Riders answer call to help heroes

Motorcyclists raise money for foundation helping veterans return to civilian life

July 02, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • An American flag hangs off one of the bikes taking part in "Ride For Heros" that began at Improved Order of Red Men Tribe 84 facility near Williamsport Saturday and ended in Martinsburg W.Va.
By Chris Tilley/Staff Photographer

WILLIAMSPORT, Md. — The parking lot at the Improved Order of Red Men is filled with motorcycles and riders — many sharing a laugh and catching up on each other's lives.

But former Army sergeant Jeff Matson finds a spot under a nearby pavilion where he can sit and watch.

He's not sure what he's looking for.

This isn't Iraq or Afghanistan, where Matson did several tours of duty.

This is a social club in Williamsport, and many of the people around him are his friends.

But it's become a habit — one he carried home with him from war.

"I'm always on the lookout," he said.

The 23-year-old from Frederick County, Md., saw battle and lived to tell about it.

Now, he said, he's surviving yet another battle — coming home.

For the past year, Matson has been readjusting to life outside the military.

"One day, I was on the battlefield. The next, I was living with my parents," he said. "I would wake up and nothing seemed real."

Matson said he faced post-traumatic stress disorder and received the treatment he needed.

But after experiencing war, "I'm not sure you're ever the same," he said.

As a Navy veteran, Dan Plotner said he understands the difficulties those who serve their country face after they come home.

That's why he helped to organize Ride for the Heroes.

Last year, Plotner said he met David Hill, president and executive director of Patriot's Path Foundation, which helps veterans deal with the challenges of daily life.

"Their mission is to provide services for vets, including job placement, rehabilitation, counseling — anything that helps them get back on their feet and back into society," he said.

When Hill told him about the organization, "I thought, 'What a wonderful cause,'" Plotner said.

A member of the Riders Club at the Improved Order of Red Men Tribe 84, Plotner said he pitched the idea to fellow members about doing a fundraiser for the foundation.

"Everyone was in favor of doing a ride that would help our vets," he said.

Plotner said they began spreading the word through Internet sites, as well as the media.

Several hundred riders answered the call Saturday, arriving at the Red Men parking lot for the first Ride for the Heroes.

The 64-mile ride started in Williamsport, following a path that took participants through Boonsboro and Charles Town, W.Va., and back to the club. The group was escorted by police both in Washington County and West Virginia.

The event concluded with a hog roast, a raffle and entertainment.

Hill said this was the first fundraiser for the foundation that featured a motorcycle ride.

"I'm very pleased and proud that so many people showed up today to support our vets," he said. "Motorcycle riders are always there to help veterans."

Hill said Patriot's Path Foundation assists veterans in a number of ways, including providing individual mentors, finding safe, affordable transitional housing, employment and the basic life skills needed to say "on the path" to a new way of life.

The foundation's office is on North Queen Street in Martinsburg, W.Va., Hill said.

Among the riders participating in Saturday's fundraiser were members of the Warrior Brotherhood Veterans Motorcycle Club of Martinsburg.

President Wayne Hyslop said Saturday's event was one of many ways the group supports area veterans.

"We hold a clothing drive for the VA Center in Martinsburg, and also give away prepaid cell phones," he said. "At Christmas last year, we hand-delivered 160 cards to in-house patients, which we also do on Valentine's Day to let them know they're loved. Mostly, they appreciate you just spending some time and talking with them."

Bill Edwards of Martinsburg, who serves as vice president of the club, said he didn't think twice about joining his fellow riders on Saturday.

"I served during Vietnam," he said. "And when we came home, there wasn't a lot of support. Since that time, I think the powers that be have learned that returning veterans need to have help."

Edwards said he served in the Air Force "for 20 years, 17 days, seven hours and 45 minutes."

"Everyone needs to remember that they wouldn't have freedom without the vets," he said. "We should all be behind them 110 percent, not just 100 percent."

Edwards said he recently spent time with a nephew who came home after serving in the military.

"We talked a little bit. But he has feelings that he buries, just like we did," he said. "Sometimes, you can help just by offering a listening ear."

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