A Legion Riders tribute to West LA hospital and staff

In one of the largest public gatherings in Los Angeles County since stay-at-home orders were put in place in March, southern California American Legion Riders – along with police, firefighters and first responders – last week paid tribute to hospital and staff employees at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center, for their service during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The “Salute to Heroes” ceremony was organized by the LA County Sheriff's Department along with members of the VA police department. Lt. Ernie Bille of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department who also serves as the commander for LA Sheriff’s Star Post 309 explained that May is Military Appreciation Month and, within this month, is also National Police Week. “We’re also taking this opportunity during this crisis to honor those who help our fellow veterans here at the veterans hospital and the veterans home,” Bille said.

Dozens of American Legion Riders from the greater Los Angeles region showed up to participate in the event while practicing safe social distancing procedures. Karl Risinger of Hollywood Chapter 43, who coordinated the Riders presence, spoke of how easy it was to find people who wanted to join in. “Most of us are veterans ourselves, so we’re saluting our brothers and sisters who are sitting in the hospital right now and all the front-line workers who are helping them out.”

The ceremony consisted of several law-enforcement and first-responder agencies from the area. American Legion Riders rode through the emergency vehicles to join them in formation while residents and patients there watched them from their rooms.

Once everyone was in place, the order was given to dismount. Participants either stood at attention or saluted as the Marine Corps Color Guard presented colors and the National Anthem was sung. Spectators were then treated to a flyover by police helicopters, followed by another flyover from the famous World War II Condor Squadron. At that point, all participants remounted their vehicles and proceeded on the parade route around the VA grounds.

About the parade route, Risinger said the Riders mission this way: “The big thing is they want a loud presence today ... They want us with the loud bikes just revving it up as we parade around the VA grounds.”