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800 cycles roar to VA Center for a cause

June 07, 2004|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

bonnieb@herald-mail.com

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Bikers and passengers young and old, male and female, turned out for Sunday's 14th annual Operation God Bless America ride. About 800 motorcycles carrying 970 people made the trip down Interstate 81 to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Money raised from the $10 registration fee and the sale of T-shirts, hats, head wraps and event pins goes to the patients' recreation fund, according to organizer Mary Anne Davenport of Mercersburg, Pa.

Money from previous rides has purchased televisions, a pool table and other items "that the government might not have funds allotted for. We have a say in what's done with the money," she said.

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Davenport said Sunday night that this year's ride raised $16,000, surpassing last year's total of $12,100.

The bikers stood under a heavy gray sky beside their Harleys, Yamahas, Hondas, Kawasakis and Suzukis on John Wayne Drive outside Greencastle waiting for the ride to begin.

Bud White, 67, of Fayetteville, Pa., sat in the side car of a 1974 Harley-Davidson driven by Tim Abbott of Fayetteville. While it was Abbott's first time riding in the event, it was White's first-ever motorcycle ride.

"It's exciting," White said. "My uncle was in World War II, and he drove one of these. I often wondered what it would feel like. Now I know. It feels good. It's fun. You're out in the open and you can see everything."

The men work together at the Kmart distribution center in Chambersburg, Pa.

The ride to help veterans is a good cause, Abbott added.

"People come out for it, and they raise thousands of dollars," he said.

Two women on a Honda Gold Wing three-wheeler sat ready near the end of the line with helmets on. Driver Mary Beth Zeigler of Mechanicsburg, Pa., and passenger Phyllis Magargee of Wormleysburg, Pa., said they often ride together, but this was their first ride to the VA Center.

Tony Brown Jr., 8, rode on the back of the motorcycle his mother, Dawn Brown, was driving.

"I ride dirt bikes all the time, since I was 4 years old," said Tony Brown Jr. Tony Brown Sr. rode a Harley-Davidson Mule behind his wife and son.

Brothers Ron and Jeff Keefer and their wives, Paula and Ky, along with friend Jeff Gray of Shippensburg, Pa., rode together. All are children of veterans, Paula Keefer said, and Gray and Ron Keefer are Army veterans.

Paula and Ron Keefer, of Orrstown, Pa., were doing their first God Bless America ride. Jeff Keefer said he has missed only four rides since it started in 1991.

Representatives of eight local motorcycle clubs organize the event, Davenport said, and more than a dozen local clubs participated in Sunday's ride.

At noon, the bikers and passengers donned helmets and gloves, mounted and started their engines. Large flags flew from the lead cycles.

It took several minutes before the back of the line moved.

Spectators lined the streets to watch the procession roll double file through downtown Greencastle.

When the bikers arrived at the hospital, there was a picnic and a ceremony, Davenport said.

"The bikers brought a lot of the patients out, and got their plates. It's not just the ride and making money," she said. "It's about the veterans."

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