Steel horses replace reindeer on Santa's ride for veterans
COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - When Christmas comes to the patients at Dorn VA Medical Center Sunday, it won't come with the sound of sleigh bells, but with the roar of thunder.
Hundreds of motorcycles will roll through Columbia Sunday afternoon to deliver gifts to veterans at Dorn.
"They don't get Christmas if we don't bring it," said veteran and businessman Jim Wertman, who organized the event 14 years ago. What started with 100 bikes and 100 presents back then has turned into one of the largest motorcycle rides in the state.
"It really makes a difference," he said.
"The motorcycles, we're like the reindeer and the sleigh. We bring the presents. One of the things we wanted to do was to make sure that every veteran has Christmas. And there's a segment of our society that's in Dorn VA Medical Center that are in the VA Hospital that never get Christmas."
Rider Harry Hopkins says Christmas would be pretty bleak for the patients at Dorn if this ride didn't happen.
"They don't have the visitors that a lot of people get and they don't get the presents, the cards, the recognition that they deserve," he said. "They've given so much to this country to keep us all free that this is just a small part of what we can do."
"These people have already sacrificed and given so much to me and the rest of the nation, this is my chance to give back," said veteran Jerry Lindahl, who will be riding Sunday for the seventh year.
"All of us have been through one, at least one holiday where we haven't been home and everybody knows how it feels to not get anything but an MRE and a cup of coffee and we'd just like to give back," said Army veteran Gary Adams with the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association. "It's what we do."
No matter the generation or the conflict, military veterans have a connection incomparable in the civilian world.
"It feels good to know the community pulls together to take care of us -- the veterans in the community," Adams said. "We can only do so much for each other...It's hard to accept the help sometimes but it feels good when it does come in. We are our brothers' keepers. We have to take care of each other."
"I want to be there for them and hope that they would be there for me if for some reason that I would ever need a helping hand, I would hope that somebody would come help me," said James Hull, who spent 12 in the Marine Corps and is riding Sunday.
Everything donated to the ride goes to the veterans. 60% of the Veterans in South Carolina are served at Dorn.
"We need help with the presents," Wertman said. "Just think if this was your dad there, what would you give him for Christmas?"
Adams remembered what he saw when he arrived at Dorn on previous rides.
"I see a lot of smiles. A lot of happiness."
"We bring Christmas cheer," Wertman said. "But we also bring hope, caring and love that these people so desperately need."
Donations can be dropped off at Carolina Honda on Buckner Road in Columbia or at any AllSouth Federal Credit Unions. Click here for a list of drop-off sites and donation suggestions.
The ride starts at Carolina Honda at 2 p.m. and is scheduled to arrive at Dorn VA Medical Center at 2:45. The public is encouraged to donate and line the route.
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