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Bikers preserve spirit of service before Memorial Day with visit to veterans in long-term care

By Esteban Fernandez, Times West Virginian

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — Eddie Shannon roared up the driveway on his motorcycle to the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center with several of his fellow veteran bikers Thursday afternoon.

Shannon, who is from Cottageville, West Virginia, and several other veterans undertook their yearly pilgrimage to California on their bikes, before returning to Washington, D.C. in time for Memorial Day. Along the way, they stop at VA hospitals which lay on the route.

“What we say is, ‘I rode a motorcycle from California all the way here just to visit you,’ whenever we get talking to veterans and stuff,” Shannon, 60, said. “Some veterans, that’s a relief. You go out and ride, the ones that can, it is mind clearing. Sometimes you need a curvy road to get your mind straight. And don’t ever underestimate the power of loud music.”

Shannon and the other riders on the National Veterans Awareness Ride who arrived in Clarksburg on Thursday may be the only visitors veterans at the VA Hospital receive in a year.

The riders doled out cards made by schoolchildren as well as pins to hospitalized vets, so they don’t feel forgotten. Shannon said remembering veterans is important because they are the reason Americans enjoy the freedoms they do, as well as to remember those that came before. The holiday itself is one of remembrance and gratitude for the sacrifices made by the country’s uniformed service members.

“There are some veterans in some of the homes that have five, six, seven pins,” Shannon said. “They’ve been there that long. Every year we give them another pin and it’s just something for their memory to keep them going.”

Shannon served as a firefighter in the U.S. Air Force and then in the National Guard where he loaded aircraft and worked for the Army in a weapons of mass destruction team. His work took place in the state.

The ride itself is a 13 day-trek which has been going on for near 20 years. It started out as Rolling Thunder before taking its current shape. Shannon joined them after purchasing his bike three months before. After revealing he served in Desert Storm and Operation Just Cause, he made an impromptu induction on the spot, and told him their mission was to give Vietnam veterans the welcome home they never received.

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