MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A total of 2,000 people riding 1,700 motorcycles rolled into the Veterans Affairs Medical Center on Sunday for the 22nd annual Operation God Bless America ride.
They brought with them about $30,000 in donations for the medical center to buy things that will improve the quality of life and comfort for patients and residents.
Lynn David Hubsch became a resident of the center’s nursing home within the last year and experienced the event for the first time.
“The continual roll of sound that comes in is amazing,” said Hubsch, who served with the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.
He was joined by his wife, Karen, who read about the fundraising ride on the Internet.
“It’s thrilling. ... The feeling is overwhelming,” she said.
Mary Anne Davenport, a member of the organizing committee, said she noticed more children participating than in years past. Two men told Davenport why they brought children.
‘They said they wanted their children to know what a veteran is and what it meant,” she said.
Money raised in the past has been used to purchase flat-screen televisions, Nintendo Wii games and an aquarium.
The cause is what makes the ride successful and well-attended by motorcyclists, according to Davenport.
“They like the ride, but it’s not about that,” she said, saying they like the charity aspect.
“We couldn’t even imagine how many (motorcycles) there were,” Karen Hubsch said. “It’s the magnitude of the people ... to support the veterans and let them know they’re not forgotten.”
Chief Master at Arms Paul Balmer served with the U.S. Navy in Afghanistan in 2008 and 2009. He was the featured speaker for the event.
“I’m here to talk about the deployment and veterans,” said Balmer, who lives in Florida.
Tuck Koontz of Hagerstown carried the Marine Corps flag on the third motorcycle in the procession that traveled down Interstate 81 from Greencastle, Pa., and finished at the center in Martinsburg, W.Va.
He said he wants to continue being involved in the event every year to support the medical center.
“I’m a Marine,” he said. “Marines don’t give up on anything.”
Motorcyclists unite around the cause every year, Koontz said.
“These people (at the VA center) have already paid the price. I believe everyone here is trying to give them back their freedom,” he said.