Escorting a fallen soldier, Spc. Nick Taylor, home

While hundreds of thousands of people in Indiana either spent Sunday going to the Brickyard 400 race in Indianapolis, or made their way to the many bars or cookouts to watch said sporting event on the television, thousands of people spent their day preparing to welcome home another fallen soldier.  Spc. Nick Taylor of Berne, Indiana, was killed last week in Afghanistan protecting the freedoms we each enjoy daily.

Sunday morning showed it would be a great day, with a nice cool breeze in the morning, and glorious sunshine and whispers of clouds that would stay prevalent throughout the day.  Many bikers from Indiana and Ohio would converge on the grounds of Indiana’s Air National Guard base, home of the 122nd Fighter Wing, in Fort Wayne, Indiana to show Spc. Taylor the homecoming he would not be able to enjoy, but so surely deserved.

Plans had been made by one of our HOG members, Jeff C., to start out from his home and slowly pickup other riders on the way to Fort Wayne.  We met with Jeff in Fortville, and jumped in line with him and several other bikers that had already formed the initial convoy of motorcycles.  Riding up IN-67, another group jumped in outside of Pendleton, and we made our way up I-69 to Daleville, where we met a large group of other riders who would be traveling north with us on this sunny morning.

Among the group were members from the nearby HOG chapters, Indiana Patriot Guard Riders, and other motorcyclists who had heard about the day’s journey.  Each person gladly put aside their plans for the day, so that we could ensure that a deserving soldier would be escorted properly back to his hometown.  Our group had grown to approximately 40 motorcycles, and our riding found us again heading north up I-69 until we reached the exit at Marion…where a very large contingent of bikers were waiting our arrival.

The group swelled to over 100 motorcycles at this point, and also became a police escorted ride.  The day was getting warmer, and accessing cold water and liquids from this point forward became a reoccurring theme.  We again headed north, and looped around I-469 until reaching the exit that would take us towards the Indiana Air National Guard base.  About one mile from our destination, we became aware that many, many other bikers would be participating on this solemn journey.

As we pulled into the base, it became evident that many hundreds of motorcycles were already present, and parking had become an issue inside the base.  Parking temporarily in one of the fields outside the gate, we were then led into an exterior parking lot, where we parked the bikes and continue to watch other riders appear.

Word had passed about the ride’s itinerary, with 2:00PM being the planned arrival of the private plane that would be arriving to the airfield carrying Spc. Taylor’s casket.  Having arrived at least 45 minutes early, we were a little bummed that the base was no longer allowing motorcycles onto the interior property, but were in awe that so many people were participating.  Our parking lot gave us the vantage point of watching the air traffic come into the field, and we knew we’d be among the first to spot the arriving plane on it’s descent and landing.

At approximately 2:01PM, a small white corporate jet came into view as it descended to the field we were parked next to.  The entire group of 1,500+ people went quiet as we watched the plane come in and touch down quickly…it was painfully obvious that this was the plane that we were all there to greet.  Somehow, we just knew that this was the last flight that this fallen soldier would ever be on, and you could literally feel the respect as not a single word was spoken throughout the parking lot.

As the base was at it’s capacity, our group was unable to go onto the grounds and help establish the flag line that would be created for the passage of the casket.  Regardless, we all knew that our many brothers and sisters who had made it onto the base would ensure that everything was handled perfectly; so we waited outside until the family received their loved one, and the procession to proceed out the gate and onto the local roads towards Berne.

The Indiana Patriot Guard created another flag line outside the gates, and waited patiently in the now blistering sun for over half an hour awaiting the procession to lead the way.  As the lead police escort pulled out, the entire group became silent again.  Hands went over the hearts or into salute by most of those watching, and it would be impossible to say that most did not have tears in their eyes as we watched them pass.  The vehicle holding the casket passed, followed by the family, and then by the 400 or so motorcycles that had found their way onto the base.  The many bikes that were parked outside followed the main group of bikes onto the road, and the journey began on the road to escort SPC Taylor back to his home.

The ride to Berne was at least thirty miles, and the display that we saw by the many citizens in the area was overwhelming.  Many of the residents of the area, and beyond, had also given up their day, and had been awaiting the procession to pass.  Signs, and the many thousands of flags, were held high with pride and respect, and most people held them high in the sky until the entire group passed.  Armed forces personnel, who obviously lived in the area, had turned out in their dress uniforms to stand in the blazing sun to pay their respects.  All stood in salute of the entire group riding the route.  Tears nearly filled our eyes whenever we saw this tribute…and more than one of these soldiers or sailors had pulled out their uniforms from decades past to wear on this day on the side of the road.

A sight that would make anybody proud was observing an ex-soldier, who was in his 80s or 90s, standing at full salute in the weeds between the north and southbound lanes…dressed in his military uniform from World War 2.  Traffic was slow at this point, and as we passed him at about 15 miles an hour, you could see the tears rolling down his face.  You could tell that he was using all of his strength to maintain his salute.  Once you are in the brotherhood of the armed forces, you will always be there for another.  God bless you, Sir.

News reports later in the day said that the procession was over eight miles in length.  Throughout the ride, speeds ranged from 2 MPH to over 55 MPH…but most of the time, we were riding at an average of 20-30 MPH I would guess.  The entire line slowed down as bigger groups of people were passed.

As we turned south on US-27, the population became more and more prevalent.  Even way out in the country, we’d pass 1/4 mile with nobody, only to find dozens if not hundreds waiting at country road intersections.  This area is also filled with many of the Amish faith, who also made it a point to bring out their horse and buggies, and also stand silently alongside the road in their best clothing to show their unity during this sad day.  We may all have been of different faiths and beliefs, but this just goes to show when it all comes down to needing to be together as one, men and women will come together.

As we came into Decatur, Indiana, it was obvious that the entire town had stopped for the moment, and its citizens came out.  Numbers were impossible to count, but by this time we must have easily passed a couple of thousand people standing on both sides of US-27, and Decatur easily exceeded that count.  The closer that we came to Berne, the heavier the presence of people.

Rolling into Berne, it was nearly impossible to keep the motorcycles moving straight.  You could see the amount of people at the town’s borders a couple of miles away, and the closer we got, the extent of the turnout continued to magnify.  All I can say is…UNBELIEVABLE.  Impossible to say the count of humans just in this town…they were dozens deep at places.  We passed through Berne, and the family and close friends proceeded to the funeral home (I believe), and we decided to pull off on a road inside town to re-hydrate.  A few riders just in our group had become lightheaded due to the heat, as well as the constant shifting and clutching during the entry into Berne.  Water was shared all around, and after some time, we decided to make our way back towards home.  By this time, our original group of over 100 bikes had dwindled back to many of the our HOG members, and we decided to head out.

IN-218 was the fastest way back to I-69, and after stopping for gas, the group slowly start splitting off in their own directions homeward.  My wife and I stopped with 6 other people at a Applebee’s in Anderson to re-hydrate once more, and to intake some delicious food to re-energize for the last leg home.

For the day, all I can say it was a somber ride.  I’m very glad to have participated, if not more than to just show strength in numbers, and to do my part in making sure somebody who paid the ultimate price would get back home with the honor they so truly deserved.  Days like this make you think about things in your own life.  It’s not all that important when the coffee maker screws up the morning java, or the grass needs cutting…or the laundry needs done.  These little freedoms we have are provided to us by the sacrifice of the many individuals who are serving in our armed forces.

Do something for a vet…soon.  Escort a fallen soldier home.  Lend an ear or hand to a vet in need.  Shake a vet’s hand in the airport when you see them in uniform.  Buy their dinner when you see them at the restaurant.  Let them know we appreciate everything they have done, or are doing, for all of us.  And never forget the sacrifices that they made or are making for you every day.

As we were warned, we would at least have eyes of tears by the end of the day.  It’s true.  Many bigger, tougher, and stronger men and women than I routinely shed their tears on days like Sunday was…and they’ll be there the next time a fallen soldier comes home.  And God willing, I will be there with them.

Escorting another fallen soldier

Plans we had to go ride the bike on a leisure ride down south tomorrow (Sunday) have been put on hold.  A friend of ours has organized an escort ride to Berne, Indiana, to show our support for a recently fallen soldier who lost his life in Afghanistan.

SPC Nick Taylor of Berne died this past Sunday in the Afghanistan conflict, and is finally coming home.  There is nothing joyful about tomorrow, but we feel that SPC Taylor deserves the respect that he has earned, and the thanks of every American.  It will be with honor that we do whatever we can to assist with his journey back to his hometown.

Kammy’s Kause in HD

After receiving some requests, we have created a HD version of the Kammy’s Kause ride.  Click the link below to get to it.

2012 Kammy’s Kause ride in HD

My wife and I enjoyed participating in Kammy’s Kause so much, that we decided to do something for the 4p- families there that we met.  It’s not much, but it comes from our hearts.  We’ve already been in touch with a couple members of their organization about helping out in the future.

We hope you feel the emotion that we felt.  I highly recommend a good set of headphones if watching on the computer  🙂  Click the words below!

2012 Kammy’s Kause

2012 Ride for Kammy’s Kause

All last week, we’ve been looking forward to the upcoming weekend for a couple of reasons.  First, the temperatures were finally either going to be lower than 100 degrees (or the unbearable higher than 100 heat index) that has been plaguing our area for weeks.  Second, there was a important ride scheduled, Kammy’s Ride 4p-.  Well, the temps on Saturday were in the low 90s, which guaranteed a much belated day full of riding in gorgeous sunshine.  And second, the ride was definitely on.

I really have to explain Kammy’s Kause to those that never heard of it.  It’s one of those events that very few  know about, but should garnish support from everybody.  Kamdyn “Kammy” Hiner is a 11-year old girl, whom resides in a small town in NE central Indiana.  Diagnosed with an extremely rare chromosome disorder in 2002 known as 4p- (or known by the medical term Wolf-Hirschhorn Syndrome (WHS)), Kammy shares a disorder with around 600 known other persons.  It’s an affliction that has been very difficult to find research and support for.  Everybody has heard of cancer, leukemia, and Alzheimer’s; millions face these difficult illnesses and the love and generosity of family, neighbors, and strangers are helping with each of these fights, every day.  4p- is something virtually unheard of, but has become the center of many family’s lives.

In 2004, Kammy’s Kause was born…an awareness festival and gathering of those who have 4p-, their families, and the friends and community of those who fight this disorder who stand by their sides.  All funds raised go to supporting the families and future research, and the list of sponsors continue to grow each year; and the heart of the cause comes from those that go there to exchange smiles with people who were once strangers..  People come from around the country and further to spend time with others facing the same challenges that they do every second of their lives…and from what I would see later in the day, unite to become a very close family together.

For the last several years, Jared (Kammy’s father) has been closely involved with our local Harley Owner’s Group (HOG) Chapter #1.  Coming to many of our monthly meetings, Kammy has been quickly adopted by all of the HOG members as our surrogate daughter, who has come to hold a place in the hearts of many of us.  Over the years, the HOG chapter has put together a ride to support Kammy and those others who daily live with this disorder, and each year participation both from the community and the HOG chapter have grown.  Donna Dellen owns the HD dealership on Indy’s north side, and she’s always been very accommodating in helping by allowing the use of her facility and its resources as a small way to assist those who are in need.  A big kudos to the dealership for once again opening their doors to allow the ride to start from there.

One of our HOG members played an integral part in setting up the ride for the event.  Jeff C. is a quiet man, with one of the biggest hearts in the world…and somebody each one of us members are proud to call a friend.  This day’s ride would see Jeff leading the motorcycle pack, and restlessly running around at each stop to make sure every single participant was relaxing and enjoying their selves for the entire day.  A man that would give his shirt off his back for anybody in need, Jeff’s ride on this day was a major success, and I think each of us was in awe of his commitment.

Saturday morning found my wife and I arriving first to the dealership to help get things staged for the ride to come.  A beautiful morning ride to the dealership found temps in the mid 60s, forcing Bonnie into a hooded sweatshirt for warmth, while I braved the cool air to enjoy it for a change.  Others began to arrive shortly after our own appearance, and we all quickly got things ready to go for the morning’s registration processes. While a few of the people started checking in riders, others strategically stood around the HD Northside parking lot to point out the way to stage the motorcycles as they came into the lot.  This ride was open to any rider on two wheels, and Honda’s, Victory’s, Harley’s, and more combined to slowly fill up about half of the large parking lot.  This ride was in competition with another worthy cause in the community, Ride Your Can Off (Gleaner’s, a local food bank, also had a ride scheduled on the other side of Indianapolis).  Some of our members participated in the food drive ride, just as my wife and I had done last year.  Sometimes, more than one worthwhile ride is in existence on the same day, and each year, we attempt to alternate when this occurs to show our support all around.

Kammy and her father made an early morning appearance to greet us all, and to let us know that a family sized meal and fun would be awaiting us at the end of the ride.

It was fun to watch Kammy look around, and make an immediate bee-line over to one of her favorite Hog riders, Smitty.  She held on and wouldn’t let go; an awesome display of true affection that set the warm tone for the entire day for the rest of us.

Kammy and Smitty (Paul), “BFF”

A great day, as over 100 motorcycles were present, and around 200 people participated just in the ride!

The dealership provided donuts to fuel the bellies of all attendees, and finally it was time to get everybody together to go over the route for the day, the planned stops, and to make sure all the newer riders understood the safe procedures for doing a group ride together.  The ride would be police escorted for the entire day (more to come on that in a few moments), and the temperatures were slowly rising which allowed most to peel off their extra layers for the day.  The need for a group picture was decided upon, and most of the attendees quickly assembled.  Sometimes, one gets caught in the bathroom or ordering parts and doesn’t make the muster in enough time, but the following captures about 90% of those that participated.

And yes, I’m in there somewhere.  We’ll just play the game “Where’s Jeff” instead of “Waldo” for the picture above.

The escorted ride left HD Northside around 10AM, led by some of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s office finest.  This was a well put together ride, with an EMT emergency vehicle placing their self between the two lead police cars, and the motorcycle group.  An ambulance also brought up the rear, and throughout the entire ride, these vehicles accompanied us throughout our day’s journey.  What was even more impressive was the numerous other emergency vehicles and officers who assisted as we passed through their jurisdictions by stopping traffic and blocking off intersections for all those that rode.  It’s impossible to name them all, but even the smallest town’s officer seemed to participate as we traversed through their community as well.

Our route was serpentine in design, to allow us to enjoy riding in the countryside while enjoying a entire day’s sunshine.

Hard to see, but the line of bikes stretches a L-O-N-G way.

Our first stop was at Harley-Davidson of Kokomo, and all the bikes found a parking refuge in their giant parking lot across the street from the dealership.  Most used the opportunity to grab a water to brush away the growing heat of the day, and to joyfully make fun at each other for not winning the door prizes at the stop.  I noticed quite a few riders using the stop to buy dealership shirts and other items; as we have been there numerous times, my wife and I looked around, but just couldn’t find anything that we really didn’t already have.

Leaving the parking lot about 40 minutes after our arrival, we headed back into the countryside with our police escort as we wound our way to our next stop, Benson Harley-Davidson in Muncie.  While they were already busy with motorcycle traffic and visitors, the arrival of our group quickly filled out every inch of their parking lot.  Dismounting, we took refuge inside the dealership from the scalding sun, and found lunch already waiting on us.  Hot dogs bigger than Johnsonville brats found their ways into buns, next to the potato salads we eagerly dished onto our plates.  Seating was limited, so most took refuge outside in the shade against the building, while a number of us stayed indoors to find small spots to sit back against the building’s walls.  Most of us agreed that the hot dog was of excellent taste, however none of us figured out the brand of them so we could possibly purchase them for our own future cookouts.

The final door prizes were awarded (as usual, we relegated ourselves to clapping for the winners), and the order was given to mount up and head out so we could maintain our schedule to meet with some others later in the day.  We found ourselves going west, south, west, north, west, south, east, south, west…etc, etc, etc.  Another leisure ride through the countryside and small towns as we slowly made our way to Fortville.

No clouds, all sunshine, and an occasional breeze.

Large smiles could be seen on the riders close to us as the police escort missed one of the planned turns and kept driving straight through one of the towns…while our lead bike made the turn and the hundred or so of us followed.  First rule of a large group ride…follow the motorcycle in front of you, no matter what.  Our escorts quickly turned around, cut through town, and came roaring past us in the other lane to regain their positions (and yes, we could see the smiles on their faces as they passed).  There had to have been over one hundred turns throughout the day, and for them to miss just one when they most likely were not sure of the path in advance, they did an excellent job.  These sheriff’s deputies were from Hamilton County, and we found ourselves in a few other counties in which they probably did not know every road.  No harm, no foul…they did a great job, and I know I speak for all the other riders in saying we’d love to have them along with us again!

We purposefully missed that turn!

As we neared Fortville, we saw a couple of large tour buses on the side of the road, awaiting us…the group we needed to meet with on schedule.  These were full of families that we would be escorting to the final ride destination.  As the escort and about 15 motorcycles passed, the buses dropped into the group, making it a true convoy.  The escorts eventually pulled off, and the bikes and buses pulled into the American Legion Park & Campground on the north side of Fortville…to the applause of hundreds of people already there for the festival.

Escorting some VIPs!

This week-long festival was attended by thousands of visitors, all providing whatever support they could to those with 4p-.  We quickly turned the focus back to the children and adults attending as we climbed off the bikes; the families approached us to welcome us and greet us.  While they would tell us they were honored that we attended, we quickly corrected them…the honor was ours that they would have us there with them, and most of the families took turns introducing their afflicted loves ones to us.  Handshakes, hugs, and millions of smiles abounded in both directions.  A mother from California introduced us to her son Vincent, who had told her that he wanted to come over and shake our hands for coming to meet him.  As we shook hands, he smiled the biggest smile I’ve seen in some time, and then he walked off with his mother to greet others.  A fellow biker (Trish) and I just stood there after he walked on, speechless…and knowing that he gave us even bigger smiles than we had just seconds ago.

We found two complete hogs on a smoker, and along with several different sides, nobody left hungry.  Sodas, water, and draft beer were available, and my wife and I managed to find some bottled sweet tea to drown our day’s thirst.  Finding a table in the shade, we chatted with some of the families for a while, until it was time to head home.

Yes, we were truly honored for having been invited to share a few hours with these families!

Sorry for those that did not go…the smiles were priceless!

The festival went on through the weekend, and was like a mini carnival of sorts.  Many regional (and awesome) bands played, tents were set up everywhere, food was plentiful, and the community really turned out in support.  We had a simply wonderful time at the park, meeting people from all over the country that had traveled to meet others with 4p-.  It was definitely a fun experience throughout the entire day, and we are already looking forward to participating in the future with this cause!

I cannot give this illness the dedicated space that it needs here on this blog, so I encourage each of you to take a few moments to understand a little about this issue.  Kammy’s website is at Kammy’s Kause and there is a support group available at this location.