|POW/MIA Recognition Ride Rolling Strong & Solid for 30 Years|
By Tim Anderson
When motorcyclists ride away from Woodland Park High School and onto US Highway 24 on August 19, 2017, they‘ll be continuing a journey began 30 years ago with the blast of drag pipes, a bit of attitude, and a heartfelt mission in mind.
While the ride has changed over the years, the journey—and the mission—has not. The POW/MIA Recognition Ride is still firmly grounded in its origins—paying tribute and respect to America’s Prisoners Of War and Missing In Action service members.
The 30th annual ride from Woodland Park, Colorado to The Salute to American Veterans Rally in Cripple Creek is just as important as it has ever been to the rally and the community at large. If anything, the ride has gained in significance and relevance to motorcyclists and the much wider community at large.
One only has to be a part of the ride once…making the winding run up highway 67 with thousands of other singularly-minded bikers, and crest the hill overlooking the town of Cripple Creek before dropping down into a surreal pool of respect and admiration…to be hooked.
While journey started many, many years ago with US veterans, the ride to recognize the sacrifices made by a particular group—former Prisoners Of War—began only 30 years ago in a bike shop in Colorado Springs.
“Back in 1988, when I was running High Country Custom Cycles, a group of college kids came into the shop looking for biker stuff to wear to a biker-themed frat party at Colorado College,” explained ride founder Jim Wear. “They were looking at bandannas, cheap gloves…that kind of stuff. One gal was looking at a display case we had with POW/MIA stuff in it, and she looked at me and said ‘Powmia (pronounced as one word), is that a motorcycle gang or something?’ I was a little taken aback.”
Wear asked the group what they knew of the Vietnam War, POW’s in general, and history of US military actions. They knew woefully little, it turned out. “I told them a little about prisoners of war, missing in action soldiers, how there was a movement to bring recognition to those troops, and just the whole thing in a nutshell,” Wear said. “I couldn’t believe these were college students and they didn’t know this stuff.”
Wear told a few friends, some from Vietnam Vets MC, of the experience, and it didn’t take long before a plan was hatched. US and POW/MIA flags were attached to motorcycles and plans were made to ride through downtown Colorado Springs he following Sunday.
“They were gonna have their ‘biker’ party, and we were gonna show up the next morning while they were hung-over and educate them about POW/MIA and bikers,” Wear said “And that’s what we did. There was a group of about 15 choppers with drag pipes and flags running around downtown, through the CC campus just making as much noise as we could. We rode past a few churches just as they were getting out, including the church at CC, totally by accident, and that got us a lot of attention. We rode around for 15 or 20 minutes and went back to the shop pretty satisfied with ourselves. Boy, we sure showed them!”
Whether the display had any affect or not is unknown, but Wear said there were no plans to do it again.
“It was a one-time, reactionary thing,” Wear explained. “At that time, a pack of 15 choppers running around like that was a big thing. We didn’t intend to do it every year. We were just gonna show those college kids.”
Only later, well into the following year, was it decided the ride should be repeated, this time with the idea of making it an annual event dedicated to American POWs and missing soldiers. The ride happened, and the bike count went up to 100.
Then it kept growing.
“By the fourth year it was huge,” Wear said. “We were blocking intersections ourselves and just trying to have a meaningful ride without anyone getting hurt. We had no real plan, it was literally a serpentine ride through town, we were just joyriding. A whole bunch of cops pulled us over. They stopped everyone—300 or 400 bikes all sitting on the side of the road. They told us we had to stop, threatened everyone with tickets, and then escorted us all back to the shop. At least we were getting attention we wanted for POWs and MIAs.”
In one of those early years, Roy Box from the American Legion Riders Invited a group of POWs from the Rocky Mountain chapter of ex POWs to come along. They accepted, liked what they saw, and became part of the ride, following along in their cars.
“Those guys have been with us ever since,” Wear said. “They’re why we do this. They’ve been great. It’s so cool to hear their stories, and they’ve helped shape the ride as it’s progressed.”
Right after the mass pull-over, Wear and other ride organizers got a letter from the City of Colorado Springs saying the ride would have to leave town rather than just riding around.
“That’s when we decided to stage in Colorado Springs and ride to Cripple Creek to the Elk Creek Casino,” Wear said. “It was the second year we went up there—the sixth year of the rally--that some people decided to stay overnight. That’s how the rally was born. It’s been an overnighter ever since.
Every year, the ride got bigger. Before long, Colorado Springs made it clear they would no longer help with the ride, and suggested it move.
“That’s when we moved the start to Woodland Park,’ said Wear. “It’s the best thing we could have done. We had room to grow, and only having to deal with the State Patrol was a big improvement. It’s worked out well.”
Participation exploded. The ride became known across the country. It also developed a personality, and took on special meaning for each rider.
Early on, Tas Blevins, a four-tour Vietnam Veteran, got involved in the ride. “For me, it’s about payback and respect,” Blevins said of making the ride. It’s highly personal to me. It makes my heart sing to see all those people come together for the same purpose—respect for our vets, and POWs and what they’ve done for us.” He said the ride sets the tone for the entire rally.
“The ride and ceremony in the park set the tone for the weekend,” Blevins said. “When you ride into town and see all those people cheering the ride coming in, you get a chill up your spine. It’s like that all the way in from Woodland Park. There is spirituality to the ride, and you see it in the riders. The closer we get to Cripple Creek, people are more focused, they’re not looking around as much. They know why they’re there…a feeling just comes over you. Talk about ghost riders…sometimes running through those curves you can see those guys standing there looking at you, smiling. This ride is about respect, that’s what happens, too. This ride belongs here. It can’t happen anywhere else.”
The ride did move for three years, from 2007 through 2009. The ride ran from Granby, Colorado, to Winter Park when the rally was forced out of Cripple Creek. “It was a smaller ride,” Wear said, “and it wasn’t like going up Hwy 67, but we were just happy to have a home for the ride those years. It’s good to be back. It started here (Cripple Creek), this is where it needs to be.”
The Recognition Ride continues to grow, too, not just in size, but in reputation, and in the cross-section of riders participating.
Increasingly, more and more young veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are taking part.
“There’s been a tremendous influx of younger guys over the past few years,” Blevins observed. I did four tours in Vietnam and that was real tough. These guys are doing five and six tours. I can’t imagine…. You can see they’re back with their minds hurt. By being a part of this, it may help them put things back together. I know it helped me. That’s the thing about this—everything blends—we’re all here for the same reason. Everywhere you look you’re among friends.”
While the mission of the ride has not changed, and likely never will, it is serving as a bridge between the younger veterans, and those from conflicts decades ago, all of it based in the shared sacrifice and recognition of our POWs and other veterans.
No further proof of that is needed than the observations of Colonel Mike Kasales, Commander, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. “In 2011, I and 30 warriors from my brigade combat team had the honor of riding in the POW / MIA Recognition Ride as part of the Salute to American Veteran’s Rally – it was both a very humbling and moving experience,” Colonel Kasales wrote. “As we arrived in Woodland Park and began to line-up, we all knew this was not just another ride. Once the ride began, it was awesome to look back and see the column of thousands of motorcycles making their way through the mountains to Cripple Creek. The route was lined with extremely patriotic American citizens who came out to support their Veterans. As we began our decent into Cripple Creek we were just blown away by the sheer number of bikes, Vets, and patriots who awaited and cheered our arrival. It took over an hour for the entire column to close on Cripple Creek – the excitement continued to build as each rider got closer to downtown Cripple Creek. This is one of those few events where words can never truly describe the intense feelings of pride and camaraderie that exist between our Nation’s Vets and the citizens that continue to support us.”
“We’re happy young guys like what we’re doing,” Wear said, “because this is about them. Their participation reinforces what we’re doing, and means the ride is becoming a bridge to the younger generation of Veterans.”
|Last Updated on Friday, 20 January 2017 11:08|