ST. GEORGE – On a hot, clear Saturday morning, hundreds of motorcycle riders from Washington County and beyond gathered at Astragalus Drive to participate in Freedom Ride, 2014.
Held on National Armed Forces Day under the direction of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Southern Utah Chapter 961 and benefiting the Washington County Veterans Foundation, the Freedom Ride brought together Veterans and motorcycle enthusiasts alike for a day of fun in the sun designed to pay tribute to veterans and active duty military personnel.
About National Armed Forces Day
According to the Department of Defense, on Aug. 31, 1949, then Secretary of Defense, Louis Johnson, announced the creation of Armed Forces Day to replace the separate celebrations of the various branches of the armed forces.
This celebration came in conjunction with the unification of all the armed forces under the Department of Defense and was officially proclaimed a holiday by President Harry S. Truman on Feb. 27, 1950.
The first combined celebration of the armed forces was held on May 20, 1950, and carried the theme of “teamed for defense.”
This year marks a momentous occasion for local veterans and active military members as the City of St. George has joined in the celebration by proclaiming the holiday St. George Armed Forces Day.
“We were fortunate enough that the City of St. George issued a proclamation declaring Armed Forces Day in perpetuity,” said Will Lehman, St. George Freedom Ride organizer. “Our major emphasis is to bring to people’s memory that many people have sacrificed and continue to sacrifice for this country.”
“National Armed Forces Day is a very important day where everyone should recognize the veterans and what they have done for our country,” said Doralee Bird, of Hurricane.
Bird’s husband is the captain of American Legion Post 100 in Hurricane and the two have a daughter, a son-in-law and a granddaughter all currently serving in the Air National Guard.
“We’re a military family,” said Bird.
The Freedom Ride
Nationally, the Freedom Ride began six years ago and has grown to include rides in 26 states who all do coordinated start times and events, Lehman said.
The first Freedom Ride in St. George was held three years ago with a small group of about 20 riders. 2013 was the first event held in connection with Zion Harley Davidson – the ride’s sponsor – and saw about 350 riders, said Bruce Solomon, ride captain and chairman of the Veteran’s Action Council.
This year’s event continued the growing trend seeing well over 500 riders and passengers and offering the additional enticement of the opportunity to win a brand new Harley Davidson Heritage Softail Classic.
Though the Harley was a big draw, many bikers and supporters said they would ride in support of the veterans anyway.
“We wanted to support the local veterans,” said Kirbi Vang, of St. George, “my husband is a veteran so that is why we are here.”
Riders congregated under the overpass at Astragalus Drive and then formed a procession beginning with the lead rider and color guard followed by the largest riding club, the Bandidos, with smaller groups forming behind until they got to single riders.
Iraq veteran, Miles Kimberly, acted as road guard for the large group of riders riding ahead to each intersection and ensuring the safety of all the riders.
“I block intersections to make sure they all get through safely,” said Kimberly “my job is to get them all from point A to point B without losing a bike.”
At 10:30 a.m. kickstands went up and the procession rolled down Southern Parkway to the Warbird Air Museum where the Wings and Wheels car and airplane show was being held – also in celebration of National Armed Forces Day.
Riders and the public were welcomed to the museum where they were able to view classic cars, airplanes and motorcycles as well as other festivities and patriotic displays such as; face painting, food, the posting of our nation’s colors, airplane rides in a T-6 Texan and more.
The riders left the museum at 12:05 p.m. and proceeded to Zion Harley Davidson to celebrate a day of freedom and liberty with a barbecue, live music and the raffle for the motorcycle.
Washington County Veterans Foundation
In addition to riding to honor veterans, this year’s ride was also a fundraiser to help raise money to build a Washington County veterans building and recreation center.
“One of the best ways to serve the 11,000-plus veterans we have in Washington County is to give them a place where they can go and get away from the stress,” said K.L. Hall, chairman of the Washington County Veterans Foundation.
Riders registered for the Freedom Ride with a $25 fee per driver and a $10 fee per passenger. Additionally, the public was invited to attend the barbecue at Zion Harley Davidson and for the same donation – $25 per single person, $35 per couple – they could enjoy the food and be entered into the raffle. Proceeds from those fees will go to help fund the building.
“We have an immediate need for the building,” Hall said, “but we need a full war chest.”
“We have a narrow mission,” Lehman said. “We want to procure a piece of property and build an all veterans building and recreation hall to give veterans a place to be to escape the pressures put on them by war.”
In the future, organizers of the Freedom Ride hope the annual event and fundraiser will support the building, maintaining and running of the center.
Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.
- St. George Street Bikes customizes car show, Wounded Warriors benefit; STGnews Photo Gallery
- One hero at a time, benefit for wounded Afghanistan veteran
- Washington County Veterans Court, now in session
- Veterans Court may offer vets a second chance to heal
- 2,000 miles for vets, 71-year-old sets sights on scooter ride to Florida
- ‘Wings & Wheels’ revisits the past with warbird classics; STGnews Photo Gallery – 2013
- Armed Forces Day Freedom Ride; STGnews Photo Gallery – 2013
- Warbird Museum Grand Reopening – 2011
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