‘A Legion home away from home’

American Legion Rider Mike Leeking left his hometown of Lititz, Pa., Wednesday morning for the long trip to Sturgis, S.D., for the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Hauling his motorcycle on a trailer, he only took one break, spending a night in Iowa, before arriving just outside of Sturgis on Friday.

And despite being more than 1,600 miles from his home post - Post 56, also known as “The Garden Post” – Leeking has very familiar settings around him. He’s staying at a campground owned by Piedmont Valley Post 311 – a little more than 10 miles from Sturgis – and taking advantage of the post’s daily breakfasts and dinners before they are served to hundreds of motorcyclists descending upon Sturgis.

“It’s a very nice post, and the people here are very congenial,” said Leeking, who is attending his fourth Sturgis rally. “I blundered into this place last year, and it’s sort of a Legion home away from home. The food is great, and I run into veterans from all over the country.”

Department of South Dakota Vice Commander Duane Riedlinger, a two-time past Post 311 commander and Legion Rider, said the post of 341 members has been opening up its doors to Sturgis riders for at least 20 years. Area posts don’t usually have enough Riders for their own chapters, so they’ve formed the Black Hills Chapter comprised of Riders from several posts in the area.

“We do this for the veterans,” Riedlinger said. “We don’t raise the prices because we know they’re coming in. We want them to feel welcome. But we do make money off this, and that money allows us to do the various things we do for our community.”

Riedlinger, who once lived in Sturgis and has attended several rallies, said around 400 people eat at the breakfasts served from 7 a.m. to noon; the last breakfast will be served Sunday morning. Around 100 people show up for dinners that – depending on the night – consist of pork loin, Swiss steak, roast beef, fried chicken and steak. Any post members who help out do so as volunteers.

“It’s work, but it’s a lot of fun,” Riedlinger said. “We see a lot of people we know each year. There are hordes of veterans who come back here. Some of our very good friends show up here.”