Legacy Run Day 6: 'I don't want it to end'

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Georgia Legionnaire Greg Guthrie has been on what he thinks is 10 American Legion Legacy Runs. He’s made friends that he considers some of his best, which makes the end of every Legacy Run more than a little difficult.

“I look forward to this all year long,” said Guthrie, a member of Post 337 in Grovetown, Ga. “I don’t want it to end. But at the same time, I’ve got to get back to work and pay the bills."

This year’s USAA-sponsored Legacy Run traveled more than 1,400 miles over six days, raising money for The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund in the process. The fund, which provides scholarship money for children of military personnel killed on or after 9/11, as well as those children whose parents are rated 50 percent or more disabled from their military service, hits close to home for Guthrie.

“My wife, her brother was killed (while serving) and left behind four (children),” Guthrie said. “They were 6 years old, 4 years old, 3 years old and 9 months old. It hits real close.”

Guthrie said he stays in constant contact with the people he’s met on the ride. “The people out here I talk with more than I do (with the people) in my local area. It’s because we all have something really in common. It’s one thing to go to a Legion (post) and know that you’ve got the camaraderie and all that.

"But it’s a whole different game out here. They see things the same way. We can butt heads, but we always get back up and go. That’s what it’s all about.”

Thursday’s final stop in Reno, Nev., saw plenty of hugs being exchanged and emotions running high. Several Riders shared how the close of the Legacy Run affects them

• Debbie Bickel, a member of Post 97 in Auburn, Ind.: “I’m going to miss a lot of these people. I’m sorry if I get emotional. It’s a big family reunion every year. We do this for the cause and we do this for the kids. This year I’m doing it for my granddaughter, Annalyce. My oldest son is currently serving in the U.S. Marines, so I know if something happens to him in the future, that she will have money to continue her education. So this means a lot to me.”

• Theardies “T-Man” Fisher, a member of Post 4 in Wichita, Kan.: “Here we are, getting ready to shut it down. The reunion’s almost over. Every year we look forward to coming back and seeing our friends from Texas, from Virginia, from Georgia, Florida. We just come together. Year after year we see each other. It’s a family.”

• Van Land, a member of Post 192 in Evans, Ga.: “I can smile because of the memories. You create new friends. There’s a greater camaraderie. It’s an experience of everyone working together for a common cause.”

Emotional rollercoaster for ride captain

Chief Road Captain Bob Sussan wasn’t even sure he was going to make the ride this year after his close friend and Legacy Run Chief Road Captain and Co-Planner Verlin Abbott was killed in a motorcycle accident the week before the ride.

Convinced by Abbott’s wife that Abbott would have wanted him to go, Sussan led the ride for the fourth straight year. And he said signs of Abbott were everywhere.

“The range of emotions went from people telling me, ‘There were two doves flying by.’ And that there was a rainbow coming down that hit the BMW sign. Verlin rode a BMW. The sheriff at one of our stops looked at his radar to show the rain, and Route 50 – where we were driving – went right through the middle of it – no rain. We dedicated a memorial in Green River, Utah, … and he was buried the same day.

“I can’t tell you how many times I broke down to myself on the ride, just thinking I was seeing Verlin, hearing Verlin. So we did it, and I knew that he would have wanted me to do it.”

The Riders collected $3,200 to donate to Abbott’s wife and presented the money to Sussan Thursday morning. Abbott’s wife wants the money to go to the Legacy Run. “I was just so touched,” Sussan said. “It was a special ride.”

Dave Schoonover, a Legion Rider from Post 68 in Hutchinson, Kan., presented the money to Sussan. “(Abbott) was such an integral part of the ride,” he said. “We miss seeing him buzz by us on his BMW and keeping us safe. It was an honor to get that much money for him.”

A coveted vest, stuffed animal

A few years ago a group of Royal British Legion Riders took part in a few Legacy Runs. On one of them they left one of their vests behind. Since then, the vest has been auctioned off every year, with the winner keeping the vest for one year and then returning it the following Legacy Run. The money to “buy” the jacket goes to the Legacy Fund; it’s raised more than $6,000 after the Department of Alabama paid $1,000 for it this year.

Mike Harper and ALR Chapter 97 in Auburn, Ind., paid $1,600 last year to keep the vest. “It makes me proud (to wear the vest on the ride),” Harper said. “It’s all for the kids.”

And California Legion Rider Michael Cash donated $1,000 to the Legacy Fund to "buy" Mojo, a stuffed toy dog, for the year. Mojo wears a Riders vest; Cash will keep it for a year and then bring it back to the ride next year to be auctioned off again.

Finals stops in Carson City and Reno

The ride had a lunch break in Carson City, where Battle Born Harley-Davidson provided lunch. The final stops was hosted by Elks Lodge 597. The lodge’s Esteemed Leading Knight, Jim Stewart, also doubles as the Department of Nevada American Legion’s Americanism and Boy Scouts chairman.

Sussan praised the Riders for their performance on the Run, while National Commander Charles E. Schmidt – who rode part of the ride – offered his own view of the Riders’ dedication. “You all are special,” he said. “You came here on your time and on your own dime. But you came here with your heart … to take care of our buddies, remember them and to take care of their children. You guys are special.”

Donations made during the day totaled $84,252.68, including $15,133 from Post 133 in Millbrook, Ala. “This wasn’t just the Legion Riders,” ALR Chapter 133 Director Jeff Boles said. “This was from the hard work our entire Legion family put in.”

Thursday’s contribution raised the ride’s total to $551,568. More donations will be made on the national convention floor on Aug. 22.