Missouri Legion Riders show support for aging veterans while promoting 100 Miles for Hope

Temperatures approaching triple digits and a heat index well above that didn’t deter a group of Missouri American Legion Riders from fulfilling a July 23 mission that was two-fold: assure some area veterans they’re not forgotten while continuing to promote The American Legion’s 100 Miles for Hope challenge.

Ten members of Tirey J. Ford Post 21’s Legion Family in Independence were joined by a member of American Legion Post 42 in Harrisonville to deliver more than 100 blankets to the residents of the Missouri Veterans Home in Cameron. The participants were decked out in their 100 Miles for Hope t-shirts during the 100 miles-plus round trip, which was sandwiched around a lengthy visit with the home’s residents and lunch at a local diner.

Department of Missouri Senior Vice Commander Mark Clark, a member of Post 21 and chairman of the National American Legion Riders Advisory Committee, has urged American Legion Riders across the nation to take part in 100 Miles for Hope, and used Saturday’s ride as another opportunity to do so. His own chapter used various fundraisers to make a $1,500 donation to the challenge, which delivers financial support to the Legion’s Veterans and Children Foundation and ends on Sept. 5.

“The Veterans and Children Foundation … is a very important program of The American Legion. I challenge all American Legion Riders chapters to donate what they can,” he said. “I know that we’re only a month out from the (Legacy Run), and right now that’s everybody’s focus. But after those scholarships are awarded, there are still veterans and their families and children that need our help. And the Veterans and Children Foundation is a way for us to continue to do that throughout the year.

“I encourage (Legion Riders) to take part in the 100 Miles for Hope campaign. Plan something fun like we’ve planned today. Get out and do something for the veteran community. I promise you you’ll be glad you did it … and the difference you make in donations will continue to help veterans and their families throughout the year.”

The foundation is what brought Post 42 Vice Commander Ed Witthar on Saturday’s ride. A former member of Post 21 before he and his wife, Auxiliary Unit 21 member Cheryl Witthar, moved to Harrisonville, both he and his wife braved the heat to help deliver the blankets and spread the news about 100 Miles for Hopes.

“Veterans and kids, that’s what I’m involved in,” Ed said. “When (Chapter 21) has stuff like this, we piggyback and help each other. (100 Miles for Hope) challenges all Legion members … and it’s a fundraiser. But you have fun with it, too. Raising money for veterans and kids and their families, that’s what it’s all about.”

But there was also the blanket delivery component to the ride. Linda Clark, Mark’s wife and a member of Auxiliary Unit 21 and Chapter 21, helped sew the blankets and then rode on the back of her husband’s motorcycle to the home.

Linda said the sewing effort started before the coronavirus pandemic but had to be halted as restrictions were handed down. They were able to resume, sewing 90 for residents of the Missouri Veterans Home in Warrensburg before putting together the more than 100 for Saturday’s delivery.

She estimates more than 30 volunteers put in as many as 400-to-500 man-hours sewing the blankets. The effort “was a good thing to do,” she said. “Our veterans need remembered. We thought it was something that they could use every day, and bring a smile to their face and a little bit of comfort to them in their nursing home.”

Much of the fabric for the blankets was provided by Sylvia Tanner – who is a member of Post, Unit and Chapter 21, as well as serving as Post 21’s Finance secretary. She said sewing and delivering the blankets was a no-brainer.

“Why not do it?” said Tanner, who designed the blankets and help spearhead the sewing efforts before COVID-19 hit. “If we don’t help each other, who will? I love it.”

Once in Cameron, Clark told the residents, “We just want you all to know that we appreciate you, appreciate your service. I’ve always been a believer that one of the worse things that can ever happen to one of us vets is to be forgotten. In 1919 The American Legion made a commitment that it would never forget the veterans. We’re trying to continue that legacy. That’s what we’re doing here today.”

U.S. Air Force veteran Doug Rathburn, a resident at the home for 12 years, said that’s exactly what the Riders’ visit meant to him. “We have times when we’re not sure anyone knows we’re here, like during COVD,” he said. “But now, it’s getting to a point where we’re getting to see everybody again.”

Rathburn said the Riders who visit are “all pretty good people. We like to celebrate them and enjoy our day with them.”

Bradley Haggard, the home’s Supervisor of Volunteer Services, said COVID-19 made the home’s residents feel cut off from the outside world for almost two years.  

“You can just see the spirit and the life of the veterans – they’re back. It’s been a hard road, especially for them,” said Haggard, whose father and grandfather both served in the U.S. military. “The American Legion Riders, they’re veterans, they come in, and the connection between veterans is unbelievable. The veterans that live in the home, this just kind of keeps them connected to community. They don’t just see staff all the time. They can talk about their service, and it’s like they have instant comrades again.”

The gift of the blankets means more than warmth to the residents, said home volunteer and U.S. Army Vietnam veteran Roger Foreman, who serves as vice chairman of the Cameron Veterans Home Assistance League. The league fundraises to provide landscaping at the home, as well as to cover the costs of items not provided through state funding. That includes the benches and televisions, as well as trips to Kansas City Royals and Chiefs games.

Getting assistance in providing those comfort items from organizations like the Legion Family “adds to the quality of life,” for the residents, Foreman said. “Those blankets, every one of the residents of this home will use them. Those blankets are very practical. So are the kinds of things that add a personal touch that you don’t get in a normal, long-term care facility. It’s extremely important.”

And it was worth the hour-long ride in the hot sun both to the home and back to Independence for Post 21 Adjutant and District 5 ALR Secretary Tom Tanner. “We’re veterans. We wore the same uniform that they did,” he said. “We would do it all over again, just like they would. They’ve earned that honor and that respect.”