“It is awesome to see all those motorcycles that come through that gate. ... The people on those motorcycles make a difference,” Ed Vance said.
Vance, who retired from the U.S. Air Force, was the featured speaker during a ceremony closing the 21st annual Operation God Bless America ride. The event had 1,667 registered participants, who contributed $58,000 to the VA center.
The fundraiser is used to enhance patients’ comfort at the facility. Money raised in the past has been used to purchase flat-screen televisions, Nintendo Wii games and an aquarium.
“The list of things God Bless America made possible goes on and on and on,” said Dottie Hough, chief of volunteer services.
“Veterans are ordinary people who do extraordinary things,” said Susan George, associate medical center director for nursing and educational programs.
Jeff Lynn, Stephen Miller and Bill Czyzewski learned to ride hand-controlled bicycles after suffering combat injuries. They spent Sunday afternoon riding around the center’s parking lot, where Czyzewski jokingly asked motorcyclists if they wanted to trade bikes.
Miller, of Hedgesville, W.Va., served in the U.S. Army and had his left leg amputated. Because of his good experiences with the VA center, Miller now volunteers with its transportation program.
“That’s why I volunteer,” he said. “I want to give back.”
Czyzewski, of Bunker Hill, W.Va., said he had never before been at the VA center during the Operation God Bless America ride. He said he thought it was fantastic the motorcyclists were assisting the 700-bed hospital.
“They take care of us vets,” Czyzewski said of the VA center.
Mike and Kim Nichols live in Greencastle, Pa., where the ride starts every year. Mike Nichols served in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“For the Vietnam-era vets, it is kind of a little bit of something we didn’t get in our day. We’re coming and paying tribute here,” he said.
The Nichols’ friends, Paul and Lori Thompson, said the ride’s cause is important.
“For the veterans — you can’t get any better cause,” said Lori Thompson, of Waynesboro, Pa.
“You can’t help but feel the patriotism inbred in all of us as Americans,” George said.
Miller and Czyzewski recently joined World TEAM Sports, an organization with noncompetitive athletic events for disabled individuals. They want others to ride with them and said interested people can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.