Freedom's riders make sure no hero is forgotten
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on September 14, 2008 10:55 AM
It wasn't about the rumble bouncing back and forth off downtown businesses.
It wasn't about which leather vest had the most patches, or whose motorcycle-themed T-shirt got the most laughs.
Motorcycle riders prepare to take off from the Flying Shamrock in Goldsboro to take part in the Guardian Brotherhood Poker Run.
And it wasn't about having a beer with some friends at the Flying Shamrock before a three-hour ride.
At least, not entirely.
For those who showed up for the second annual Guardian Brotherhood Poker Run, strapping on a helmet or bandanna this particular time was a chance to honor those who have served.
Jamie Farnell was there.
The active-duty airman and co-founder of the Brotherhood said he knows just how important the cause -- Goldsboro's Disabled American Veterans Donald H. Kirkman Chapter 45 -- is.
"These guys, they will tell you stories, but there isn't an arrogant bone in their body. Not anywhere," he said. "They are some of the most humble people you will ever meet in your whole life. They fought and some nearly died for this country. So why not support them?"
It is just after noon Saturday.
Dozens of Harley-Davidsons, Yamahas and Suzukis line John Street.
The run is about to begin.
Mayor Al King is among the few non-riders watching the first dozen-plus bikes start toward Ash Street.
He is jealous.
"Man, I would love to be out there with those guys. You know, there was a time when I was looking at buying a motorcycle," he said. "My wife got on me about it, then my daughter got on me about, and then, my 3-year-old granddaughter said, 'Pop Pop, don't you know if you ride one of those bikes, you might kill yourself?' Once she said that, I said, 'Oh man,' and bought a pickup truck instead."
Inside the Shamrock, those not riding off with the first group are sharing a few laughs.
Some make their way to a table being manned by members of the local chapter of the DAV.
Donald Wooten is waiting.
"They thought of us," he said about the riders. "We were shocked about the ride, but we are definitely proud."
The disabled veteran said he is not used to people coming in and pitching ways to raise money for the organization.
Then again, the Guardian Brotherhood, he said, is no ordinary group.
It was November 2006.
Three airmen on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base were having a particularly "deep" conversation.
"We were thinking that on the holidays, it is kind of tragic that some airmen have to make the decision, 'Do I buy my kids Christmas presents or do I buy them diapers? How tragic is that?" Farnell said. "You know, as a non-commissioned officer, you are supposed to take care of the little guy. That's how the whole thing started."
Nick Ward and James Loper were the other two on hand, and along with their friend and comrade in arms, decided to form the Guardian Brotherhood.
The mission of the motorcycle riding club would involve setting a positive example for other riders, preaching safety and respect.
"It's kind of got a black eye," Loper said of riding. "We try to be good examples of how to act on two wheels."
"You have to be very careful," Farnell added. "Being a riding club, you want to make sure people don't confuse you with a motorcycle club. There's a stigma ... and we're trying to avoid that."
But at its core, the Brotherhood is about more than fighting preconceptions.
It is the outlet through which the riders give back.
"Everything we raise, every charity we choose, is for military families and military organizations," Loper said. "We do this for everyone who has served and everyone serving now."
Less than a year after those airmen raised that "painful" question, they had organized a poker run.
The idea was to send bikers to five different stops, for five playing cards that would form a poker hand.
At the end of the run, a winner was declared.
But the money raised that September 2007 afternoon did not go to the guy with the best hand.
The more than $500 in donations went to Seymour Johnson's Family Support Center.
"We didn't raise that much, but it was our first run, a real impromptu run," Loper said. "But hey, everything grows, right? You have to start somewhere."
Back at the Shamrock, it's just after 4 p.m. and many of the riders have returned.
DAV commander Greg Keesee is among them.
"That was awesome. I'll ride with these guys again," he said. "Having this run, it says a lot about these guys. To me, it just can't get any better than this."
The commander knows the money raised during the event is going to stay right here in Goldsboro -- to help disabled veterans who visit his chapter get to doctor's appointments, pay bills and file medical claims.
But that is only one of the reasons he is smiling.
Surrounded by military service men and women, he sees the future of the DAV.
"That's one of my sayings," he said. "You might not see us now, but you might need to see us later. Veterans helping veterans -- always, regardless."
Loper, too, knows it is likely that some of those he knows might one day need the services provided inside the organization's headquarters on Patrick Street.
"Who knows? I might be a member of the DAV one day," he said.
So it seemed fitting to him that the day be about those currently serving -- long after their days in uniform were done.
"They spent their whole career serving and then they ended up disabled, but they didn't stop serving," Loper said. "They didn't just sit back and retire. They joined the DAV and help other veterans get benefits. Veterans are everywhere in this town. We are surrounded by them. I just think it is great what they do."
By the evening, another poker run had come to an end, another military organization helped.
But in the end it was about more than that. It was about being among friends who love what they do ... still.
Defending their country and taking care of their own.
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