are marshalling on their last stop of the day before settling at Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., for the night. Along the way, Boy Scouts stand at corners along the main drag, waving flags while "Welcome American Legion Legacy Run" signs are planted in front of them. At Post 42, Sandy Vandlen - a past Auxiliary president at the post - waves a flag and cheers for the riders. "Our Rider group here raised $13,000 for the Legacy Fund last year," she says proudly. "So many times in the last couple of years people said ‘there's no money out there.' What our Riders did shows that if you get off your butt, you can raise money."

3:40 p.m. - Debbie Miler of Auburn, Ind., Post 97 gets off her bike. A road captain, she said the earlier downpour wasn't a very fun time. "That last patch was pretty brutal," she says. "I had to slow our group down to 60 miles per hour and make sure everyone was riding safely. You really couldn't see."

3:45 p.m. - The activities begin inside, and the crowd includes a representative of U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, a state senator and representative, the mayor of Charlotte, Past National Commander Tom Cadmus and National Vice Commander John Mella. Foster gets more than $10,000 in donations, bringing the total to $192,633.29. But that's merely a side note. Among those donations is $600 from Post 298 from Battle Creek, Mich., made in honor of Army Staff Sgt. Josh Throckmorton of Battle Creek, who was killed in the line of duty July 5 in Afghanistan. Also present is Throckmorton's widow, Leslie, and their daughters Kylie (age 10), Abigail (7) and Devan (2). "I want to say thank you for what you're doing for my family," says Leslie, breaking into tears. "This means everything." Legionnaire Tom Starkweather, Post 298's ALR director, presents the check to Foster. "I've been on this ride, and I know what it's about," Starkweather tells me. "But to be able to show these other riders why they are doing this and how it means so much to this family - this is what we do. And now, this money is going to be waiting for these girls when they are ready to go to college." I will remember that moment - Leslie's reaction, her three children huddled around her - for a long time.

Day 2 (Monday, Aug. 21) We head out at 8 a.m. toward Mackinaw City Post 159 for lunch. Then the afternoon is free so Run participants can hang out in Mackinaw City and on Mackinac Island. After that, then it's heading to Kewadin Casino and Hotel, St. Ignace, Mich., for our last night in Michigan.

Until tomorrow ...

For constantly updated photos of this year's Legacy Run, click here.

 

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