Legacy Run chief road captain: It’s like a family reunion
(Photo by Ben Mikesell)

Legacy Run chief road captain: It’s like a family reunion

The largest fundraiser for The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund hits the road on Aug. 21 and will traverse six states before ending up in Wisconsin Aug. 25 – with plenty happening in between.

The 1,200-mile American Legion Legacy Run will leave from the USS Alabama Memorial Park in Mobile, Ala., on Aug. 21 and travel through Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri and Illinois before winding up at American Legion Post 434 in Oak Creek, Wis. – a 20-minute drive from Milwaukee, the site of the 2022 American Legion National Convention. At or around 280 motorcycles and another 40 passengers are registered to at some point take part in the ride.

The Legacy Fund provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed while on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001, as well as for children of post-9/11 veterans with a combined disability rating of 50 percent or greater by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Legacy Run has surpassed $1 million raised on seven rides and has brought in more than $15 million dollars for the fund since 2006. 

American Legion Social Media Manager Steven B. Brooks spoke with Legacy Run Chief Road Captain Mark Clark, the chairman of the National American Legion Riders Advisory Committee, about this year’s’ ride.

Steven B. Brooks: The 2020 ride had to be cancelled because of the pandemic. You were able to conduct the 2021 ride, though there still were some restrictions. Does the ride feel a little more normal this year?

Mark Clark: I think the fact that we’re in an environment today that isn’t nearly as restrictive as it has been the last couple of years because of COVID, there’s some excitement about that. And I think our Riders are appreciative of the fact that we could plan it without fear of it being cancelled. That they could make solid plans to come and participate. And I think to most of our Riders it will feel like we’re back to something resembling normal.

Q: What can you say about the dedication the American Legion Riders have for this cause?

A: When you consider the challenges of our economy today, more than 300 people have signed up for this, it really speaks to the dedication our Riders have for this cause. Nobody has expendable income right now. And the fact that they’re still committed to this – they’re still expending their own time, energy and treasure to come and ride for the kids – it really speaks to the dedication and commitment that our Riders have for this.

Q: What are some of the highlights of this year’s ride?

A: I think starting in the shadow of a World War II battleship is pretty cool. There’s not many of those things left in the world, and in fact America’s the only country that has them as memorials. To start in the shadow of a World War II battleship is a really fitting start to this ride.

·       Day 1 (Mobile to Tupelo, Miss.) – We’re going to be able to drive through Mississippi, where we’re going to see just some beautiful country. We’re going to go to Tupelo, where we’re going to see Elvis’ birthplace, which is pretty cool for Elvis Presley fans. We’re also going to be able to pay tribute to the veterans of Tupelo at the veterans memorial there.

·       Day 2 (Tupelo to Paducah, Ky.) – The stop at Four Rivers Harley-Davidson in Paducah, they’re really going to roll out the red carpet for us. And more beautiful country riding through there. We’re going to have lunch at the Tennessee State Veterans Home in Humboldt, Tenn., where we can share some time with veterans of every generation.

·       Day 3 (Paducah to Litchfield, Ill.) – The beautiful (Missouri National Veterans Memorial) in Perryville, Mo. – that memorial is just magnificent – and the hospitality of Post 133 there, which is going to feed us. We’re going to run through Chester, Ill., which is the home of Popeye the Sailor Man, which is going to be pretty fun. There’s going to be some cool signage that I think our Riders will get a kick out of going through the town. And then we’re stopping in a little town called St. Libory. It’s a small farm community, but that (American Legion Post 683) has been the centerpiece of that community for 100 years. It’s just a really cool place to see.

·       Day 4 – (Litchfield to Belvidere, Ill.) – We’re going to stop at the Middle East Conflicts Memorial in Marseilles, Ill., after having lunch at the (American Legion) Department of Illinois Headquarters, where they’re going to feed us a fantastic meal. And we’re going to see the Jeep factory, which is right next to (Post 77) in Belvidere. It is a gigantic facility.

·       Day 5 – (Belvidere to Oak Creek, Wis.) – Once we get into Wisconsin it’s just beautiful. We’re going to go through an old town called Fort Atkinson, which is a historic town and such a pretty place along the Rock River. It should be a beautiful ride into the Southern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery, where will pay tribute to the veterans there. And then we’ll get into Post 434 in Oak Creek, where they’re really going to roll out the red carpet for us. We get a chance to meet Medal of Honor recipient Gary Wetzel. We get a chance to hear from a (Legacy Scholarship) recipient Deanna Woodburn. There’s going to be a Gold Star Family there to greet us.

Overall, we’re excited about the opportunity to once again get out on the road, represent The American Legion and doing it the right way. Sharing that fellowship that we look forward to every year. The Legacy Run really is a family reunion for us. For most of us, our American Legion Family is an extension of our families. We think we’ve put together a good ride, and we think we’ve given some folks some pretty cool things to see. And for our coastal folks, they’re going to get a chance to see where all their food comes from.

Q: Why is it important to make American Legion posts along the route a part of this ride, and how important is their support?

A: It’s huge. We actually have nine posts involved … where we’re stopping. But we also have posts that are going to come over at our fuel stops, even though we’re not stopping at their post. They’re still going to be a part of us. I think it’s big, particularly for the posts in the smaller communities because we are a sizable footprint. We remind those communities that The American Legion is still vibrant, still doing well. It’s big for those little posts. There’s one particular community in Mayfield, Ky., where (American Legion Post 26) was destroyed truly the center of that community. It was erased by a tornado. The heart of that town was absolutely erased by a tornado. So, we’re going to come into that town, and that post is going to be a part of an honors ceremony in their veterans memorial park. And I think we’re going to uplift the spirits of that town. For us to have a chance to come into that community and remind them that The American Legion’s building may be gone, but the spirit of The American Legion and its desire to make that community better is very much alive and well.

Q: Each rider will have a “Be The One” sticker on their windshield during the Legacy Run. This ride is obviously a Legacy Scholarship fundraiser, but is it also important to include sharing the Legion’s “Be The One” suicide prevention message as well?

A: I think The American Legion’s commitment to helping combat veteran suicides through the “Be The One” campaign is so important. Those of us who have served in combat, all of us know somebody who came home and couldn’t live with the demons, or who still today battle the demons. To be able to have The American Legion, the largest veterans organization in the world, put the weight of its name behind this campaign … to reduce the stigma of seeking help through the mental health community … if The American Legion says to the veteran community “your life matters. We care about you. We want to be the one to help you get through that struggle,” it just amplifies it in the eyes of the American people. I can’t tell you how excited I am that we’re going to be able to include the “Be The One” messaging in what we do at our stops. I think our Riders are really going to get behind this. And our Riders are going to go home with this message fresh in their minds, and they’re going to be committed to helping us advance this most important cause in our communities.

See a Legacy Run day-by-day schedule here under 2022 Legacy Run Trip Details.