Legacy Run Day 5: ‘I’m just proud of you’

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There were difficult days.

Between the heat and humidity of Oklahoma and parts of Texas, a gas stop gone awry and then triple-digit temperatures through the final six hours of the ride, those who participated in this year’s Legacy Run ran up against obstacles.

But the 147 motorcycles and their passengers who arrived at American Legion Post 58 in Fountain Hills, Ariz., on Aug. 26 didn’t allow those obstacles to deter their mission: raising money for The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund.

And that they did. A total of $264,136 was donated during the five-day ride, which left Rogers, Ark., on Aug. 22. With the $415,000 donated prior to the Legacy Run, nearly $680,000 has been raised this year to provide college scholarships for the children of military killed in the line of duty on or since 9/11, as well the children of veterans rated 50-percent disabled or higher. And more will come on The American Legion National Convention floor on Aug. 31.

“I’m just proud of you,” Legacy Run Chief Road Captain Mark Clark told the Riders during the final stop. “I told you at the beginning of this thing that we were in this together. And that together we would either achieve success or share in a failure. But I knew when we blew the (start) horn in Arkansas there would be no failure in this group.

“I saw the commitment in your eyes. I saw the drive and the passion you have for this cause. I saw how much you care about the kids. This was the first time I got to lead the national ride, and I just want to say thanks to all those people who came together to make this happen.”

Clark, chairman of The American Legion Riders National Advisory Committee, said this year’s ride was a difficult one because of the parts of the country it traveled through. “There’s no more dedicated group in America than the American Legion Riders,” he said. “They believe in this cause.”

As to what he learned planning and leading his first Legacy Run, Clark joked, “How much time do we have? What I really learned on this ride is it takes a team to do this right. Everyone’s thanking me for the ride – ‘Mark, it was a great ride.’ Everyone’s telling me that, and I appreciate that.

“I did the best I could. But I was just representing the team. I’m just the guy that’s the face of it. The reality is I was just leading a team of incredibly dedicated, talented professionals who, from the outset seven, eight months ago, were determined to build a magnificent ride. And we’ve done it, and I’m proud of it.”

Donations poured in throughout the day -- $45,820, to be specific – including $11,600 from the Department of Delaware; $8,000 from Heber-Overgaard (Ariz.) American Legion Post 86 and its Riders; and $5,000 from American Legion Post 177 and its Riders in Fairfax, Va.

Seeing both the money raised and the perseverance shown by the Riders during the Legacy Run was an “eye-opening experience” for National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford, who was with the group from the start. “When I think of the Riders, you always talk about people who talk the talk. These guys walk the walk. They’ve got boots on the ground. They’ve got rubber on the road. They are out here doing the things that we need to do as The American Legion: to promote our programs, to increase our visibility and to make ourselves more known.

“I can’t compliment this group of Riders enough. They’ve been fantastic. They really have.”

The following are some other highlights from the Legacy Run’s final day.

A Newcomer’s Perspective. Arkansas Legionnaire Becky Dillon joined the American Legion Riders in May. Since then, the 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran has been busy, first being appointed the department’s ALR sergeant-at-arms and then finishing up her first Legacy Run.

“Hot” was how Dillon described finishing the ride. But there was more to her experience.

“It’s one of my bigger accomplishments within the Legion,” Dillon said. “I’m really involved in the Children and Youth (programs) at the post level and department level, so this was one more thing I could do for those programs.”

Dillon said she came on the ride with Arkansas Past Department Commander Mike Westergren and Arkansas ALR Director Patrick “Doc” Phillips. They told her to expect “a long ride.” It was, but she said it’s possible she’ll be participating annually.

Part of the reason is the people she met on the ride. “It grew my family within the Legion,” Dillon said. “This is definitely a tighter-knit group than any I’ve met since I’ve been a member of the Legion.”

Support from Above. On Exit 199 off U.S. 72, American Legion Family members from multiple posts braved the 100-degree heat to stand on the Bush Highway overpass and greet the Legacy Run as it traveled underneath midday.

Legion Family members from American Legion Post 27 in Apache Junction, Post 26 in Mesa, Post 35 in Chandler, Post 39 in Gilbert and Post 138 in Tempe waved U.S. flags and cheered as the motorcycles traveled by the group.

“The Legion Riders and The American Legion are very dear to my heart,” said Kristin Kerr, a member of Auxiliary Unit 27. “And I just really wanted to see this … all these bikes. I love what it stands for, this ride.”

Charles Barry, an American Legion Rider and former road captain for ALR Chapter 39, said the Legacy Run represents “a commitment to our country, our soldiers, our American people. Mainly to our soldiers, that they’re not forgotten. And (the cause) could not be any better. We’ve got to step up and help our veterans and their families. And that’s what the Riders are all about.”  

‘A Sense of Accomplishment.’ Shelley Sylvester, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and American Legion Rider from Chapter 152 in Knightstown, Ind., took part in her second Legacy Run this year. A feeling of accomplishment replaced a feeling of sadness as she and the other Riders approached the close of the journey.

“We’re going to finish something that was really hard, and we made it through,” Sylvester said. “It’s that sense of accomplishment that makes it not sad.”

Sylvester’s first Legacy Run came in 2019 and has allowed her to make friends she admits she likely wouldn’t have known otherwise. “I’d say about three or four guys in this flight I was with two years ago,” she said. “And I know I’m going to see them next year.”

Loving to ride and the cause behind the Legacy Run are what drew Sylvester to her initial ride in 2019 and back this year. “It is about the (Legacy Fund) and getting that money and being a part of that. I mean, it’s over a million dollars, isn’t it?” Sylvester said, referencing five of the previous six in-person Legacy Runs hit or surpassed $1 million. “That’s a big deal. This is a good cause.”

A Solemn Stop. Prior to reaching Fountain Hills, the Riders made a stop in Scottsdale for a ceremony at the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial Garden at Salt River. The memorial stands on five acres and includes a piece of the original boathouse of perhaps the most famous battleship in U.S. naval history.

Members of Bushmasters American Legion Post 114’s Legion Family were there to greet the ride and led a ceremony that included flag-breathing and flag-folding ceremonies, as well as the raising of the flag outside of the glass-encased boathouse. They also provided a lunch, water and other beverages for the Riders.

Post 114 Historian Thomas Jackson, who serves as the museum curator for the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, appreciated the opportunity to share the memorial with the Legacy Run participants.

“It’s very humbling,” he said. “It’s quite an honor for the community to be representing something like this. It is very historic. Our community takes pride in being able (to assist the rider).”

During the ceremony, American Legion Auxiliary National President Nicole Clapp said she earned her eligibility in the organization through her grandfather’s World War II U.S. Navy service.  

“My grandpa died (when Clapp was 11), and he didn’t tell me his story. I had to read about his story,” she said. “This (memorial) is a story that is living the history. That is why we are so proud of the Pima Maricopa-Salt River area for being able to continue to tell a story, and to show our heritage and our patriotism.”