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Pa. bikers ride for veterans

May 31, 2000|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Operation God Bless America is the roar of more than 600 motorcycles rumbling through the streets of Greencastle under police escort on their way to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va.

The June 4 event is also a major fund-raiser, generating money the bikers turn over to VA officials to buy recreational equipment for the patients.

Last year for the ninth Operation God Bless America more than 500 bikers raised more than $10,000, enough to buy a regulation-size pool table for the hospital's recreation hall, said Mary Anne Davenport.

Davenport and her husband, A.J., coordinate the motorcycle event every year. This year's 10th anniversary run is expected to be the biggest yet, Mary Anne Davenport said.

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The steering committee is made up 15 members from Tri-State-area motorcycle organizations. Planning usually starts in January, she said.

The ride was started in 1990 to raise money for packages to send to U.S. service personnel in the Gulf War, but the war was over before the ride could take place, A.J. Davenport said.

The bikers gave the money to the VA for recreation for the patients and instituted Operation God Bless America.

The money is raised through the $7 registration fee the bikers pay to ride in the event, the sale of T-shirts, hats and pins, plus corporate and individual donations, Mary Anne Davenport said.

The riders will assemble June 4 from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Travel America truck stop at Exit 3 on Interstate 81. From there they will run through the streets of Greencastle, "like a parade," A.J. Davenport said.

"People wave flags at us as we ride through town," he said.

The caravan will head down U.S. 11 south to I-81 Exit 2 and will take the interstate to Martinsburg.

The program at the VA Center will include speakers and a picnic for the bikers and patients. Area veterans groups and service clubs will sponsor the picnic.

The ride marshal and main speaker will be Eldon Ensor of McConnellsburg, Pa.

Ensor, a veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, is an avid motorcyclist, the Davenports said.

"He'll be leading the ride with a big American flag and a POW/MIA flag on his bike. It will be really impressive," A.J. Davenport said.

The Davenports ride new matching red Harley -Davidson motorcycles. A.J. rides a Dresser Classic and Mary Anne a Road King. "They're basically the same motorcycles," A.J. said.

"The only difference is that mine is a little more stripped down," Mary Anne Davenport said "It doesn't have all the yuck that A.J. has on his."

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