AVTT WALL

2014 VETS RALLY IN REVIEW

review-01By Tim Anderson – Southwest Scooter News

Every year, it seems, The Salute To American Veterans Rally in Cripple Creek provides an opportunity for someone or something to be enveloped for the first time by the unique experience that is the rally. For three days every August, the historic mining town transforms into a welcoming, healing and appreciative enclave for US military veterans, their friends, family and thousands of bikers and other people who support them.

And every year, some seminal event or another stands out, reinforcing the idea that the rally, and the place, is different and special.

In 2014, though, will be remembered as the year the City of Cripple Creek stepped up and did much, much more than host the event. Cripple Creek laid everything on the line, bending over backwards to ensure the rally not only took place, but that the thousands who came to the rally were unaffected by an infrastructure project that could have easily made for a very tough three days.

The city’s actions were, in a sense, nothing short of heroic. At the very least, Cripple Creek walked the walk with focused determination.

Somewhere upwards of 30,000 people poured into Cripple Creek, most of them on motorcycles, for the 22nd annual rally honoring US veterans and their veterans.

Better than 3000 bikes rolled in as part of the 27th annual POW/MIA Remembrance Ride. Bikes lined nearly every street. People packed City Park for the dedication and recognition ceremony. There was music, drinking and dancing. There were fly-bys. The traveling Vietnam Memorial hosted thousands of visitors. And, there were motorcycles everywhere…all weekend. And not a single person was inconvenienced by what just days before was a major construction project that easily could have derailed the rally.

review-11“There are struggles of some sort every year,” explained rally organizer Jim Wear of Pro-Promotions. “This year it was the construction. It was a big deal. Bennett Avenue has been closed for the work most of the summer. Just five days before the rally, there were holes ten feet deep and the sides of the street were torn up. It was not really rally or motorcycle friendly.”

Cripple Creek fixed that without batting an eye.

See, a long planned infrastructure project to update the city’s utility lines—gas, electric, water, sewer and such—was underway. The rainy summer this year slowed the project as workers fought the constant flow of water into areas they were trying to work in.

The city leadership, knowing the rally was approaching, made the decision to halt all work, and pulled out all the stops to make Cripple Creek rally-ready.

“They stopped all the work, filled in holes and packed all the dirt down so it’d be safe for bikes,” Wear said. “Honestly, Bennett Avenue was a bunch of holes and all torn up. The city stopped everything and went to town making the streets acceptable for the rally. There aren’t many towns that would go to that kind of trouble and expense for a motorcycle rally. That they did just confirms that they see themselves as a vital part of the Veterans Rally, not just the weekend host for bunch of bikers.”

Things got dicey for the rally when the construction was delayed by the wet weather the area has gotten this summer, slowing down the pace of work.
“It got to the point where it was clear the work wasn’t going to be done,” Wear explained. “The city made the decision to stop work and fill in the holes—they were big holes—and make Bennett Avenue a usable area for the rally. They didn’t have to do that, they wanted to do that, and they really went at it.”

Wear said the city fathers were determined to get things done.

“Thursday night I was looking at some of the filled in areas to make sure it was ok to park bikes,” Wear said. “Some of it was too soft…bikes would have been tipping over. I told the city we should block those areas off and park elsewhere.”

Instead, the city brought out crews and went about filling and compacting those areas so they could be used during the rally. Then they did the same for all the other areas that had been filled in, just to be sure.

“They even had guys cutting up old road signs to make kickstand pucks, “ wear said. “By Friday, everything was ready to go. And they were happy to do it. No one can tell me the city and residents of Cripple Creek don’t have a sense of pride and ownership in this rally. That’s part of what makes this a different and special event. We call Cripple Creek unique for a reason…it is.”

As bikes began rolling down Tenderfoot Hill into town Friday afternoon, and especially the massive influx Saturday morning, the miles-long snake of riders saw only a few barricades and a little more dust than usual. For them, they were coming back home. It felt comfortable and welcoming, just like this special rally and town has been for years now.

review-02Well-wishers, area residents, and patriotic spectators filled the sides of Bennett Avenue, the main drag through tiny Cripple Creek. The crowd greeting the riders had the same feeling of excitement that has come to be an integral part of the Cripple Creek Rally experience. The hoots, hollers and cheers were enthusiastic—as if welcoming heroes. The bikes barked back with customary thunder. The town was in celebration mode as the rally kicked off in earnest.

For the city leaders, it was mission accomplished.

Once the several thousand motorcycles were parked, the Remembrance Ceremony in City Park began at high noon. Surrounded by mountains and an endless stream of the stars and stripes, including the monster flag hanging over the Bennett Avenue—the park was packed.

After brief remarks by dignitaries, a special honor took center stage. Bad Ass, a Military Working Dog who spent seven years in Afghanistan before being wounded and eventually loosing a leg, first came to the rally in 2011. He quickly became a favorite, as he was retired and looking for a forever home. After meeting him at the rally, Colonel and Mrs. Mike Kasales adopted Bad Ass, aka, “Bady,” and took him home to Fort Carson to live with them and their two female Labrador Retrievers.

review-03Bady returned to Cripple Creek a couple times…he found two homes, one with the Kasales family and one in Cripple Creek. Bad Ass passed away June after a brief but severe illness. Colonel Kasales briefly eulogized Bad Ass, comparing him to any other veteran.

“He was like most veterans,” Kasales said. “He went off to war, served with distinction, came home and made the adjustment to a non-military life. But he was always a soldier. He’s not with us any more, but at least he got to spend his last 24 dog years with two hot Labs.”

There was an audible collective chuckle and a couple hoots of appreciation from the crowd. With that, the Colonel unveiled a bronze plaque honoring Bad Ass, and all Military Working Dogs, mounted on the park’s Remembrance Wall. Kasales spread some Bady’s ashes, and rubbed some on the plaque. It was unexpectedly quiet as the crowd afforded the four-legged warrior the respect he earned.

Then, the families of two Nay SEALs—Danny Dietz and Matt Axelson—both KIA in Afghanistan, and whose stories are immortalized in the recent movie “Lone Survivor,” were called upon to be part of a ceremony honoring Dietz, Axelson, and the other two members of the SEAL team from Operation Red Wings—Michael Murphy and Marcus Luttrell, as well as 19 other US Army Nightstalkers and Airborne Rangers. Only Luttrell survived the mission.

review-04After recounting the story and reading the names of the fallen, retired SEAL Jesse Cooper escorted Cindy Dietz-Marsh, Danny’s mother, to the Remembrance Wall where she and Matt Axelson’s mother unveiled a plaque honoring the members of the mission.

“I have been to the Salute to Veterans Rally before, but this year was especially rewarding,” said Dietz-Marsh. “This is really such a special event that brings together so many who have served and those who support our veterans and troops. It was an incredible honor to be part of the entire weekend but the ceremony and plaque dedication were quite moving and your efforts to keep not only Danny’s name alive, but the names of all who have fallen is greatly appreciated by the Gold Star Community.”

In an unexpectedly emotional address, Lt. Colonel William Liquori, Commander of the 50th Aerospace Wing at Shriver Air Force Base outside Colorado Springs, spoke about how special the rally is, and what it meant to him personally. His father had been a POW during WWII after his B-17 was shot down. He was clearly touched by the event, and as he spoke, almost on cue a WWII P-51 Mustang made a pass over the ceremony. It was a spine tingling moment that brought things to a brief pause before the crowd cheered in approval and things continued.

review-05Perhaps the most emotional moment of a weekend filled with emotional moments, was when surviving members of Papa Company, 75th Infantry Rangers, who served in Vietnam took the field. The unit deployed as the furthest north outpost in Vietnam, and performed invaluable tasks while suffering considerable casualties.

review-07Command Sergeant Major Doug Maddi, who previously served with the 75th Ranger Regiment, traveled to Cripple Creek from his current assignment in Georgia to read the role call for Papa Company…honoring their fallen, and those who were present.

review-06Then, Monica Harvey-known as “Little Sis”, who travels the country at her own expense attending vets events—specifically welcoming home Vietnam vets performed her trademark welcome home song and offered hugs to each Papa Ranger.

Every one of those old Rangers cried. So did most of the crowd watching.

Staff Sgt. Alisa Anderson, of the 101st Army Band was one of them. “As a 20-year veteran of the 101st Army Band, Colorado National Guard, I have participated in numerous memorial services and I have never been so moved and touched as I was during the Remembrance Ceremony at this years American Veterans Rally,” Anderson said. “The entire ceremony was very well organized and fulfilled its promise of honoring all members of our Armed Services. I was humbled by the stories of POW’s, and the “welcome home” of our Vietnam veterans brought me to tears. The range of emotions I felt is hard to put into words. They are something I still experience as I tell others about the ceremony.”

On a sad note, it was only after the rally was over that it was learned Les Stroup, a vital and driving force behind the rally and ride, had passed away on the Sunday of the rally.

“I noted to the crowd that this was the first time Les had missed a rally since we started,” Wear said. “He was fighting cancer and finally lost the battle. I have to say, he was a big part of this rally. It might not have happened without him.

Stroup served in the Army from 1949 to 1969, having been taken as a POW by the Chinese in 1950. He recovered from his torturous 1000-day captivity to serve until ’69, then, he volunteered in 1970 to serve in Vietnam. He deployed to Vietnam, and stayed in the army until 1975. His support of the rally will be missed, but his spirit is ingrained in the rally.

During virtually the entire ceremony there was the sound of freedom…rumbling motorcycles in the background. Echoing off the hillsides, the rumble provided a natural transition from the subdued to the raucous. Back out on Bennett Avenue, the celebratory nature of things was gaining momentum. Skies stayed clear, and it never did get too hot or cold.

The streets of the mountain berg were lined with bikes, and the main drag—Bennett Avenue, was filled virtually wall to wall with people milling about. Vendors were busy, other people stopped chat with old friends, and of course, casinos saw a serious uptick in traffic through their doors. It was the busiest weekend of the year in Cripple Creek.

review-08Wild Blue Country, a band from the Air Force Academy, was playing Gun & Roses and Skynrd in the beer garden all afternoon. Make no mistake, the Air Force can rock. They were followed by local musicians Jake Loggins, Some People’s Kids, and 6035. It was a loud biker party. No doubt about it.

review-09Later in the evening, the street dance, which has become a popular part of the rally, featured the incomparable Arch Hooks, who kept things hoppin’ into the night. Everyone seemed to like it that way.

“This rally has always been it’s own little world,” Wear said. “Over the years we’ve somehow managed to start building bridges between different groups without intentionally doing it. It just happens when the people who come to this rally get here. We just provide a path into this special little place that’s been created for a few days, and people step into it and are usually changed. And it’s always a good time.”

And this year, the City of Cripple Creek made it clear they are more than just the host of this very special event. This is their event, and they’ll bend over backwards to make sure it comes off the way it’s supposed to. This is not a case of bikers “adopting” a town for a weekend. Cripple Creek—the town, the area, the people—are as much a part of the Vets Rally as anyone who rides up to take part.

And that is special. Very few communities are willing to become so integrated with an event like this.

review-10“We’ve been saying it for years,” Wear explained. “The people who come to Cripple Creek get it—they understand what this is all about. Everything is different about this rally…it’s a special thing. While the city has been supportive, and I know they get it, they showed everyone this year they truly are a part of the special atmosphere and change that happens there every August. They really stepped up…they know how important this is and what it means to so many people because it means the same to them.”

And Monday after the rally, the same crews who had worked so hard to ready the streets for the weekend were out at 6am, digging up all their handiwork. You might call it a labor of love.

We love you too, Cripple Creek.

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 October 2015 14:42