Vietnam War veteran Zackey Sanders has been a member of The American Legion for 30 years, most recently as senior vice commander of American Legion Post 237 in Hardwick, Ga.
For the past “three to four years,” Sanders has been a resident of the Georgia War Veterans Home, a part of the Georgia Department of Veterans Service, in Milledgeville, Ga. On Aug. 19, he and other residents stood or sat outside the home, holding flags and waiting in anticipation for their visitors: members of The American Legion Riders taking part in the 2019 Legacy Run.
The Day 2 stop allowed the Legion Riders to meet and talk with the home’s residents. For Sanders, it was hard to put into words what the visit meant to him.
“It means the world to me,” Sanders said. “It makes you feel special. I get choked up. It means so much to us here at the home. It makes us feel great to know that we’re still remembered … for what we did.”
Sharon Sculthorpe, a part of the Run’s advance team and a member of American Legion Post 325 in Danville, Va., said the home’s residents need to know they are not forgotten.
“Veterans are all a big family,” she said. “We certainly want them to know how much we appreciate their service, how much we appreciate their sacrifices, how much we appreciate everything they’ve done for this country, and that no matter what they’ve always got family.
“Coming here today and getting to talk to them today and put a smile on their face – I love talking to them and hearing their stories. It’s just like they’re still a part (of the military) and we’re still a part, and together we’re all still one big military family. They know they’re not forgotten.”
Russell Feagin, director of the Health and Memorials Division at the Georgia War Veterans Home, said it was an honor for the Riders to stop at the home.
“The veterans appreciate people stopping by to see them, recognizing their service,” Feagin said, adding that organizations like The American Legion can help the veterans in the home. “State funds and federal funds tend to be limited … because of the small population, percentage-wise, of people who are veterans. The legislators look at other things as being more important. Unless they’re reminded – like rides like this that bring to the forefront the veterans that are there in the population – it’s too easy to say ‘we need something else’ than it is to remember our veterans.”
The veterans home is located next to the Milledgeville VA Clinic, which is part of the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center. For Department of Georgia Senior Vice Commander Mark Shreve, the visit by the American Legion Riders to the home hit home.
“I have a significant connection here. My mother-in-law used to be the director of the VA hospital here,” said Shreve, a member of Post 189 in Harris County. “One of the things that she always had told me, even before I joined The American Legion, was how much the Legion meant to this (home). So when they come in today and they meet, what it really says … (is) how much (the Riders) care about our veterans. They really care about our veterans.”
Shreve said stops like Monday’s and others throughout Georgia bring strong brand awareness to the Legion. “Not only for the visibility of The American Legion, but it helps send the right message,” he said. “We’re here to help veterans, help their families. They’re riding through for a great cause, and to me that’s exactly what we’re supposed to be doing.”
Rousing reception. Paul E. Bolding American Legion Post 7, sitting lakeside on 28 beautiful acres in Gainesville, Ga., opened up its doors to the ride for its evening stop. There, awaiting the Riders, were cadets from nearby Riverside Military Academy, lining the street while saluting and holding U.S. flags.
Founded in 1907, the academy has enjoyed a strong 100-year relationship with Post 7, which was chartered in 1919. “In 100 years you can get to know a neighbor pretty well,” Academy Executive Vice President Britt Daniel said. “I’m happy to report that Post 7 has been a great neighbor. We are proud to know you.”
The Riders were able to dine on Chick-fil-A boxed dinners during their visit to the post. Calvin Sneed, Post 7’s commander, said a request to host the Legacy Run stop resulted in a quick decision.
“I said we’d be proud to honor that event,” he said. “It’s a lot to it. It is an honor to have the Legacy (Run) here. It’s unreal.”
Gainesville also proclaimed Aug. 19 American Legion Legacy Run Day.
Reistad’s ride. National Commander Brett Reistad rode the first two days of the Legacy Run on the back of the motorcycle, braving rain and heat. Reistad remembered meeting up with the ride and then-National Commander Dan Dellinger during the 2014 Legacy Run, when rain plagued the ride throughout the first three days.
“I can remember seeing them take their helmets off and there was water just dripping outside of them,” Reistad said.
The rain that hit this year’s ride hasn’t bothered Reistad. “I’ve been wet before. I’ll be wet again,” he said. “I appreciate the opportunity to see it from the front of the Run. Sometime in the next couple of days I hope to get toward the back and see it all in front of me.”
Moments like the Monday stop to honor a Gold Star family and U.S. military KIA are what make the ride – and those on it – special. “That’s what The American Legion is all about,” Reistad said. “To do something like that along the way, and to make the family of the fallen servicemember feel as though he is still thought of and appreciated obviously meant a lot to the family.”