During The American Legion Department of Florida convention in June, Legionnaire Tim Morris remembers a couple coming up to him and asking him if he was OK. Morris had been physically active and had lost some weight, so he didn’t think much of it.
But then jaundice started to kick in. “I saw it in my eyes, and I started seeing it show up in my palms and in my feet,” said Morris, a member of American Legion Post 117 in Palm Bay, and the Department of Florida’s ALR sergeant-at-arms. “So as soon as I got back from convention … I went to the doctor and did labs at the VA.”
After getting results, Morris said the Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare provider called him right away and told him to go straight to the hospital. That’s when Morris got the news: he had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to his liver. After his condition slightly improved, he was able to do his first chemotherapy treatment in August. And he’ll do the next one, though it will have to be the first week of September, after the Legacy Run veteran completes this year’s ride.
Morris had participated in six previous Legacy Runs and had registered for this year’s ride. Though he knew he couldn’t ride it, both for himself and the safety of others around him, he still wanted to be a part of it. That’s when Department of Florida Commander Michael “Gambler” Raymond offered his commander’s vehicle to Morris to drive with the ride.
“It’s just life itself. It’s just me,” Morris said. “This is my family. Everyone here, I look forward to seeing just as much as I look forward to seeing my kids. I miss them the whole time we’re gone. When we get back together and see each other, it’s the most awesome feeling.
“(Before the ride) I was really questioning myself if this was a great idea. Michael Raymond … offered me to drive his car … which made it all possible. Without that, I’d have been stuck. But that gave me motivation, when he told me the news that I could do that. That picked up my spirits. Then I was, ‘Oh yeah, let’s go for it.’”
Morris wasn’t sure how he’d fit in with the ride while driving an SUV. But Legacy Run Chief Road Captain Mark Clark made arrangements for Morris to travel with the ride’s advance team. But that wasn’t enough for Morris.
“I decided if I was going to travel with the advance team, I was going to work with the advance team,” said Morris, who has assisted with directing the motorcycles when they park or pull in for a gas stop. “And I feel better every single day because I’m doing it.”
Morris said working with the advance team has given him “a whole new perspective and respect for the guys and gals that are the advance team. People don’t realize that when we ride up, they’re standing at the pumps … setting all that up takes a lot of work. (Advance team leader Devin Bright) does a fantastic job getting there and scoping the project out.
“That team is fantastic. They all work together. Everybody covers each other’s back.”
Morris said it’s always difficult to say goodbye to his fellow Riders at the conclusion of the ride. This year it may be a little tougher. “It’s going to suck. It’s going to suck,” he said. “It’s going to be a hard day, because I also know I may never see them again. I don’t feel that’s going to happen, but I know that’s the perception in my mind that this may be the last time I get to see everybody. So, I’m making every day the best that I can. Every day’s a blessing.”
Leaving Ohio on a Generous Note. At the stop at American Legion Post 371 in Wellston, Ohio, more than $6,000 was donated to The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund, bringing the total to the half-million-dollar mark. Of that, $4,760 came from the hosts -- $2,000 in a donation, and another $2,760 when the post donated back to the ride the check it had received to provide lunch.
“It’s just giving back, paying it forward,” Post 377 Commander Bruce Conley said. “This is what we’re about here in Wellston.”
Conley said being asked to host a stop on the ride was “at first a bit overwhelming. And then they came rolling in this morning, and it was overwhelming. But it is an honor and a privilege. We couldn’t be happier. As long as we can do for our fellow veterans, we’re happy to do it. That’s what our thing is here.”
During the stop, Clark also relayed a story one of the Riders had shared with him. One of the workers at a hotel hosting the ride had presented the Rider with a donation. The reason: that worker’s child was a Legacy Scholarship recipient and had earned a degree in engineering.
“It’s a small world,” Clark said. “We don’t know the lives that we are touching or dreams that we are helping make come true.”
Welcome to West Virginia. The Riders made a grand entrance into the Mountain State in grand fashion, crossing the Ohio River on the 2,800-feet Silver Memorial Bridge into the state. Construction of the bridge started in 1968 downstream from the former Silver Bridge, which collapsed in 1967 under the weight of rush-hour traffic and took the lives of 46 people.
The Riders then made multiple elevation changes in route to American Legion Post 177, where pizza, wings and swag bags were waiting for them. A letter from Sen. Joe Manchin was read, while Department of West Virginia Commander Matt Sampson was on hand to greet the ride.
“We arranged for the most pleasant riding weather possible,” Sampson told the Riders. “Thank you all for making this trip in support of The American Legion Legacy Scholarship (Fund). This means a lot to all those students out there.”
During the stop at Post 177, nearly $10,000 was donated, bringing the total into Day 4 to $510,139 – what Chief Road Captain Mark Clark said was a three-day Legacy Run record. A donation of $6,000 was made by Fairfax, Va., American Legion Post 177, Chapter 177 and an individual donor.