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Motorcyclists raise $6,500 for VA patients

June 07, 1998|By AMY WALLAUER

by Ric Dugan / staff photographer

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VA riders

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Nearly 400 rumbling Harley-Davidsons, Hondas and Yamahas rolled into the Veterans Affairs Medical Center Martinsburg on Sunday, straddled by leather-clad motorcycle enthusiasts who raised $6,500 for the hospital's indigent patients.

The eighth annual Operation: God Bless America ride - which raises money through rider fees, donations and the sale of souvenirs - was the largest yet, with participants from Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia.

Danny and Nancy Stoner of Hagerstown were among the 540 or so people who participated in the ride. For Danny, it was a chance to help the center that helped his father.

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"My father was a veteran and passed away over here a couple of years ago," Danny said. "They took good care of him and it's time to give a little back."

Roger and Cassie Higdon of Hagerstown joined the ride because veterans don't get the support they need, Cassie said.

"They keep cutting benefits," she said. "Most of our neighbors are veterans - they fought in World War II and all. They don't do enough for our veterans as it is."

Operation: God Bless America began in 1990, when a Mercersburg, Pa., motorcycle enthusiast wanted to raise money for the men and women overseas during the Persian Gulf War.

By the time the event was organized, the war was over. Organizers decided to donate the money to the Martinsburg VA Medical Center, which has used donations to pay for haircuts, hygiene items and trips that some of the veterans can't afford, said Dottie Hough, chief of voluntary service for the hospital.

Three years ago, the original organizer passed the torch to riders Mary Anne and A.J. Davenport, also of Mercersburg, who have enlisted the help of several motorcycle clubs.

"We do it because it's a great benefit," said Mary Anne Davenport, a credit manager at Canam Steel in Frederick, Md. "One of the nurses told us she saw the tears when the veterans watched us ride in."

The Davenports have a personal connection to the cause -both of their fathers fought in the Korean War.

"My dad drilled patriotism into my head since I could remember," Mary Anne Davenport said.

About 381 motorcycles participated this year, raising $900 more than the 1997 ride.

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