I was unsure exactly what to expect when I walked through the gates at the Key Air facility in the Anoka County, MN Airport for the 11th Annual Patriot Ride last week. Usually when you think of an assembly of thousands of bikers a different picture pops into your head. But the day I spent with these folks was amazing. Gathered to raise money to support active military, Veterans, and their families, the event was fun and incredibly moving.
KQRS DJ Brian Zepp was a very entertaining MC. He had an empathetic demeanor that put everyone who went on stage at ease. The witty repartee between him and event coordinator Bob Behan made clear the great working relationship the two have. And the fact that Zepp is a Veteran himself made it all so much more meaningful.
Meteorologist Dave Dahl was also there, speaking briefly and participating in the ride. But the real celebrity of the day was Don Halvorson, a World War II Veteran who mingled though the crowds. You could always tell where he was because there was a small throng of people around him wanting to meet and thank him. He seemed a bit overwhelmed by it all.
After the bikes returned I was fortunate to share a lunch table with some new friends I called The Crazy Canadian Contingency. Captain Ron (Donison) was a retired Canadian Army Vet himself. We got to chat about his current trip around Canada and the U.S. By the time he got back to Saskatchewan, he’d have a month out on his bike.
That is an insane amount of miles on two wheels.
What I was most unprepared for was the afternoon post-ride program. Speaker Beau Doboszenski shared what it was like to be a Sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He referenced a favorite quote of mine by essayist Richard Grenier, “As George Orwell pointed out, people sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” No one at that event would disagree. Doboszenski’s speech was informative and incredibly moving.
That sentiment continued when Dave and Kay Swenson took the stage to talk about their son, LCPL Curtis Michael Swenson, who was killed in action. To the parent of a soldier, that has got to be your worst nightmare. But Kay was a rock as she delivered her presentation.
I on the other hand, could not swallow the lump in my throat.
After Taps was played and the Honor Guard fired their salute, they placed their guns in the grass to approach the stage and lower the flag. No outdoor event has ever been so silent; you could’ve heard a pin hit the ground. With each triangular fold of the flag my goose bumps deepened. One of the men left the stage and handed the flag to the Swensons. Zepp shook their hands and took a minute before getting back on stage.
I fumbled through my bag for a napkin as the sound of sniffles echoed through the crowd.
As the program wrapped up there were some awards handed out, a winner was picked in the bike raffle, and the band Emerson Ave played. Throughout the day I took a picture for a couple celebrating their 28th wedding anniversary, enjoyed a lot of people watching, and even learned a few things from the St Paul Motorcycle Police presentation. I got to tour a fire truck, saw over 4200 bikes, and made some new friends.
Since 2006 the Patriot Ride has raised nearly two million dollars for four organizations. And as the above quote implies, we all sleep easier because people like these exist. Thank you to everyone involved in organizing this wonderful event.