SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) – A Springfield funeral home held its 8th annual Ride in Honor motorcycle ride on Sunday to honor veterans and raise money for a local honor flight organization.
Staab Funeral Home organized the ride in coordination with the Lincoln Land chapter of A Brotherhood Aimed Toward Education (ABATE), a national motorcycle club, and Land of Lincoln Honor Flight. The ride’s participants, which included motorcyclists and car drivers alike, drove to various veterans memorials throughout Sangamon County to pay their respects to America’s servicemen and women.
The ride made stops at Camp Butler National Cemetery, Oak Ridge Cemetery, veterans memorials in Spaulding and New Berlin and ended at one of Springfield’s VFW posts. A memorial wreath, donated by Fifth Street Flower Shop in Springfield, was placed at each location.
“The motorcycle community and veterans community have always been very tied together,” said Josh Witkowski, Legislative Officer of ABATE’s Lincoln Land chapter. “The modern motorcycle community was basically founded by returning veterans from the Vietnam War and World War II.”
The ride honors veterans in two ways: by expressing gratitude during the ride and by raising money for Land of Lincoln Honor Flight so it can honor veterans. The latter is reflected by the time of year Ride in Honor is held.
“We found that there wasn’t a whole lot of rides, a whole lot of activities going on in October,” Witkowski said. “By making it this way, we were able to increase turnout and raise even more money to benefit Land of Lincoln Honor Flight.”
Land of Lincoln Honor Flight is a regional hub of the nationwide nonprofit Honor Flight Network that flies America’s veterans to Washington D.C. to visit the city’s memorials, all free of charge.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, Land of Lincoln Honor Flight has been unable to make any flights since 2019 and won’t be able to again until 2022.
“It’s been tough for us because we are an all-volunteer organization,” said Joan Bortolon, President Land of Lincoln Honor Flight. “We volunteer because we like what we do. Our mission is to honor veterans and that’s what we want to do. The last two years, we’ve not been able to do that.”
Despite the bleakness of the last two calendar years, something that gives Bortolon hope for the future is seeing the number of people, both veterans and non-veterans, who attended Sunday’s Ride in Honor.
“All these people have come out to honor veterans and it’s an awesome sight to see. A lot of them are veterans themselves, but they’re here to pay it forward,” Bortolon said at the ride. “To see veterans together and to be able to honor veterans is really very special to us. We’ve missed it.”
Land of Lincoln Honor Flight will have a busy schedule when it starts flying again. According to Bortolon, there are more than 700 veterans on its waiting list.
“As a board, we’re ready to fly, probably more ready to fly than some of the veterans are,” Bortolon said. “We miss it that much and we miss honoring our veterans.