A journey for the children of the fallen

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Entertainment icon William Shatner set out on the Rivet Ride from Illinois on June 23. He wanted to promote a newly designed motorcycle, the Rivet, which was a collaboration between himself and Rivet Motors.

With the support of American Wrench, Shatner traveled from the Midwest all the way to Los Angeles over the course of eight days. He and his group rode through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada before wrapping up in Los Angeles. A film crew rode along to make a documentary about Shatner’s journey.

Also joining the Rivet Ride were four American Legion Riders who, with Shatner, used stops along the route to raise awareness about the Legion’s Legacy Fund, a scholarship program set up to provide college financial assistance to the children of U.S. servicemembers killed in the line of duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001.

Mechanical issues with the Rivet forced Shatner and his wife, Liz, to make the ride on a Harley-Davidson trike. Shooting of the documentary caused occasional delays in the ride. And when the group hit the West – particularly Nevada and California – temperatures soared into the triple digits.

Shatner called the ride “the most physically taxing thing that I’ve ever done.” But that didn’t temper his enthusiasm for promoting the Legacy Run when he finally arrived in Los Angeles. He urged those in attendance at the post-ride party to find “sponsors” for what he called a “wonderful cause. I’m asking … the people with a little more to give to give a little more.”

Wells Fargo stepped up with a sizeable donation at the post-ride party, while Shatner and members of the ride collected donations along the way. Shatner himself received a $100 donation from one individual. “That was really charitable giving from a man who was on income … we don’t even know how little he was getting,” Shatner said. “He was trying to help.”

In addition to raising funds for the Legacy Scholarship, it also raised the program’s profile. Various media outlets were on site during stops to provide coverage of what Shatner was doing. And he also plugged the fund during those stops.

“Our No. 1 problem with the Legacy Scholarship, for years, has been our inability to take the message to the general public,” said Bill Sloan, assistant director in the Legion’s Internal Affairs Division and the nation staff liaison to the Riders. “The Legion knows, the veteran community knows, most of the colleges and universities know about it, but the general public is not yet aware of the availability of the scholarship to the extent we’d like them to be. That’s how the children learn of the scholarship: from friends and neighbors, teachers and people who might see Bill Shatner on TV and tell them about the Legacy Scholarship (that) The American Legion administers.”

Sloan rode on the ride and led the main contingent throughout the journey. Joining him from start to finish were Scott Miller, a Legion Rider and the Legion’s deputy director for marketing; and Legion Riders Debbie Bickel of Indiana and Rodney Herring of Florida.

Herring called the ride “an awesome experience for a small-time boy, and I will treasure it for my remaining days.” Bickel had a similar perspective.

“It’s been an amazing adventure – meeting people from all different perspectives: the guys from American Wrench, Bill and Liz,” she said. “They’re regular people, and we all just blended together as a group, as a family. I’m very honored, very blessed to be chosen and to partake in this. It’s amazing.”

Bickel said she was a bit apprehensive at first. “I think from the first day, everyone was kind of leery about each other because we didn’t know where we would stand on a social level,” she said. “As the days went past, we really got comfortable. Liz and I sat down one night at one of our hotel destinations and we just had a very long conversation and got to know each other really well."

While Bickel and Herring rode the entire ride, dozens of Legion Riders joined up to provide escorts through their states. The reason was pretty much the same for all of them: supporting the Legacy Fund and the man promoting it.

• Todd Harris, ALR director of John D. Wibby Post 86 in Overgaard, Ariz., met up with the ride at the New Mexico-Arizona boarder and rode until the stop at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. “It’s a lot of fun and an honor to do (the ride),” he said. “It’s always an honor to support someone who’s supporting our veterans and our veterans’ causes. It’s a wonderful thing."

• Legion Rider Thomas Trujillo of Post 149 in Las Vegas presented Shatner with a $1,000 check for the Legacy Fund on behalf of his post during a stop at the Las Vegas Harley-Davidson. “I think we all have to put our best foot forward for such a great effort to support the Legacy Scholarship Fund,” he said. “It’s a very important thing to be able to support veterans’ families – and especially veterans’ kids as they go through their education process.”

• Post 149 Adjutant Victor “Doc” Moss was among a group of Riders that escorted the ride out of Las Vegas. “One of our pillars is Children & Youth, and it’s imperative that we, as veterans, take care of our brethren’s children to give them a leg up for the future,” he said. “There’s no better way to do it than this fund.”

• Joining Moss was Paul Engs, a Rider from Post 149 who rode 78 miles from his home in Pahrump, Nev., to take part in the escort. He left his home at 2 a.m. the morning of June 30 to take part in the 4:30 a.m. departure from Caesar’s. “We figure (Shatner) deserves everything he deserves because he rode that long ride helping us, so we’re going to help him,” Engs said.

• Roy Castaneda, vice president of Chapter 852 in Temecula, Calif., left home June 29 to meet up with the ride in Primm, Nev., on June 30, and then helped escort the ride into Los Angeles. He said that being a part of the Rivet Ride – as well as the things his chapter does at the local level – are “constantly putting us out there to let veterans know that we’re out there as someplace for them to go and associate with, and/or if they have issues … that we have resources or contacts that they can get a hold of.”

Shatner said the support the ride received from Legion Riders along the way was, “unbelievable. It’s a beautiful thing. You have to see it in their faces and their eyes to believe it – how much they’re giving.”

It wasn’t an easy journey. On June 29, the ride encountered desert temperatures that reached 115 degrees. Herring said that portion of the ride was the hottest place he’d been since Vietnam.

“It gets to the point where hot is hot,” Sloan added. “At 65-70 miles an hour in that hot wind, it’s just like a blow torch going down the highway.”

But Miller said the group quickly found its perspective. “When we out in the desert shooting some film and it was 115 degrees, the one thing I told everyone (was) that morning I’d looked up the temperatures,” Miller said. “It was 115 degrees in Iraq. It was 106 degrees in Afghanistan and 105 degrees in Kuwait. Those guys and gals (serving in the U.S. military) are carrying 125 pounds of gear, and they’re hoofing it. I was on an Indian motorcycle seeing the entire West. Those (in the military) are riding in Humvees and kicking in doors every single day, allowing us to do that. That’s perspective, and that got us down the road.”

The group also found perspective during a meeting with Cole McClain and his mother Ashley in Emporia, Kan. Cole's father, Sgt. J.C. McClain, was killed in action on Oct.31, 2006, in Afghanistan. Cole, then 3 years old, remembered the Legion Riders showing up to honor his father during the funeral. He wanted to meet the Riders at their stop.

“I think that was a real gut-check for all of us,” Miller said. “Cole is going to be a Legacy Scholarship recipient. We were riding for Cole.”

Shatner added that Cole “needs an education. The American Legion (Legacy) Scholarship Fund will provide that scholarship.”

That’s why Wells Fargo made a $10,000 donation to the Legacy Fund at the conclusion of the ride. “We can’t think of anything more important than helping The American Legion support the family and children of the men and women who’ve served in the armed forces,” said David DiCristofaro, president of the Greater Los Angeles Region of Wells Fargo. “They’re out there working to protect all of us, and we owe it to them to support them.”

Shatner reminded Wells Fargo of that fact at the post-ride party and urged their reps to contact other branches and regions across the country to make similar donations. “When these children grow up, they’ll bank at Wells Fargo,” he said.

Legacy Scholarship

Legacy Scholarship

The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund helps ensure higher education is a possibility for children whose parents lost their lives while on duty since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.