The American Legion Legacy Run turns 15 this week. Since its inception in 2006, riders from The American Legion Family have rumbled nearly 20,000 miles on motorcycles and three-wheelers, raised over $11 million and have assisted more than 400 children of U.S. military personnel who lost their lives or became 50 percent or more disabled since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The Legacy Run has also served as a big, colorful, high-speed expression of The American Legion’s values – human connections with the surviving families of post-9/11 heroes, patriotism, remembrances at significant memorial sites and camaraderie with others as participants have traversed the land they love and made unforgettable memories, in all kinds of weather, through deserts, over mountains and across windswept prairies.
“Everyone on this ride is working for the same goal,” Ohio Legionnaire Grant Martin said during the 2010 Legacy Run to Milwaukee, Wis. “Everyone involved should feel a great sense of pride.”
By 2010, communities everywhere were getting the Legacy Run message, lining streets in cities large and small, waving flags from overpasses and cheering as the bikes rolled by.
Recipients of American Legion Legacy Scholarships also began to understand, as the years passed, that this was something more than college money.
" I realize I’m now a part of a much bigger family,” said Jennifer Clapp, a Legacy Scholarship recipient in 2006 and 2009, who greeted the Legacy Run’s arrival in Indianapolis in 2012. “It means so much to me that you thought of me after my father made such a sacrifice."
“I will serve others in this nation, much like the veterans here today,” Milwaukee School of Engineering student Ally Niven told riders during a stop at Post 336 in Onalaska, Wis., on the 2018 Legacy Run.
“It’s amazing to be so selfless,” added Elizabeth Brunke-Turner, a molecular biology student and Legacy Scholarship recipient, now attending Johns Hopkins University. “More people should follow that path. Recently I have become interested in giving back to the community, especially in services and groups that help people struggling with their mental and/or physical health.”
In 2009, when the Legacy Run made its way to the Flight 93 Memorial near Shanksville, Pa., then-National Commander David K. Rehbein delivered remarks that poignantly reminded riders of their deeper mission. There, as the group was about to depart, he asked participants to reflect on the 40 Americans who deliberately crashed their hijacked passenger jet on 9/11 to save the lives of others.
“Those kind of gut instincts to do the right thing, they exist in so many of you,” Rehbein told the riders. “As each one of you throws your leg over that bike and we go back to this ride for the children of those men and women killed in the military, take just a moment … to give thanks to God – or give thanks to whatever you believe in – that America still raises those kinds of people, that have those gut instincts, and know what it means when the time comes to advance to the sound of the guns. That’s what’s made this country what it is. That’s what’s made you who and what you are. That’s why you’re here today … because you’re one of those people.”
No pandemic was going to stop the Legacy Run of 2020, especially as the scholarship fund has drawn within $5 million of its long-term, self-sustaining goal of $20 million, originally set in 2001. In many American Legion departments, in-state or virtual Legacy Runs have been – or will be – conducted, regardless of COVID-19, to continue growing the corpus that has so far delivered over $3.7 million in scholarships.
“We can’t say, ‘Well, this year we can’t help you out because of COVID,’” explained South Carolina American Legion Riders Chapter 6 Director L.Z. Harrison. “It’s important to us to ensure that we donate money so these children will have a chance at a higher education.”
This year, a multi-tiered online Legacy Run fundraising opportunity offers supporters of the American Legion Legacy Scholarship program the ability to donate through Dec. 31. Challenge coins, T-shirts, patches and a 44-page illustrated book on the history of the ride are among the rewards for donations of specific amounts or higher. https://www.legion.org/riders/legacyrun/donation
In the first year of the Legacy Run – a procession usually starting in Indianapolis and always leading to the site of the national convention – 62 riders traveled 1,900 miles to Salt Lake City and raised $179,000 for the fund. Each of the last five years, the Legacy Run has produced over $1 million for the children of the fallen and disabled through a combination of individual donations, dollars collected along the way, checks presented onstage at the national conventions, year-long efforts in some departments and sponsorships from local communities. The Legacy Run has been responsible for over 72 percent of contributions to the scholarship fund.
Harrison said his chapter in South Carolina had raised nearly $20,000 by mid-August for the Legacy Run – primarily by asking past sponsoring businesses. “I went to all our normal donors and said, ‘Look, we can’t do a ride right now, but … these children still need help with their education,” Harrison said. “Our chapter alone, we collected $19,000. That is only through the members donating themselves and our corporate donors.”
The motto “for the cause, not the applause” may be replaced for the 2020 Legacy Run, with a term familiar to all who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces: “adapt and overcome.” That is precisely what The American Legion Family is doing this summer, staying on mission, for the 15th straight year, through the annual Legacy Run.