After two days, participants in this year’s American Legion Legacy Run had spent most of their riding time drenched due to constant downpours. But by the end of the ride Aug. 23 in Anoka, Minn., the rain was a distant memory.
The focus had shifted to what the more than 240 Legion Riders and their passengers who took part in the ride had accomplished, as well as the unpleasant prospect of saying goodbye to those they regard as family.
In the parking lot of Edward B. Cutter Post 102 in Anoka, Legion Riders from all over the nation hugged and said farewell to some they may not see again until next year’s Legacy Run. Legion Riders like Rob Phelps, a member of Danville Post 325 in Virginia and veteran of 10 Legacy Runs, said their emotions on the final day haven’t changed since his first ride.
“We spent a week together. It’s family,” he said. “We come together as family, and you get to the end of it and even though it’s been grueling, it’s been tiring … we do it together. It’s hard to say goodbye to everybody at the end. We’ve got to go back to our own lives and do the things that it takes to get here.”
Jim Fleming, a past Department of Texas commander and member of Post 194 in Anna, Texas, rode on the very first Legacy Run in 2006. Fleming said that while the number of participants has grown since that ride, the emotions he feels on the Run’s final day are the same.
“I’ve met friends from all over the country,” he said. “We all hope that we’ll meet up again next year.”
Fremont, Ind., Post 257 Legion Rider Bill Scheumann, on his 11th Legacy Run, said while there is some sadness, there’s also a feeling of accomplishment. “It’s a great feeling pulling into the final stop,” he said. “We know that the work we’re doing is going to be put to good use. That covers everything."
Praise from the National Commander. She’d spent time with American Legion Riders during her various department visits this year, but National Commander Denise Rohan developed an even fonder appreciation for the Riders and the work they do.
“They’ve got like the biggest hearts in the whole world,” she said. “You can tell how much they care about each other and it really is a family. They’re the newest part of our Legion Family, and they seem to be growing the fastest.
“When we talk brand awareness, we’ve got our brand on their back every place they go, and they represent us so well in their communities across the nation. It’s just been fantastic to spend time with them.”
During the post-ride ceremony, Rohan also took the time to thank all the Legion Riders across the nation who have helped raise money for the Legacy Fund but weren’t on this year’s Legacy Run. “To all of those Riders, please give our appreciation back to them,” she said.
The Cause of the Ride. The total amount raised this year for the Legacy Run is over $500,000, while much more is expected to be donated on the national convention floor. Along the Legacy Run, the Legion Riders had the opportunity to meet with two American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund recipients. The second, Savannah Carlson, met the ride at Post 102 in Anoka.
“Without having my dad around, I don’t know if I’d have been able to fulfill a promise I made to continue my dream,” Savannah said. “Even though he’s not here, I’d like to keep my promise to him. This (scholarship) has helped me do that.”
A student at Dakota County Technical College, Carlson was awarded $2,862 through the Legacy Fund. She welcomed the opportunity to meet those who raised that money.
“I really would love to meet every single one of them. They have all done so much for me,” she said. “It makes me feel good that somebody actually cares about me and actually cares about what happens to the families of the fallen soldiers. We are suffering, and (the Legion Riders) know it. And they’re proving that they know it.”
Savannah’s mother, Karlyn, joined her at Post 102 and shared her daughter’s praise for the Riders. “For me and my husband, what we’ve always wanted for our kids is to go to college,” she said. “With our circumstances being what they are, this has given my daughter an opportunity for her dreams. I’m so appreciative, more than I can even put into words.”
Four Stops, Great Receptions. The Legion Riders received big welcomes on their final day of the Run, starting with Galesville, Wis., and ending in Anoka.
Wisconsin American Legion 10th District Commander Fred Beseler got what he wanted: a Legacy Run stop in Galesville. The community turned out to welcome the ride in the town square, waving flags and cheering as the 214 motorcycles came to a stop. The Riders were fed cheese curds and lefsa, a Norwegian dessert, and a group of Legion Family members attended a wreath laying to honor Cpl. William Roland McBride, one of the namesakes of Rowles-McBride Post 103 in Galesville.
Beseler was proud of the reception Galesville gave the Run. “You are in the middle of the heartland,” he said. “This is America personified.”
In Prescott, Wis., a group of area Legion posts came together to provide the ride with a hot dog lunch. Prescott Post 61 Commander Mike Meier called the stop “a phenomenal opportunity for our town and the people of Prescott. Having the opportunity to host this has been a great thing for us.”
At the Jailhouse Saloon in Centerville, where the ride stopped to see the original Wisconsin Freedom Rock, the owners of the saloon presented the ride with $1,000 for the Legacy Fund.
And in Anoka, where National Commander Denise Rohan delivered remarks at the city’s Veteran’s Memorial-Riverfront Park, community and Legion Family members lined the street heading into the post, lining the route with flags.
Edward B. Cutter Post 102 Commander Doug Hookom called the opportunity to host the final stop of the ride was “one of the greatest things that I’ve been a part of. I’m glad we got the opportunity to do it.”
The kind of receptions the Riders got left them moved. “It gives you goosebumps,” Scheumann said. “It’s very exhilarating to see that. The hardships that you’ve had – they go away. The hardships are gone when you see that.”
A Special Flag. Sons of The American Legion National Commander Danny Smith did something special on this year’s Legacy Run. His father, Daniel L. Smith, was a Korean War veteran who passed away in August of 2008. At last year’s SAL national convention Smith had his father’s burial flag and Legion cover on stage with him when he was sworn into his current office.
This year Smith had a flag that had been raised in his father’s honor at Ft. McHenry earlier this year. He wanted to bring the flag to the national convention because “to me, it represents everyone’s service.”
The flag was carried along the ride by four different Sons of The American Legion members: Past National Commanders Earl Ruttkofsky, Joe Gladden and Bill Sparwasser; and Indiana SAL Detachment Commander Doug Heiser.
Heiser said carrying the flag “is an honor. If I would have thought about it I would have brought my father’s flag and carried it. But I will carry it from here on out because of Danny’s inspiration.”