I have written before about the close connection between veterans, military personnel, veterans support activities, and motorcycles. I'm constantly reminded and amazed at how much motorcycling is part of the lifestyle of so many veterans, and interconnected with the various celebratory events, by which support for active and former military personnel is shown. It's as if the motorcycle provides a reason and the mechanism and means for a lot of people to celebrate past and present military personnel and the underlying reasons for the military in the first place; the opportunity to live our lives here in the manner we want, and in a way that brings us happiness. These two-wheeled machines bring happiness to several million people in the country, so why not use something that already brings good times and happiness as a celebratory medium?
It just wouldn't be the same to have a parade in which several hundred cars travel down the road. On a hot day the car windows would be up, air conditioners running at max, and the parade in reality would be several hundred individual pods, with no interaction between them and the outside world, generating no excitement and little expression of celebration. Replace those several hundred cars with motorcycles and everything is different. The bikes aren't self-contained pods filled with self-oriented individuals, rather both the machines and their riders are open to the world and actively involved. In a very real sense the machine is an active participant as much so as the rider. Riders aren't enclosed behind walls of metal and glass, they're in the open with direct contact with other riders and the public. The quiet hum of a modern car is replaced by the powerful and visceral rumble of motorcycle engines. The disconnected, unexciting line of cars is replaced with a raucous, energetic, emotionally charged and exciting parade of people and machines there for all to see, hear, and interact with.
And of course motorcycles have long been used to establish a sense of dignity and power in funeral parades, from presidents to privates. Dozens of families have requested the presence of the Patriot Guard Riders to serve not only as flag bearers at the funeral service, but to provide the powerful statement that a procession of bikes makes on that final journey to the cemetery. I've often thought that even the subdued noise and power of motorcycles in a funeral procession represent a mocking of the totality and quietness of death. The machines themselves and those who ride and enjoy them are proof that life and its accompanying joyful activities and sounds of life will go on.
There were two recent events that bring this topic to mind. On July 3rd an event in Grand Rapids called LZ Michigan was held as a belated welcome home ceremony for Vietnam Veterans. The celebration involved several predictable component parts - food, music, speeches, displays, recognitions, and motorcycles. Why is this celebration motorcycle-based I thought to myself as I rode into the large parking lot filled with bikes, and mingled with veterans of my age who proudly wore their colors depicting solidarity mellowed with age and experience, rather than feelings of competition between units or branches of service. But really - - why was the motorcycle the binding force for a thousand or so vets who gathered to recognize their peers and to be recognized by the community. It's hard to explain but the event would have been much reduced had everyone driven their sedans and SUVs there. It would have been much less celebratory had there not been a motorcycle parade through town with the marvelous interactions between riders and the many people filling sidewalks along the route with their flags, cheers, and waves. It would have been less meaningful for all involved if not for the motorcycle parade through the VA Hospital driveway along which dozens of patients had been brought out in wheelchairs and walkers, and where staff gathered, to watch this celebration of life - manifested by the noise, spirit, freedom and life itself that the bikes represented. Hospital administrators asked that the riders "make as much noise as possible" while riding through the hospital grounds so that those inside who could not get out of their beds could also hear the celebration and perhaps be healed just a bit by this recognition of their service and sacrifice. But everyone recognized that it was primarily a celebration of life. Nothing can be done for the more than 58,000 who died in that war - they're now in God's hands. We honor and remember their sacrifice in many ways, and as a group this class of vets perhaps remembers those that were killed and are still missing in action more than veterans of any war in the past. But this event was meant to publicly celebrate those whose lives and stories went on after the war. The Michigan Remembers Run in September will yet again be a very visible reminder and a public demonstration that we have not forgotten those thousands still missing and unaccounted for.
And yesterday, August 7th, another motorcycle-based event to recognize and celebrate those that served and sacrificed. A marvelous two-mile long parade of motorcycles riding fifty miles from downtown Lansing to the charming small town of Hastings, which opened its arms and hearts to welcome this loud intrusion into their lives on an otherwise quiet summer morning. Again, it was based on motorcycles. Perhaps none of yesterday's public celebrations and recognitions would have taken place were the event not based on these 2-wheeled machines. The 'statement' that a long line of bikes slowly, almost solemnly, coursing through the countryside makes would not have happened. A long line of cars can be solemn as in a funeral parade, but it's hard to make such a procession both awe inspiring and yet solemn at the same time like these hundreds of bikes pulled off. Local residents lined the streets and roads to join us in the celebration. Would they have been there if we had all been driving our cars? Would they have been active participants? Would the residents have lined sidewalks, and cars pulled over on roadsides, to watch and wave, had we been just a loose collection of cars driving to the same destination? My guess is that the event would have lost much of its meaning and impact but for the bikes and their exposed and very actively involved riders.