Volunteer honor guards bearing US Flags at the POW/MIA Ceremony in downtown Cripple Creek, Colorado

Salute to American Veterans Rally

By Tim Anderson

A spectacular show of support

Cripple Creek, Colo., Aug. 17–19—As has become the norm, thousands of U.S. military veterans, and the people who love and support them, swarmed over Tenderfoot Pass and into Cripple Creek, Colorado—most of them astride motorcycles. The 26th annual Salute to American Veterans Rally proved once again that the rally has a life of its own, and continues to be the premier motorcycle event in Colorado. More than 25,000 people packed the streets of the historic mining town over three days to take part in a series of events recognizing U.S. veterans, relax in a small mountain town, and enjoy the company of like-minded, motorcycle-loving people.

Volunteer honor guards bearing US Flags at the POW/MIA Ceremony in downtown Cripple Creek, Colorado
Volunteer honor guards bearing US Flags at the POW/MIA Ceremony in downtown Cripple Creek, Colorado

One of the reasons that the event has become so popular is because it is so well organized. Things run like clockwork year after year. There are never any issues (other than traffic related) that involve the police or fire department. In fact, over the 26 years of the rally, Cripple Creek Police has department recorded only one arrest of a rally attendee. Compare that to most multi-day bike rallies and the term “sacred ground,” when applied to Cripple Creek, holds water.

The 31st annual POW/MIA Recognition Ride from Woodland Park to Cripple Creek saw about 1,300 official participants on about 1,000 bikes, but as usual, large numbers of riders jumped in to join the ride once it was underway, although organizers try to discourage people from doing that. Revamping the ride last winter with the City of Woodland Park really helped the ride, making everything go more smoothly. Residents seem happy to be a bigger part of the event, and the Brotherhood of Veterans motorcycle group, the Colorado Patriot Guard Riders and the Colorado American Legion Riders really stepped up to help in a big way this year to help the Kansas Legion Riders in the staging area.

Local Cripple Creek pickers turned a porch into a stage during the weekend-long rally
Local Cripple Creek pickers turned a porch into a stage during the weekend-long rally

Light rain, and the fact that the Front Range was overcast and chilly with threats of rain, impacted rally attendance. The rally itself had one of the driest years in recent memory.

At the rally, low-key fundraising efforts resulted in a check for $3,000 from the Veterans Rally Committee being presented to Vets 4 Vets, a group working to take homeless veterans off the street and keeping them off for good, getting them jobs and housing. Additionally, a collection of over $1,600 was taken up for local Vietnam veteran Chip Huffman. Chip has some severe breathing problems as a result of being exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam. He needs a small oxygen compressor and the portable units are not available through the VA. The rally partnered with the Cripple Creek’s Elks Lodge and the American Legion Post 171 in Cripple Creek to help raise the funds.

For the second year in a row, the Combat Hero Bike Build organization returned to Cripple Creek and presented Christian Young, a battle-wounded War on Terror vet, with a new customized machine during the ceremony in Cripple Creek’s City Park. The Combat Hero Bike Build is an awesome project, and the rally supports their efforts 100 percent. The rally promoter said, “To take a wounded veteran, and get them back in the wind accomplishes more than most people will ever understand. These vets have many issues to contend with, and getting them on a bike not only brings back the feelings of freedom and independence, but it makes them feel more ‘normal,’ if you will…and that is something that goes beyond dollars and cents.”

Searching out names on the traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall
Searching out names on the traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall

The Vets Rally has also played host to the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall for the past 10 years. This makes the rally the longest-standing annual host for the traveling Wall in Colorado.

“There is no question that the wall provides a source of healing for many Vietnam-era veterans and their families,” said the rally promoter. “More than that, the educational opportunity the Wall provides is phenomenal. This stuff isn’t taught in school anymore, and it’s our responsibility to make sure people never forget the Vietnam War, the men and women that served, and the ramifications of those more than 58,000 names carved on that granite wall.”

Speaking of not being forgotten, a bronze plaque dedicated to Newt Heisley, creator of the POW/MIA flag emblazoned with the saying “YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN,” was dedicated during the rally in Cripple Creek this year. Newt was a member of American Legion Post 38 in Fountain Colorado, and the members of Post 38 donated the plaque, which was placed on the Rally memorial in Cripple Creek City Park.

Veterans Rally Committee representatives (R) present a $3000 check to members of Vets 4 Vets (L).
Veterans Rally Committee representatives (R) present a $3000 check to members of Vets 4 Vets (L).

Additionally, the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson was recognized for 101 years of service during the rally with a plaque dedication, guest speakers and a great history of the Fourth ID being read during the ceremony. Twenty-five 4ID soldiers and several officers were on hand for the dedication and honors. The 4th ID has long been involved with the Veterans Rally to varying degrees.

The rest of the weekend’s events—the Saturday parade, the Sunday memorial ceremony for a member of the 10th Special Forces Group, the motorcycle giveaway and so much more—all served to reinforce the mission and the status of the rally. The rally promoter said, “The City was happy to host the rally again. Cripple Creek wants the rally. Honestly, I don’t know the rally would be the success it is in some other town. We really get excellent support from Cripple Creek. It’s home.

The 31st Annual POW/MIA Recognition Ride rolls into Cripple Creek from Woodland Park, Colorado.
The 31st Annual POW/MIA Recognition Ride rolls into Cripple Creek from Woodland Park, Colorado.

He said the success of the rally couldn’t help but keep it going strong. “All we do is provide the venue. It is the veterans who make this event happen. The camaraderie, honor and respect that they have for each other is what makes this event so great. All we do is set the table. Having said that, we have the best crew around and without them none of this would happen. Also, our sponsors, in particular the City of Cripple Creek, provide the funding and the place so that we, the Veterans Rally Committee, can create the venue. The fuel to the fire that is the Veterans Rally is the attendees. Those patriotic Americans and veterans who show up to support the event and more importantly support each other… they make this thing tick.”

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