Hundreds of motorcycle enthusiasts, veterans and citizens will gather Saturday at the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2069 Union to take part in the Veterans Ride for Freedom Memorial Ceremony and Run to the Wall.
This is the 24th year the UAW has sponsored the event, designed to honor veterans, prisoners of war and those still missing in action. The hour-long ceremony begins at 8 a.m. on the front lawn of the union hall on Cougar Trail Road, across from Volvo Trucks. The Run to the Wall ride to Washington D.C. for the POW/MIA rally, Rolling Thunder, departs at 9:30.
“The ceremony is important and gets us focused on the mission of the Ride for Freedom/Run to the Wall, as it’s here we get to share with the community our support for our military, our veterans and, most importantly, pay homage and reverence to those who gave the supreme sacrifice and those who have not returned home,” UAW Veterans Committee member Eric Patton says.
Veterans Committee chairman Mark Peterson added, “Over the many years, we have had the opportunity to share special memories and bring many of our citizens together to honor our American service men and women who gave their all. We, too, feel veterans are our greatest citizens and provide us the freedom to assemble (for the ceremony each year).
“We do not take this responsibility lightly. We take great pride and we’re humbled to have another opportunity to share this wonderful morning with the New River Valley, and hope the public will also take a moment to experience the UAW Veterans Ride for Freedom Memorial Ceremony and Run to the Wall.”
Speakers for this year’s memorial ceremony are Pastor Mike Coleman from Max Creek Baptist Church in Draper and Joe Sheffey, chairman of Pulaski County Board of Supervisors.
Coleman has been a minister for 32 years, with 26 of those years being at Max Creek. Patterson said Coleman is a “true patriot,” who often speaks of the dedication, honor and pride with which our military serves and the sacrifices they too often make.
With two grandfathers having served in both world wars, Coleman knows his ability to preach the gospel and worship is made possible through the bloodshed of veterans and active military.
Sheffey is a “long-time friend of the veterans committee,” according to Peterson. Having served the county and its citizens for decades, Peterson said Sheffey “believes we owe an unpaid debt to those who risk life and limb to defend our freedom,” and that Memorial and Veterans days should be recognized every day.
The memorial ceremony, held rain or shine, also includes a posting of the colors, live music, “Amazing Grace” played on bagpipes, “Taps” and a 21-gun salute.
“We’re proud to host this event and provide a meaningful Memorial Day weekend for the 150 or so from the NRV who participate with us and the nearly one million other patriots who gather in Washington for the national POW/MIA Rally,” committee member Luke Gleaves said.
He noted the purpose of Rolling Thunder is to publicize the POW/MIA issue and educate the public that many American prisoners of war were left behind in previous wars so that it does not happen to soldiers of today and tomorrow.
“Rolling Thunder is committed to helping American veterans from all wars,” Gleaves said. “Rolling Thunder Inc. is heavily involved is legislative matters that concern veterans and their families.”
He said Rolling Thunder Inc. is a non-profit organization whose members donate their time “because they believe in the POW/MIA issue and the well-being of all who served.”