'This is what we do'

In August of 2016, three American Legion Riders from Chapter 31 in Salinas, Calif. – Hy 'Crash' Libby, Rick 'Phin' Phinney and Steve 'Pops' Culver – rode their motorcycles from California to South Dakota, including a five-day stop in Sturgis for the annual motorcycle rally.

While a “bucket list item” for the three, the ride also had another mission: raising awareness about veterans’ suicides. Culver had a banner on his bike that read "22 A DAY," referencing the high number of veterans taking their lives each day.

After their more than 4,100-mile trip, the trio thought, “OK, now what are we doing next year?” And now that next year is here, the group is taking things up a few notches.

The group’s Epic Ride for Dignity and Remembrance departs California on Sept. 4. Over the next 32 days the trio will travel more than 10,000 miles through 27 states, arriving in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 14, heading north to Maine and then returning back home.

Along the way, the trio will be raising funds for the California Central Coast Veterans Cemetery (CCCVC) in Seaside. The cemetery currently only inters cremains; Phase 2 of its construction project will include space for in-ground burials, but the cemetery currently is facing funding issues.

“We’ve been involved with the California Central Coast Veterans Cemetery since even before it opened (in Oct. 2016),” said Libby, a member of Post 31’s Sons of The American Legion squadron and a past ALR Chapter 31 president. “We’ve done everything from bake sales to walkathons just to get some funding. Our chapter was honored and very privileged to actually escort the remains of the very first veteran to be interred there. So we’ve been doing escorts there from Day 1. We’ve done a dozen or more escorts up there for families that have requested it. So we feel very close to that whole facility.

“And the point I’ve been trying to make out here in District 28 is that (the cemetery) is really Ground Zero for all of us. There are about a dozen American Legion posts in District 28. This is the cemetery that will serve their veterans.”

Thanks in part to help from U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta, the Riders will take with them a U.S. flag and bring it to Arlington National Cemetery, where it will be flown over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. “We were just blown away when we found out we could make that happen,” Libby said. “That flag will actually be shipped back to the cemetery … about the same time we get back (in Salinas). And the arrangements we have made with (CCCVC) is that they will fly that flag, and that flag only, on Memorial Day every year henceforth. We truly feel we’ve started perhaps a 100-year tradition.”

Libby said the three Riders already have received tremendous support from Legion Riders across the country and are hoping there are ALR members in every state they traverse there to provide an escort as they enter the state. The trio also will be making stops at Legion posts along the way. “If we have to get off the beaten path to go to an American Legion post that’s kind of off the highway, we’re going to (do it),” Libby said. “When you are a Rider, what do you do? You ride. This is what we do. This is why we do it.”

For more information on the ride, including the schedule and stops, click here.