Riders from six different states provide final escort to fellow veteran

Riders from six different states provide final escort to fellow veteran

On June 5, Pennsylvania American Legion Rider Karl Beckett messaged the National American Legion Riders Facebook page asking for assistance. Not for himself, but to help honor and return home the cremains of a fellow Legion Rider.

His request was in turn shared on the page for all who follow it to see. And the results were overwhelming.

The post was shared more than 200 times and reached more than 23,000 Facebook users in less than 24 hours. And it caused an outpouring of support that paved the way for former American Legion Rider James Seese’s cremains to be escorted by Riders from six states 810 miles from Alabama to Ephrata, Pa., and his final resting place at his family plot.

“I was awestruck and humbled by the response,” said Beckett, the road captain for ALR Chapter 56 in Lititz, Pa. “As soon as it hit the national (Facebook) page, my phone just went off. It got to the point where at 1 a.m. my wife said, ‘You need to shut that off now.’

“It makes you proud to be a part of this organization. It tells me that these are the type of people you want to be associated with.”

Seese was one of the founders of American Legion Riders Chapter 155 in Bynum, Ala. Beckett had been friends with both Seese and his son, Tommy, also a Legion Rider. When James died, Beckett said his wife (Maria Elzada Jones Seese) had held onto the ashes because they were team truck drivers “and she couldn’t bring herself to give up the ashes just yet. And then she finally decided it was time to send him home.”

That’s when Beckett began thinking of providing Seese a Riders escort the entire trip home.

“I just kind of thought, ‘What would be the greatest tribute we could do for this man?’ He was a Vietnam veteran, and he was one of the founding members of the Legion Riders in Alabama. To me, it was a tribute to him and his efforts with the American Legion Riders and him serving as a veteran.”

Beckett began reaching out to Legion Rider chapters before he reached out to national staff via Facebook. A call to action was posted on the page, with details provided by Beckett.

After he saw the post, Randy Gunn – a member of the Department of Virginia’s American Legion Riders Sub-Committee and American Legion Post 284 in Colonial Heights – saw he had multiple people reach out to him to get involved.

And he did. “When I looked it, I said, ‘OK, Alabama to Pennsylvania.’ When you know people up and down the coast, it’s a lot easier,” said Gunn, the organizer of the Virginia Legacy Run. “The Virginia part for me, I can do that with my eyes closed. And then I sort of guided Carl along the way.”

Gunn call his area chapter directors to ask for assistance. “All seven of them on the west coast of Virginia were on it,” he said. “The outpouring from everybody was amazing. We had 200 Virginia American Legion Riders participate. And it was nice to have 40-50 bikes waiting for us (at each transfer).

“It took me 20 minutes to plan all this, and it turned out to be 20 years of memories. That’s what was really good.”

By the end of the journey, American Legion Riders from Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania had taken part in the escort. At many of the transfers, ceremonies took place to honor Seese.

“(Randy) knocked it out of the ballpark,” Beckett said. “Him and his guys did an outstanding job. I actually went on a 400-mile round-trip ride to meet up with them and went to two of the (transfer) ceremonies just to be there.

Along the way in Virginia, Gunn said posts offered to feed the escort participants, no matter how many there were. “I asked them, ‘What if there are 100 people’, and they said, ‘We’ll just go to the Food Lion and get more burgers’” he said. “The camaraderie of everyone coming together … I wasn’t really surprised. The cooperation is always out there, when you do something that people can be a part of.

“It’s just what we do. I know it’s a cliché and everybody says that all the time. But really, when the occasion arose, we jumped in there and took care of it.”

Upon finishing the escort, the cremains – which were carried by ALR Chapter 56 Secretary Michael Wert, with Beckett and fellow Rider Jeff Landis alongside him – were presented to Seese’s family members in Ephrata. Both Seese’s wife and granddaughter went to Facebook to thank the Riders for their efforts. “I am so blessed to see so many amazing people to help take my loving husband to his final resting,” said his wife, who remains a member of Auxiliary Unit 155 in Bynum. “I am humbled beyond words to say thank you is not enough. I'm so appreciative for your help.”

And Seese’s granddaughter, Amanda Sarver, posted “I am beyond grateful for each and everyone who is helping bring my grandfather up here to his resting place.”

Beckett said the escort will stay with for the rest of his life, “Just knowing that I was a part of something bigger than myself. It grew beyond bigger than anything I ever thought it would be. I originally thought I’d have 15-20 Riders with me. When we rolled through Harrisburg (Pa.), we had 120-some bikes.”    

To watch video of the final delivery of James Seese’s cremains, click here.

To see photos Randy Gunn took along the route through Virginia, click here.