by Bryan Harley
It started 10 miles out of town. Tired from a hard days ride through some of the most majestic countryside you’ll find anywhere in the world, weary riders on the Veterans Charity Ride to Sturgis got a second wind from the stirring sight of American flags on motorcycles blowing in the wind and a welcoming committee standing roadside in full salute. Members of the Patriot Guard Riders and other local veterans had ridden outside of Moab, Utah, to honor the group as they rolled in and to escort them to the celebration waiting for the veterans at Swanny City Park.
The procession pulled into the park to a hero’s welcome, the city of Moab showing up in force to greet them with open arms, flags waving, hands clapping, and the hum of bag pipes lilting in the air. A row of flags had been set up in the grass and one by one the veterans proudly rode through an avenue of Stars and Stripes, members of Utah VFW 10900 saluting them as they passed by. It was patriotism at its finest, from a rousing rendition of the National Anthem to a crowd-wide, hands-over-the-heart Pledge of Allegiance.
The veterans were seated center stage as one by one Moab’s community leaders took turns paying tribute to their arrival.
“Thank you for your service to our country, thank you for being with us here today,” said Moab Mayor David Sakrison.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a little humbling standing up here before you. Watching you come in was an emotional experience,” added Moab Police Chief Jim Winder.
“So somebody walked up to me just a few minutes ago and said, “We honor your service in blue.” It made me really think of the term service. Yes, in law enforcement we provide a service to this community and to this nation but I kind of consider law enforcement the little brother of the big brother. The big brother is those that have protected this nation and provided such service and dedication and placed themselves at such great risk. It’s an honor for people to come up and thank us but I tell you no amount of thanks is enough for what you all have done,” said Winder.
When it was time for Veterans Charity Ride founder Dave Frey to speak he said “I cannot tell you with words how excited we are to be here. Moab has been a very special place for us from the very beginning that we came up with the ride and the program.”
While there were many poignant moments during the celebration, none was more touching than when two young sisters walked up on stage and handed the veterans letters they had written thanking them for their service. When the girls heard the veterans were coming to town they wanted to do something to show them they cared. There were few dry eyes in the crowd after that.
The spirit of the Moab community was also well-represented by an eighth grade girl named Lidia and her friend Jocelyn. Wanting to help out the welcoming effort, the two walked around town passing out fliers. Not only did they pass out all the fliers they had, once they were done the girls reached out to organizers and said “We ran out, can we get more?”
Retired Navy man Art “Groady” Edwards, the Western Slope Assistance Captain of the Colorado Patriot Guard Riders, then handed each veteran a Colorado pin inscribed with the words “Your Service, Our Freedom.”
As the ceremony wound down, the mountainesque man on bag pipes played the theme song of every branch of service, from “The Army Goes Rolling Along” to “Wild Blue Yonder” and veterans proudly raised their hands as their theme played. The crowd was then invited to meet the veterans as countless hugs and handshakes ensued.
As the heartwarming celebration drew to a close, Dick Pacheco, Director of Hands of Hope New Life Center, extended an invitation to all of the veterans to call Moab their permanent home, an enticing invitation from a community that received them with a hero’s welcome.