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Motorcyclists kick into high gear to support veterans

June 05, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

GREENCASTLE, PA.

Several motorcyclists described a feeling of freedom that comes with riding, as they embarked on a group journey from Greencastle to Martinsburg, W.Va., in support of veterans.

That freedom is in many ways thanks to the veterans, they said.

"It's because of the veterans that we have the freedoms that we do to do this," said A.J. Davenport, who joined his wife, Mary Ann, and a steering committee to organize the 16th annual Operation God Bless America ride.

More than 1,500 motorcyclists, escorted by state and local police, took to Interstate 81 Sunday afternoon and raised $28,000 for the Martinsburg (W.Va.) Veterans Affairs Medical Center's services, he said.

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The motorcyclists rode to the medical center together, and it "took them about 20 minutes to get in" as motorcycle after motorcycle arrived, Davenport said.

There, they shared a picnic lunch with veterans and were addressed by Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Kepner, who said the heroes of today are tied to those of the past.

"It was good weather and brought a lot of (riders) out," Davenport said.

"It's an awesome experience if (you) have never ridden with this many bikes," said Larry Smith of Flintstone, Md. A member of the Christian Motorcyclists Association, he said biking is a ministry for him and he must be around others to minister.

"It's a God thing for me," Smith said.

Cindy Clark of Waynesboro, Pa., who started riding recently, said she has found she enjoys a "feeling of freedom."

"It's just relaxing ... wind blowing on you," Buddy Clark said.

"You're riding in the country, not through it," Chuck Sterling of Greencastle said. Riding in the event since 1999 has been a way of "showing respect for the guys for doing what they did," he said.

The fathers of Dee Meckley and Mike Pappas, both of Mercersburg, Pa., served in World War II. The pair learned about the event through word-of-mouth and joined in for the first year.

"His father was a vet, and he died at the VA hospital, so we're doing this for a sentimental journey," Meckley said, referring to Pappas' father.

Operation God Bless America riders have raised $181,000 for the Martinsburg VA Medical Center in 16 years, Davenport said.

A ride later this month will travel from Carlisle, Pa., to the Lebanon (Pa.) VA Medical Center. For more information, visit http://members.fortunecity.com/ogba1/ride2.htm.

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