VINTON–Cadets from the William Byrd Air Force JROTC perform color guard duties at events far and wide. Their most recent appearance was at the Roanoke Valley Harley Davidson dealership on June 18.
While that may seem unusual, they were there to present the colors as the Patriot Tour visited Roanoke, escorting an American flag through the lower 48 states in 100 days. Cadets Chase Caldwell, Alexis Buchan, Carson Koloda, and Makayla Clemmer made up the color guard on that day.
The flag left Wisconsin on Memorial Day weekend and will return there on Labor Day. The Patriot Tour is organized by the Nation of Patriots organization to “pay tribute to and honor all of America’s Armed Forces—past, present, and fallen.”
Their goal is also to raise awareness of and funds for wounded veterans.
The Roanoke Valley Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) and the Rolling Thunder Chapter from Lynchburg both participated in the event.
“It was a beautiful ceremony with a great group of attendees from both chapters,” said Senior Master Sergeant Paul Richardson who has served as the Aerospace Science Instructor at WBHS for the past eight years.
The William Byrd Color Guard participation was arranged through chapter member Chief Master Sergeant Walt Kugelman, Sgt. Richardson’s Air Force colleague and golfing buddy.
Kugelman has taken responsibility for coordinating and facilitating the flag transport and ceremony for the Roanoke Valley Harley Owners Group for the past two years.
His enthusiasm for the fundraiser gained momentum when he discovered that 100 percent of the money raised goes directly to the veterans. He volunteered for the duty to give some continuity to the event and some stability with contacts, helping things to run more smoothly.
“The Nation of Patriots is small group with no paid positions,” said Kugelman. “One hundred percent of the funds go to wounded vets. Local chapters which raise $1000 or more are allowed to keep every cent for their local veterans.”
Kugelman said that the Nation of Patriots was surprisingly established in 2009 by a young man named Bill Sherer in his twenties who has never served in any branch of the armed services, but has friends who have. He decided that his generation needed to recognize the sacrifices made by those who have served and came up with the Nation of Patriots concept which led to the Patriot Tour.
The Nation of Patriots challenges each participating location along the Patriot Tour to raise as much money as possible for the wounded veterans cause.
Groups of motorcyclists transfer the flag from place to place during the three months or so of the tour, handing it off to a new group at each stop—somewhat like passing the Olympic torch. It starts each year in Wisconsin, travels around the perimeter of the country and up into the heartland, traveling to all states except Alaska and Hawaii.
The previous stop before Roanoke was in Orange County. Ten motorcyclists from the Orange Harley Owners Group there delivered the flag to Roanoke. Thirty-two bikers from the Roanoke and Lynchburg H.O.G. chapters took the flag on to Princeton, West Virginia, where it was turned over at the Vietnam Memorial Monument located at their Welcome Center.
Kugelman said they garnered lots of support from motorists along the way to West Virginia with waves, honking horns, and thumbs up’s. While he led the group, a couple who had lost a son in Afghanistan carried the flag on the journey.
The Roanoke Chapter raised about $3550 for the Patriot Tour this year, mainly from a 107 mile Poker Run in April when the first $2700 was collected, and then through some 50/50 tickets sales at Mission BBQ and other events. Kugelman said the response to the Poker Run exceeded his expectations with 170 motorcycles and 220 participants.
The Roanoke Chapter has elected to split the amount between two veterans from the area, who will be vetted and chosen by the local VA. Kugelman will present the checks to the vets either publicly or privately as they choose.
Each location where the flag stops plans its own individual ceremony and develops traditions. Kugelman wanted to make the ceremony in Roanoke both memorable and dignified so he invited the color guard and soloist Debby Spencer who sang the National Anthem. Spencer is a member of the H.O.G. chapter who sings in her church choir.
The Pledge of Allegiance was recited and then the flag changed hands after the reading of the Rite of Passage Pledge. A journal travels with the flag so each chapter can make entries about the event.
In one location in previous years the U.S. flag was taken up in a plane; in another it was flown over a state capitol.
Once the flag makes its way back to Wisconsin, it will go on display at a local business or organization. Sherer hopes eventually to develop a permanent memorial where the flags can fly.
Kugelman said the number of participants in the local Patriot Tour varies from year to year. While 32 were able to ride with the flag to Princeton this year, only 22 were available in 2014. While many chapter members are retired, many are still employed and would have to miss work for the occasion.
Local chapters do not have a say in when the flag will arrive; the itinerary is set nationally. Sometimes weather is a factor. Other times events such as the Virginia State HOG Rally interfere by drawing bikers elsewhere.
In addition to the Patriot Tour, H.O.G. chapters are recognized for their support of the MDA through fundraisers each year, generally raising from $10,000 to $12,000 locally. The Roanoke Chapter also contributes to Restin South, a small assisted living facility for ten to twelve veterans without families, some handicapped, in the Crowell’s Gap area.
Bikers adopt a veteran there each Christmas and purchase gifts. Kugelman said the vets make lists of three gifts they would like, most keeping it simple with requests like jeans or Oreos. The bikers generally add additional gifts like new pillows; they also furnish the food pantry.
Harley Davidson sponsors the H.O.G. Chapters. The company came up with the idea for the Harley Owners Group in the 1980’s. The Roanoke dealership built their chapter a meeting room in the basement. There are currently about 300 members.
They meet for fun, fellowship, and rides many times a month and support a multitude of deserving causes.
More information on the Patriot Tour is available at www.nationofpatriots.com.