American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt spent most of Saturday’s daylight hours on the back of fellow Oregon Legionnaire Michael Provost’s motorcycle, riding 280 miles on Day 1 of the USAA-sponsored 12th Annual American Legion Legacy Run.
His summed up the experience both succinctly and effectively.
“It was awesome,” Schmidt said. “It’s so well-orchestrated. Once we pulled out of Fort Dodge and out onto the highway, I tell you what: I was so proud to be a Legionnaire.
“To think that all these men and women on the motorcycles were going to take a ride all the way to Reno (Nev.) just for the Legacy Fund … I was proud.”
More than 240 motorcycles left Dodge City, making a stop in Lamar, Colo., before finishing up at Post 2 in Pueblo, Colo. Schmidt arrived in Fort Dodge a few hours before Friday’s opening ceremony, coming straight from The American Legion World Series in Shelby, N.C.
“We know what the ride is for,” Schmidt said. “This is one of the many good things The American Legion does: take care of families. We never forget our fallen. This is something that the national commander should be at, but of course it’s something that I want to be at as a Legionnaire.”
First-day jitters out of the way
Mike and Tina Kirchoff have been on 11 of 12 Legacy Runs; a motorcycle wreck kept them from riding last year, though they were in Cincinnati to greet the ride as it wrapped up. Mike – Group C’s road captain all 11 years – said the first day was a good introduction for first-time Legacy Run participants.
“There are some newbies, and they are excited about it,” Mike said. “It was a good ride today because it was an easy ride. It might have been some tiring miles, but it wasn’t stressful.”
The couple – members of the Legion and Auxiliary, respectively, at Paul W. Airey Post 392 in Panama City, Fla. – drove more than 1,400 miles to get to Dodge City. They’ll have put nearly 3,000 miles on their bike when they arrive in Reno.
“Nobody can get tired of doing this,” Mike said. “It’s all about the cause, not the applause. As long as we have the cause, the Riders will be there doing it.”
Public support a-plenty
From Kansas to Colorado, dozens of people lined the streets to show their support for the ride, waving American flags and applauding the Run’s participants.
Craig and Janice Turrentine, and Cheryl Morphew were doing exactly that in Deerfield, Kan. All the parents of veterans, they weren’t going to miss coming out for the ride.
“We support the troops and we support America,” Janice said. “We wanted to show our patriotic feelings.”
Cheryl said she learned of both the Run and its cause – The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund – in the newspaper. “I think it’s great,” she said. “These guys earned (our support) with their service to our country.”
That kind of support meant something to Debbie Bouffard, a member of Auxiliary Unit 298 in Battle Creek, Mich., who was riding with her husband, Roy. “I have tears,” she said. “I am so proud to be honoring American veterans. My dad was a veteran. To be part of this is amazing.”
Pleasant memories for PNC
Past National Commander Mike Helm, a Kansas resident, drove three hours to see the Legacy Run leave Dodge City. During his year as national commander in 2015, he rode every leg of the ride on the back of a motorcycle.
“What I remember first is we raised $1.25 million, which was a great amount,” Helm said. “But the other thing is just the camaraderie of the people that do this and the cause. Everybody is just so dedicated to what is going on. And it’s the whole American Legion family going together. They all just come together and work so well together. It’s amazing.”
Helm said seeing the ride off was “sort of a reunion” for the people he met on his ride. “It’s a nice warm feeling for me to be here,” he said.
Colorado honored to host Run
Department of Colorado Commander Terri Clinton, herself a Legion Rider at Chapter 178 in Lakewood, was in Lamar to greet the Run and then rode with it to Pueblo. Part of the reason was very personal.
“My brother-in-law was killed in action (in 2005), and my niece actually used (the Legacy Scholarship) to go to college,” she said. “She’s a veterinary tech now. Even though our loss is still present every day, those funds helped someone I personally know and love. So it’s an amazing honor to have all of the Riders here in our state.”
Post 2 Commander Dave Jiron said hosting the Run meant a lot not only to the post, but “to the whole city of Pueblo. This is one of the positive things we’re trying to do here in the community to get our veterans involved and the whole community involved.”
Before heading to Post 2, Schmidt, Clinton and Jiron placed a wreath at Pueblo’s Medal of Honor Memorial, which honors the city’s four Medal of Honor recipients: William J. Crawford, Carl L. Sitter, Raymond G. “Jerry” Murphy and Drew D. Dix.
Another $11,000 was donated to The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund at Post 2, bringing the total raised so far to more than $429,000.