Riding For a Purpose / Vietnam Veterans Legacy Ride 2009

For the third year in a row, a loose group of individuals in central Michigan organized a ride primarily in honor of Vietnam veterans; a ride billed as an overdue tribute to these vets and their families, and a welcome home. This year's ride gathered in St. Johns, where local businesses and individuals went all out to make the event a success, and to make participants feel welcome and cared for.

A Blackhawk helicopter (sans missiles and guns) from the ANG base at Grand Ledge was a big attraction. It landed in the baseball field next to the city park and was imposing just parked there; motionless but menacing looking just the same. The Blackhawk, I believe, is a direct descendant of the UH-1 troop transports and gunships that were one of the most common visual icons of the Vietnam War. The new birds are bigger and faster, and carry far more firepower than the older Hueys. The pilot also spoke of armor plate that provides much more protection than the Hueys had.

After some food and refreshments sponsored by local businesses and veterans groups, and a few words by various speakers, the approximately 300 motorcyclists saddled up and began what was a wonderful ride through small town America and rural countryside of Michigan's Clinton County. While most riders were Vietnam era veterans on Harleys and Wings, there were several younger men and women on racer replicas and a smattering of other bikes. With the Blackhawk flying support overhead we rode through downtown St. Johns, worked our way on two lane blacktop northeast to the village of Elsie (the self-proclaimed dairy capital of Michigan), then south through Ovid. At one point the chopper hovered a couple hundred feet over the road as the parade of bikes snaked across the countryside. Very impressive! Meridian Road took us further south to Laingsburg where a right turn onto Round Lake Road took us down one of the more popular riding roads in the Lansing area.

The ride enjoyed police escorts all the way, and officers did a marvelous job blocking intersections and keeping other traffic from interfering with the column of bikes.

Along country roads and through small towns we saw many people standing on front yards and front porches, waving flags and holding signs of support and thanks. It was truly a heartwarming sight all along the roughly fifty mile route.

The ride ended in downtown Lansing at the Vietnam War Memorial where a short ceremony once again honored those responsible for the event and for all veterans, present or not, alive or dead, who have served America.

It was a wonderful event, even if the weather did all it could to put a damper on the ceremonies. With a dark sky, strong winds, occasional drizzle and temperatures stuck in the low sixties, it could have easily been a forgettable day. But veterans, in particular veterans of Vietnam, weren't about to let a little unpleasantness get in the way of honoring their compatriots. As I noted to another rider - it's predictable that a day honoring vets of this war would be wet and uncomfortable - it was a true reflection of normal conditions encountered in-country; wet and uncomfortable. So what else is new?

I have long noted the seemingly unusually high percentage of veterans of Vietnam that are also motorcyclists. The Vietnam War and the explosion of motorcycling popularity coincided in the late '60s and early '70s. Many of the hundreds of thousands of returning vets were looking for something more than a quick entry into the job market and raising families upon a return home. They wanted a diversion that got their adrenaline running and through which they could leave a lot of unwanted baggage behind.
Viet vets didn't start this phenomenon. Returning World War Two veterans get the honors for the war veterans / motorcycling love affair that still affects our society over a half century later. It was that group of men, those who weren't ready for white picket fences and a small house in the new suburbs, who instead formed motorcycle clubs, including some that turned into the hard core outlaw groups we're familiar with today, in an attempt to break free from all that military life, and the War, had imposed on them. And I highly suspect that returning WWI vets started the whole phenomenon.

I think it was exactly the same for Vietnam veterans. A great many took up motorcycling with a passion and they enjoy it with the same enthusiasm all these years later. And in recent years this love of motorcycling has been wedded to demonstrations and rides in support of military personnel and veterans. It's a marriage made in heaven.