Written by Art Petrosemolo
In early spring, I was scheduled to go to Lititz and photograph a fundraising, charity motorcycle ride out of the American Legion Post 56 on Route 501 just north of downtown.
I missed it for some reason, not sure why, and just never had a chance to reconnect with the group’s president. In reviewing my notes recently, I saw that the American Legion Riders were still on my list and I’d better reach out. It was the right time as the group was planning their 12th Hospice Ride to take comfort items to the Lebanon Veterans Administration Hospital.
The Legion Riders Lititz group plans three rides each year for charity. They also participate in parades, honor guards and other civic activities. It is a group of nearly 40 members and was formed about a dozen years ago as the American Legion made the Legion Riders a national program.
So, on a perfect Sunday in late summer, I found myself outside the Legion Post and watching big – I mean big – motorcycles roll into the parking lot in preparation for a noon start.
There was friendly banter between the Harley and Honda motorcycle owners before the start of the ride to bring personal care items to the veterans at the Lebanon VA Hospital.
Legion Riders motorcycles come in two sizes – big and bigger – and riders like to tease each other on the merits of two-wheelers, three-wheelers, Hondas and Harleys. Members’ bikes can cost up to $30,000 new and they are justly proud of their “rides.”
Nearly 50 riders – many from Lititz and guests from other area groups – buckled their helmets just before noon and made sure their passengers were secure. They gunned their engines and then, behind a Lititz PD escort, rumbled out of the parking lot on Lincoln Avenue and turned left onto Route 501 at noon for a four-hour ride that also included stops at local Legion Posts.
“We do a lot of good with these rides,” says Post 56 Legion Commander and Legion Riders President Scott Williams, a long-time Lititz resident. “It’s fun and there is a lot of camaraderie but in the end, it’s all about doing the right thing and helping vets and others who need it.”
Since it became a national program, Legion Riders groups have both raised money for worthy causes and brought joy and excitement to parades and patriotic events across the country. Many of the Lititz Legion Riders participate in 20 to 25 or more events around the state and across the country each year with their wives and friends that they have met at past events.
There are currently 2000 chapters of Legion Riders across the US and three foreign countries with more than 110,000 riders. Riders participate in fundraising events for local charities, serve as honor guards, escort military units to departure airfields and welcome them home. They also ride in many holiday parades including Memorial Day, Veterans Day and July 4th celebrations.
Thousands of riders also converge on Washington, DC, every Memorial Day weekend for the annual Rolling Thunder (POW/MIA) rally.
Williams, who has been a Legion Rider for the last four years and post commander since June, rides with his wife Gwyn. “We have about 50-100 people participate in most rides,” Williams says, “and each Legion Riders group supports the other groups’ events.”
Central Pennsylvania has the largest number of Legion Riders groups in the state with posts from Red Lion, Mt. Joy, Annville and Marietta among others sponsoring charity rides throughout the year. Recently, the Lititz group sponsored a special charity ride to help raise money for the treatment of the son of a Marietta Legion Rider who was injured in an automobile accident.
Members pay to participate in each ride and, when appropriate, as it was for the Hospice Ride to the VA Hospital, bring bought and donated items to give away.
The Legion Riders are an import part of Legion Posts and help recruit new, especially younger, veterans as members. “Many people think the Legion is for older veterans who just sit at the bar and drink,” says Williams, “but that’s not the case. We have restaurants and social events that appeal to members of all ages.”
Williams says many young veterans ride and the Legion Riders group is ideal for them to get involved in Legion activities.
The group would return to Lititz via the Jonestown Legion before winding down at the Lititz Post for refreshments, a 50/50 drawing and an auction. “It’s a great way to spend the Sunday,” Williams says, as he dropped his big Harley into gear and led the riders up Route 501.
I took a minute to look at my digital images of riders and their wives – many were retired and having a grand time – and of the huge motorcycles and said to myself….. “Not a bad way to spend a Sunday!”