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Florida Legion Riders both honor POW/MIAs and their families while educating public on the issue

Three years ago, Florida’s American Legion Riders started their Seven Bridges POW/MIA Remembrance Day Ride & Ceremony. Around 160 riders and 40 passengers took part in the ride, which starts at Adamec Harley-Davidson in Jacksonville, traverses the Seven Bridges of Jacksonville that cross the St. John’s River and finishes at the National POW/MIA Memorial & Museum for a ceremony.

A similar ride took place in 2022 on the Saturday after National POW/MIA Recognition Day, with more than 200 motorcycles taking part. And this year’s ride, which took place Sept. 16, blew those numbers out of the water: 248 motorcycles and a total of 361 participants. But as happy as he is to see participation continue to grow, Department of Florida POW-MIA Chairman Denny Luke – a Legion Rider and member of Dewitt B. Tilden Memorial American Legion Post 316 in Atlantic Beach – it’s the impact of the ride’s mission that really hit home for Luke.

He shared a message he received following this year’s ride from one of its participants:

“Dear sir,

This is our first time to participate in this ride of remembrance for our POW and MIA servicemembers. My husband is a Vietnam veteran, and I am a Gold Star Daughter (of a Vietnam War KIA). He was MIA for a short time, and it seemed like an eternity of living hell, of not knowing and hoping. Thank you so much for honoring the POW/MIA daddies, and especially the dad of mine and my siblings.”

It makes you very emotional,” Luke said. “There were a lot of people on the ride or at the ceremony who were POWs or are relatives of POWs/MIAs. Any of us who have worn the uniform … we’ve sat down and had a meal with a (fellow servicemember, watched them walk out the door, and the next time we’d see them would be in a flag-draped coffin.

“I can’t imagine the heartache of watching your buddy walk through the door and never return. I cannot imagine the strife that family members have when they get the message that their loved one is MIA. To me, that’s unimaginable, and I’m honored to honor their sacrifice.”

Department of Florida Commander Michael Raymond, American Legion Auxiliary Department President Dee Bell and Sons of The American Legion Detachment Commander Gerard Sambets were among the Florida Legion Family leadership who attended the event, with Raymond and Bell riding on the back of motorcycles.

During the ceremony that took place at the National POW/MIA Memorial & Museum, attendees heard from Meghan Wagoner, the daughter of former U.S. Navy pilot Scott Speicher. Shot down on the first day of Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Speicher was missing in action until his remains were found by U.S. Marines in Iraq in 2009.

“She gave a very emotional and moving rendition of everything they went through,” Luke said of Wagoner’s address. “They had about 18 years of not knowing.”

Luke said the purpose of the ride and ceremony isn’t just to honor U.S. POWs and MIAs and show support for their families. It’s about educating the general public that more than 80,000 servicemembers remain unaccounted for since World War II.

“We put out that the (Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency) needs DNA samples from any relatives of servicemembers who are MIA,” Luke said. “If we can get the word out, quite possibly the remains that have been found but not identified can be identified and brought home. We put this ride on to inform the public the hunt is not over, and they can help by either volunteering, or if they’re a relative of an MIA they can submit a DNA sample, and hopefully we can repatriate some of these souls.”

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