Motorcycle riders from American Legion Post 82 in La Plata roared their way down to Newburg’s Maryland Veterans Museum on June 7 for a special dinner they hosted during one of the overnight stops for the American Legion Riders 4th Annual Maryland Gold Star Legacy Run, a three-day charity ride designed as part of a national initiative to raise money for the Legion’s Legacy Scholarship Fund.

Nearly 80 Legionnaires from various ALR chapters across the state participated in the dinner which featured live donations, a 50/50 fundraising raffle and catering from Texas Roadhouse of La Plata. All funds that were raised went toward the scholarship fund which provides college assistance for the children of U.S. military personnel killed in active duty on or after 9/11, as well as children of post-9/11 veterans who have a disability rating of 50% or higher.

The Maryland ALR’s fundraising goal for this year was set at $50,000, a bit higher compared to the more than $45,000 in donations raised over three days last year. From June 7-9, ALR Post 82 members traveled several hundred miles throughout the state and contributed nearly $8,000 to the cause alone, according to Legionnaire John Flatley.

“My hope was that we could get the Honeycutt family out here tonight – they’re a Gold Star Family from Charles County. [Marine Lance Cpl. Terry] ‘T.J.’ Honeycutt [of Waldorf] was killed in Afghanistan [in 2010] and, unfortunately, his father has cancer and is up in Baltimore now getting treatment,” Flatley said. “That is one of the reasons why this is so near and dear to our Post. When we represent Gold Star Families including the mothers, wives and children, and raise money to support them through scholarships and other financial needs, it’s a huge opportunity for us. We are really excited to bring the Legacy ride down here with us in Southern Maryland.”

The Legion’s 2017 Legacy Run raised a record $1,224,653, which was the fourth straight year that the ride raised more than $1 million. Participation in Maryland has gone up from 40 riders registered the first year to nearly 100 riders last year, resulting in a $13,500 increase in funds raised since The American Legion Department of Maryland’s first Legacy Run in 2016, according to an article from the Legion’s website.

“I’m just so excited that we could show Southern Maryland hospitality. Having folks on the streets of La Plata waving flags and welcoming the riders into town was just an amazing site to see—the mayor, county commissioners, town councilman for our area and a whole host of other folks were out there,” Flatley recalled as he spoke about a welcoming party held June 7 on Charles Street. “The Maryland Veterans Museum, which normally rents out this space, donated it to us tonight so that we could get more veterans and people to come to Charles County and see what we have to offer.”

“I don’t even know how to describe how it feels. It’s very touching and humbling,” Flatley added. “We got to meet three Gold Star Mothers at the Maryland Gold Star Family Memorial in Havre De Grace. The biggest thing that Gold Star Families want is to never have their loved ones’ name be forgotten. Every day, there are hundreds of thousands of people reliving the loss of a family member. So, for us to be able to do this and help bring awareness while keeping those names alive, like T.J. Honeycutt, is just one way to show our love for them. Our goal for the state is $50,000 but I suspect they will probably get close to $60,000. It is very humbling just to be a small part of this effort and compile that with the national money that is being brought in as it continues to multiply.”

In addition to visiting the Gold Star Families Memorial, ALR Post 82 riders joined other chapters for a wreath laying ceremony at The Pentagon on Saturday followed by other stops in the nation’s capital and various cities within Maryland.

For ALR Post 82 director Jamie Zayas, he said the overall purpose is to ride in honor of those who have served.

“We could have had the dinner at the Post but this place is very special to us,” said Zayas as he spoke to the riders in attendance. “The Maryland Veterans Museum is a hidden gem down here in Southern Maryland. This was a great opportunity to bring all of you from around the state of Maryland and show it to you. What we’d like for you to do is go home and tell the folks in your Post, your family and your friends, to come back and visit.”

Having decided to start an in-state Legacy Run, ride chairman Joe Gladden said it’s all about supporting a cause that is near and dear to his heart, especially for the Gold Star families whom the national American Legion advocates and honors as part of its dedication to mutual helpfulness.

“Most of us belong to the American Legion Riders, which means that you either belong to the Sons of The American Legion, the American Legion Auxiliary or The American Legion itself,” said Gladden, a former national commander of the Sons of The American Legion whose grandfather served in World War I and father served in World War II. “That’s the incredible thing about riding in the Legacy Run—it brings all three facets of the organization together and be able to support a common cause. We were very blessed to meet with a few of the Gold Star Mothers who have lost a son or daughter while serving in active duty. We laid a wreath at the Gold Star Memorial and another one at The Pentagon’s 9/11 memorial on behalf of all those who sacrificed their lives. It’s great to raise money, but it’s also great to build friendships and relationships along the way.”

Gladden will be participating in the national Legacy Run from Aug. 18-22, which begins in Florida and ends in Indianapolis where the Legion’s annual national convention is held. During that time, all of the funds donated between June 7 and June 9 will be announced.

As for next year, Gladden said he hopes to make the Maryland ALR Legacy Run a two-weekend event, which would include a separate ride to New York to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

“It’s just an incredible program. We like to feel good about what we do,” Gladden said. “When the Gold Star Families say ‘thank you’ for what we’re doing, that’s important because it shows that we recognize the sacrifice their sons and daughters made to our country. They deserve to be remembered so it’s an honor to ride in their honor.”

Twitter: @JClink_MdINDY