In Garden City, Mich., in 1993, Chuck “Tramp” Dare and Bill “Polka” Kaledas, commander of American Legion Post 396, shared an idea to start a motorcycle enthusiasts association within the organization. The two longtime riders wanted an environment where Legion family members could come together to share a common love for motorcycles.
Dare and Kaledas wrote a letter to Michigan Department Adjutant Hubert Hess, sharing their idea. Hess replied that he liked the concept and wanted to pursue it. Later, he gave Kaledas and Dare instructions for managing the program at the post level. He also explained how they could be approved to use the American Legion emblem, and how to gain Membership’s support and recognition. At a regular meeting, Post 396 members passed a resolution for a new program to be known as the “American Legion Riders.”
Joined by 19 other founding members from their post, Dare and Kaledas were flooded with requests for information about their organization. They agreed to establish a central source for the Riders to ensure that chapters formed not as motorcycle clubs or gangs, but as Legionnaires and Auxiliary and SAL members joining to ride as Legion family.
Legion Riders today
Currently, 106,000 American Legion Riders meet in over a thousand chapters in every domestic department and in at least three foreign countries. Riders in Iowa have formed an honor guard called The Five Star Freedom Riders, and Riders in Mulvane, Kan., founded the Patriot Guard to protect the sanctity of military funerals from protesters. Riders in all states have escorted military units returning home from combat tours overseas, conducted massive cross-country fundraising events for wounded warriors from all services, and have raised millions of dollars for countless local, state and national charities.
True to the Legion’s grassroots tradition, each chapter manages its programs at the post level, where the best ideas are born. The Riders are part of many projects and events, including:
- Rolling Thunder, the annual POW/MIA rally in Washington on Memorial Day weekend.
- Annual regional rides such as Operation Wounded Warrior, sponsored by Riders in Nevada, Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, California and other Western states.
- Local charity events in support of The American Legion and local communities.
- Raising money for VA hospitals, women and children centers, children and youth centers, schools and other facilities.
- Sponsoring or participating in motorcycle runs to benefit numerous charities.
- Local memorial ceremonies and community parades.
- The American Legion Legacy Run, an annual cross-country fundraising ride from National Headquarters in Indianapolis to the national convention city.
- Riding to honor fallen military men and women, and to protect the sanctity of their funerals from those who would dishonor their memory.
- Escorting military units to departure airfields and airports for combat tours overseas, and welcoming them home upon their return.