(Photo by Justin Stewart)

Legacy Run Day 1: Rain, rain won't go away

It was raining in Hutchinson, Kan., well before the 2018 American Legion Legacy Run left Lysle Rishel Post 68 Aug. 19. And it never stopped. Literally.

During the more than 220 miles that the 230-plus motorcycles traversed from Hutchinson to Independence, Mo., Mother Nature never stopped the waterworks. From a moderate rain to a heavy downpour, The American Legion Riders braving the elements never caught a break.

But that didn’t matter. Not to Legion Riders like Rich Crull, a member of American Legion Post 29 in Washington, Iowa. This is Crull’s third Legacy; one of those was in 2014, when heavy rains followed the ride for the first three days.

That experience led to Crull changing from a Honda Gold Wing to a Spyder three-wheel motorcycle. “I actually sold by Gold Wing after the ’14 (Legacy Run). It scared me that bad,” he said. “(Today) I was fine. I had heated grips wheels and three grips. And it was flat.”

Raising money for The American Legion Legacy Fund – which provides scholarship money for the children of fallen servicemembers and 50-percent or higher disabled veterans – was enough for Crull to brave the rain.

“I just think of the kids,” he said. “You go by cemeteries and you know there’s got to be service men and women in those cemeteries. And there’s got to be kids needing college educations. It’s all about the kids.”

Chief Road Captain Bob Sussan took it easy, keeping the pace slower – in part because of the weather and in part because of multiple first-time Run participants.

“We’ll ride to the road conditions,” Sussan said. “And we have a lot of new riders this year that are untested. We could have rode faster. But it was really bad rain. We could have rode faster, but for the safety of the ride we just couldn’t do it.”

The weather does make a difference in terms of job responsibilities on the ride. Legion Rider Dennis Joynt, who has a life membership with Post 136 in Mulvane, Kan., and is a current member of Post 6 in Cheyenne, Wy., is the Legacy Run’s lead chief tail gunner and safety officer. He’s at the very back of the pack, charged with both ensuring the safety of his fellow Riders and occasionally keeping traffic away from the group, if possible.

“In this kind of weather, where it’s raining, you have to worry about slick roads, debris on the road, oil on the road because of as the road gets wet the oil rises,” Joynt said. There’s a lot of moving parts we have to be concerned about.”

From Shelby to Independence. American Legion National Commander Denise Rohan flew was in Shelby, N.C., for The American Legion World Series but took a flight to Kansas City to meet up with the Legacy Run in Independence. She’ll be the ride until midday Aug. 20 before heading back to Shelby for the ALWS championship game on Tuesday.

Rohan took the time to lay a wreath at the nearby Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum before arriving at Post 21. Truman was a 30-year Legionnaire and founding member of Post 21. Then she took time to praise the Riders for their efforts.

“Thank you for being here,” she said. “Everything that you do changes people’s lives. You’re not just changing the lives of those kids you’re raising this money for. You’re changing the life of their families and their grandparents. And when they go off to college and get (their degrees), it’s going to be multiplied over and over and over again.”

‘Excitement and nerves.’ Kris Lueninghoener, an American Legion Auxiliary member and Legion Rider from Post 16 in Norfolk, Va., is taking part in her first Legacy Run. The mother of a Nebraska Army National Guardsmen, Lueninghoener said she is riding in the memory of one of her son’s former National Guard unit members: Spec. Josh Ford, who was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006.

“We had a fallen soldier … and I decided to get a bike and support him,” Lueninghoener said. “It’s to support our soldiers.”

Though she’s ridden in large groups before, Lueninghoener said she felt “excitement and nerves, just because of the rain. I do not like rain, but you do what you’ve got to do.”

Hosting Legacy Run ‘a privilege.’ Tirey J. Ford Post 21 in Independence, Mo., provided both a lunch and dinner for the Riders. Post Commander Ed Witthar, a Legion Rider, said his post was honored to host the Day 1 stop.

“There’s other posts they could choose, but they chose ours,” Witthar said. “We’re trying to make what they do as special as we can.”

Witthar has taken part in the annual Rolling Thunder ride to Washington, D.C., on Memorial Day weekend. “I know how expensive these runs are,” he said. “They’re paying for hotel rooms out of their own pocket. They’re paying for the gas out of their pocket. There’s just a lot of expense that they have to incur to do this ride.

“But we’re all doing it for the kids. If we don’t take care of them now, what kind of leadership are we going to have in the future?”

Donations delivered. Unofficially, more than $127,000 was donated to The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund during the stop at Post 21. The Department of Virginia presented $25,000 from its in-state Legacy Run, while the hosts themselves delivered a total of $15,254. Another $10,133 was donated by Post 133’s Legion Family in Millbrook, Ala., while $10,000 apiece was donated by Post 593 in Converse, Texas, and Post 259 in Oneonta, N.Y.