Legacy Run Day 4: Support continues, this time from the nation’s youth

Support for the 2023 Legacy Run has been outstanding every step of the way. But on Wednesday during Day 4, another facet of support was added to the mix.

During the day’s first leg traveling the McClellan Highway through West Virginia, students from the small schools along the route stepped outside to cheer on the Legion Riders. And as the ride made its way into Virginia, that support was amplified.

Along Orby Cantrell Highway in Pound, children grades 4-8 from J.W. Adams Combined School stood along the road, holding homemade signs and American flags, chatting “USA, USA” and cheering madly as semi-trucks honked their horns. And then when the ride came back, the students kicked it up another notch, yelling their support and clapping until the entire procession of more than 220 motorcycles had passed. The students and teachers also wore red, white and blue leis provided by Legacy Run A Flight Road Captain Randy Gunn, who coordinates the Virginia State Legacy Run.

Principal Fran Balthis said it was both personal for her and a teaching moment for her students. “My father was a veteran. He served in the Vietnam era,” she said. “My brother’s a veteran. And we want to teach our kids all that we can to love and respect our country, our veterans and our flag. And this is an opportunity to teach them about The American Legion and about being a good citizen and what that means.”

Once in Norton, Va., the Run was greeted by an effort coordinated by American Legion Post 243 that included support from various other civic organizations and businesses.

Post 243 Commander Gene Vanover worked with the other organizations and businesses to make the stop happen and offered praise for all their support. Gunn had reached out to Vanover – the brother of Balthis – to see what the post could do to host a stop.

The result: first responders on site in the retail parking lot, a giant American Legion flag hanging from a fire truck, fresh slices of watermelon and cantaloupe, pizza, Dairy Queen ice cream bars, and plenty of water and soft drinks. Giant fans and tents provided shade and cooler temps. The Norton Pepsi Bottling Co. was a big supporter of the event, but there were many more.

“We love veterans. We love veterans’ issues and veterans’ causes,” Vanover said. “And it was members from our post, but it was also the Shriners, the Masons, the Eastern Star. Retired law enforcement. We just had volunteers say, ‘Yeah, we’ll help.’ Rural King donated the parking lot. They gave a pallet of water, which we’re going to donate back to the ride. Food City donated a bunch of watermelons. Pound IGA donated. Walmart donated. 

“We had help with so much of this. It’s just been fantastic. The community came together. It’s a great cause, and everybody wants to be a part of it.”

Cheryl King, a member of ALR Chapter 298 in Marion, Iowa, said seeing the support along the route, “means a lot. The support that we see on this ride … means that we’re making a difference. And we’re setting an example.”

Later on, at the day’s final stop at Bristol Motor Speedway, National Vice Commander Patricia Harris – who has been a motorcycle passenger since its the ride's kickoff – said those children cheering for the ride could one day benefit from it.

“Who knows?” Harris said. “The money that’s being raised is probably going to help one of them. That’s something that we all have to bear in mind.”

Daily Donation. Every day of the Legacy Run, at both the morning meeting and during all the stops, Chief Road Captain Mark Clark makes a call for anyone wanting to make donations. And every day of the ride, there has been a familiar face in line to deliver money to the Legacy Fund.

William Clark, a member of Sons of The American Legion Squadron 203 in Latonia, Ky., has donated $100 each day as his way of paying for the honor of riding with his fellow American Legion Riders.

“It’s to support the Legacy Run, and it’s to support all of my brothers riding with us,” said Clark, who serves as Post 203 squadron, district and detachment adjutant. “It’s one of the greatest things we do to support the children of fallen veterans. There’s nothing else we can do better.”

Clark said his donation also is a way to say thanks to those who have served. “I thank veterans every day,” he said. “I’m the son of a veteran. My father did 24 years in the Army. I grew up in the Army. I traveled all over the world. My father ran our house like a drill sergeant.”

Riders Finish the Day on Track. In a very cool end to the day, the Run made its way to Bristol, Tenn., where the Riders were able to enter Bristol Motor Speedway – which typically hosts two NASCAR races a year – and get a group picture in the stand.

East Tennessee Vice Commander Todd McKinley was on hand to greet the Run and offer a few remarks of encouragement. Earlier, he talked about how great it was for the Riders to be able to stop at the track along their route.

“This is the way to send these guys off to Charlotte,” said McKinley, a member of Post 3 in Kingsport. “It’s great that it’s not only in my district, but that it’s in East Tennessee. It feels great. And think about the Legacy Run and how it’s so important. In our state we raised a little over $40,000 this year. We realized how important it was, and we kicked it into a higher gear.”

The Riders also heard from the man who runs the show at Bristol. “Thank you for what you’ve done. For your service,” said Bristol Motor Speedway President Jerry Caldwell. “We put on big, huge events here, and we get to have a lot of fun and create memories for folks. But we know we can’t do that without the men and women that serve and protect us, the veterans in this country.”

Caldwell then told the Riders the speedway was donating $1,000 to their cause. More than $6,000 also was donated at the track, including $3,000 from the Legion and Riders from Post 97 in Auburn, Ind. More than $531,000 has been raised thus far on the ride.