American Legion Social Media Manager Steve B. Brooks is following along or getting out ahead of the Legacy Run in what has to be a 70-foot long, 32-passenger Ford Transit, with visual journalists Lucas Carter and Clay Lomneth, to cover the 2016 Legacy Run.
7:26 a.m. – A black Tred-Safe shoe is laying in the parking lot next to our van. It must have been a sign that I would turn onto 75 South instead of 75 North.
8:15 a.m. – Eighty miles an hour quickly gets us to Post 95 in Chattanooga, Tenn., where the 240 motorcycles have just gotten parked. The Riders are treated to donuts – 480 or so, according to Post Commander Larry Palmer. “It’s a very exciting time,” Palmer says of the stop. “It’s part of what we like to do. We like to honor veterans, and this is a good way to do it.”
8:40 a.m. – More than $5,000 is donated at Post 95. East Ridge Vice Mayor Marc Gavitt, a member of Post 95, praises the Riders for their efforts.
8:44 a.m. – Brad Watkins, a member of Post 177 in Fairfax, Va., has been on five Legacy Runs. That doesn’t stop him from still having a strong reaction when he sees people out supporting the ride. “What I like about the Legacy Run, apart from the ability to generate the money for the kids, is when you roll through these towns … having them come out and see us do what we do – that’s pretty cool,” he says. “When the citizens and community steps out and see what you’re doing, that’s the cool part. We’re doing good stuff.”
9:03 a.m. (we’ve gone back in time now) – We pass by a sign for the Jack Daniels Distillery. Clay and I both sigh.
9:10 a.m. – Michael “Bootlegger” Walden helped organize a huge show of support on the Exit 110 bypass off 24-West in Manchester, Tenn. More than 50 people – along with three engines from the Manchester Fire Department and several Manchester Police Department cars – stand along the overpass. “It was just to show the support,” Walden says. “With it coming through Manchester, we wanted to come out and support the Riders. And we also got the community out. There’s no dollar amount you can put on that. You get the word out to the community – especially with the community finding out that this is for kids to send them to college – it’s just an outpouring of support.”
9:18 a.m. – Post 78 Commander Paul Gish, also a Legion Rider, says the Riders “are absolutely vital” to his post. “The Riders do a lot of things. A lot of these guys go out of their way. The dedication is amazing.”
9:45 a.m. – “There’s really nothing veterans won’t do,” Middle Tennessee Vice Commander Larry Kersey tells me as the Run passes underneath us.
11:40 a.m. – Kentucky National Executive Committeeman Gary Drennan says the Legacy Run’s stop at his own Post 88 in Donelson, Tenn., is “the greatest honor you can get.”
11:45 a.m. – American Legion Auxiliary National President Sharon Conatser rode the first two legs of today on the back of Chad Woodburn’s motorcycle. She’s the first Auxiliary national president to go on the Legacy Run. “It was great,” she says. “I’m not a Rider, as people know here, but it was amazing. I was not nervous at all. It was a great experience.” Sharon said she and Woodburn – the son of longtime Legion Riders Committee chairman Terry Woodburn, who passed away last year – came up with the idea for her to participate. “A year ago we made this deal that if he could work it out, we would ride part of the ride together in memory of his dad,” she says. “So here we are. It was great.”
12:05 p.m. – The riders arrive at Post 88 for lunch.
12:15 p.m. – It’s the ninth Legacy Run for Jim Forbus, a member of Post 550 in Pilot Point, Texas. The past four have been spent on the advance team, which carries with it the responsibilities of both running gas stops and then parking 200-plus motorcycles at each stop. The latter has its challenges. “It’s real complicated,” he says. “The biggest thing we have to watch is where we put them. They’ve got to be able to get in and out. We have to have them leaning the right way. If the pavement’s the wrong way the bike will fall over.” But the effort is worth it. “What we do for the kids is fantastic,” Forbus says. “That’s the main reason I started doing this.”
1 p.m. – Another $18,000 is raised at Post 88. More than $8,000 comes from Post 177 in Fairfax, Va.; another $7,800 comes from various Tennessee American Legion Riders chapters.
3:40 p.m. – The Run arrives at its final destination of the night: Post 23 in Bowling Green, Ky. Another great turnover of Legion family members are waiting.
3:52 p.m. – It’s the last night of the ride, something that is bittersweet for Jack Smith of Legion Post 215 in Pardeeville, Wis. “It’s been a good ride, but it’s hard work,” he says. “It’s just a good feeling to do the ride.”
4:08 p.m. – Dan McClaughlin, a member of Legion Riders Chapter 117 in Butler Co., Pa., knows firsthand what it means to honor a legacy. His son, Michael, was killed in 2006 in Iraq during a suicide bombing. McLaughlin first participated in the Run last year and came back because “I met so many wonderful people. I knew that I wanted to ride in it (again).” McLaughlin’s son left behind two daughters; the youngest is starting her third year in college. “One of the greatest things that there is about (the Legacy Run): To see this money coming in and know that it is going to help out kids that need a college education,” he says. “That shows you how much people care about this.” McLaughlin also rides to honor his son. “As we were going through the (overpasses) … and I got to see all those people who were standing up there with flags and waving at us – that makes me very proud, and that makes me understand what my son gave his life for."
4:42 p.m. – Barnett announces that the Legacy Run has hit the $500,000 mark in donations. The Riders erupt with applause.
4:44 p.m. Don Horn, a member of Post 16 in Norfolk, Neb., places a wreath during the ceremony at Post 23. His wife makes the wreaths; he and she place them on veterans’ gravesites while they are on rides. “For the families, you can’t believe how much it touches their heart,” Horn says.
4:50 p.m. – Jack Daniels – mmmmm, Jack Daniels – has created seven Legacy Run bottles of its fine spirit. Three are auctioned off, bringing in another $2,900 for the Legacy Fund.
5 p.m. – Donations totaling more than $3,000 come in, including $2,600 from Post 116 in Reisterstown, Md. That makes the total heading into Thursday at more than $500,000.
5:05 p.m. – Mayor Bruce Wilkerson, along with Bowling Green Board of Commissioners and Warren County government officials, read a proclamation naming today as “American Legion Legacy Run Day.”
5:15 p.m. – Reed Hensley, 14, delivers a killer version of the national anthem. More applause.