Morning Sun
  • PATRICK'S PEOPLE: Legion riders honor vets

  • Pittsburg American Legion Riders of Post 64 and the Riders of American Legion Post 182, Arma, are separate chapters, but united in one mission to assist veterans of all wars living in this area.

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  • Pittsburg American Legion Riders of Post 64 and the Riders of American Legion Post 182, Arma, are separate chapters, but united in one mission to assist veterans of all wars living in this area.

    John Swartz is director of the Pittsburg chapter, which was formed in 2006, and Ed Babcock heads the Arma group, which was started last September. Both men are Vietnam veterans.

    “We originally started honoring members of the military who lost their lives in combat in Iraq, Afghanistan or places like that,” Swartz said. “We do what we call standing a flag line. We stand shoulder to shoulder with everybody holding a nine-foot flag to shield the family from uninvited guests.”

    Those guests are most often members of the Westboro Baptist Church, Topeka, led by Fred Phelps.

    “We let them scream and holler and yell, but they do it at a distance,” Babcock said. “We make sure our brothers are buried decently.”

    This service is not limited to those lost in recent wars. Upon request of the family, the American Legion Riders will provide escort service and full military honors for any deceased veteran and his or her family.

    “We’ll put flags on our motorcycles, put four in front of the funeral car and the rest of the motorcycles behind the car and lead the procession to the cemetery,” Swartz said.

    Assistance to the living takes several forms.

    “We started at the Mt. Vernon Veterans Home and still have contact with them,” Swartz said. “We’re planning on taking them some personal needs items such as shaving cream and razors, toothpaste and toothbrushes, things that they won’t have to buy. We took tins of coffee and cups to the Wichita VA. Some hats and T-shirts had been donated to us and we gave those to them.”

    Several times the chapter has provided food for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners to those in need.

    “Sometimes they don’t want to take it, but we tell them that we’ve adopted them for the holiday,” Swartz said. “We can tell they’re humbled, and it’s touching.”

    Page 2 of 2 - Babcock said he doesn’t know if there are any homeless veterans living on the streets locally.

    “If there are, we’ll find them and take care of them,” he said.

    Other times the need is not financial, but emotional.

    “Some older veterans are lonely and the need is for comradeship,” Swartz said. “We sit and talk with them and we hear some good stories.”

    Many of the veterans don’t like to talk about their war experiences, but it makes a difference when they’re talking with someone else who’s also been a soldier.

    “A lot of the old-timers just keep their war with them all the time,” Babcock said. “Their war was a lot different from ours. They were fighting all the time, we had a little more technology, but war’s war, no matter what you’re doing.”

    The Riders also participate in local events such as parades, school activities, dedications and fundraisers. All money raised goes directly to care for veterans.

    There are American Legion Riders chapters in every state, and the national mission is the American Legion Legacy Run. The 2013 run is scheduled Aug. 18-22, starting in Indianapolis, Ind. Money raised goes into the Legacy Scholarship trust fund, which earns interest to be used for scholarships for children of deceased veterans, specifically those who have been lost in the Gulf War, Irag and Afghanistan.

    “Some kids we help here, too,” Babcock said.

    Swartz said that most of the local Riders are Vietnam veterans.

    “We’re trying to get some younger Riders involved,” he said. “To join, you have to have a motorcycle, and you have to be a member of the American Legion, Sons of the American Legion or the American Legion Auxiliary. We have a lot of husband and wife Riders, which makes it nice. We want to build this up to be something Pittsburg will be proud of.”

    Anyone interested in joining may contact Swartz through the Pittsburg American Legion or Babcock through the Arma American Legion.

    “We just want to be an organization that works and is helpful, and we have fun doing it,” Babcock said.

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