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Motorcycle riders thunder on for sake of veterans

June 06, 2010|By JENNIFER FITCH

GREENCASTLE, Pa. -- Rain pelted downtown Greencastle at noon Sunday, but the rumble heard on Baltimore Street wasn't thunder.

About 1,500 motorcycles passed through town on their way to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va. The participants in the 20th annual Operation God Bless America ride might not have had sunshine, but their dispositions were sunny as they talked about the cause.

"Their faces say it all," Linda Leininger said of the veterans waiting at the hospital.

Leininger, of Chambersburg, Pa., sold merchandise like patches and shirts before the ride. Then she hopped on a Harley-Davidson Street Bob with her husband, Donnie, and joined the caravan.

Organizer AJ Davenport said the event raised $56,000 to benefit the veterans center's patient recreation fund. Past donations were used to purchase televisions, video-game consoles and bingo machines, and to renovate the bowling alley.

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Davenport blamed the weather on participation being down approximately 1,000 people from last year.

"The people who are afraid of the rain stayed home," said Dave Sterling of Williamsport.

Sterling said he appreciates seeing people line up to wave and cheer on the riders.

"I get goosebumps just thinking about riding through town and the support people show you in three states," Sterling said.

Davenport said he distinctly remembers one exchange from a few years ago.

"There was a soldier in full dress uniform, standing along the interstate, and he gave us a salute," Davenport said.

Mercersburg, Pa., resident Rob McCullough started the benefit ride as a way to generate money for Operation Desert Storm care packages, but the mission ended and the contributions were instead given to the VA center, according to Davenport.

That donation started a relationship with the veterans center, which offered to host a picnic for veterans to meet the motorcyclists, he said.

A steering committee meets before the ride to coordinate things like T-shirt design and police escorts. Committee members contact municipalities, police and fire police along the route for assistance.

"They're all helping us get down the road safely," Davenport said.

Bobby Stouffer of Waynesboro, Pa., participated in the first ride, when the destination was the Eternal Peace Light Memorial in Gettysburg, Pa. He's participated in all but one ride since then.

"What I saw then was the beginning of something big," Stouffer said.

The cause keeps Stouffer and his wife, Joann, returning year after year.

"The vets, they do everything for us," Bobby Stouffer said.

Sue Miss of Smithsburg said she would be thinking about her two sons who are in the Marines. Her father, John Stevenson, was riding in a car behind the procession.

"I just like the camaraderie with everybody and everyone showing their support for the military," Miss said.

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