Stacked two deep the length of Memorial Park, the sound of 180 motorcycles roaring to life Saturday morning marked the start of the 2nd Annual Montana Ride to Remember dedicated to the memory of the 83,000 Prisoner of War/Missing in Action personnel, with 55 of those from Montana.
The ride left Helena under smoky skies destined for Three Forks to meet more riders, another stop in Ennis where others would join, and finally on to West Yellowstone. Organizing the ride was the POW/MIA Awareness Association, a Helena group of veterans and supporters dedicated to bringing awareness to POW/MIA issues throughout Montana.
“We have a community that works with us, not one of us does this alone,” said association member and organizer Linda Juvik. “But you plant a seed and a lot of good happens in a community. These folks are all very caring and it’s important for us to make a showing. We’re a long way from Washington D.C. but the best thing we can do is ride.”
The association has been busy in the Helena area and Montana raising awareness for those who have not come home but are not forgotten.
The association and American Legion pushed to have U.S. Highway 287 dedicated last year as the POW/MIA Memorial Highway, the route for Saturday’s ride. The naming of the highway came through a chance meeting with Gov. Steve Bullock in Pablo, Linda Juvik said. The meeting led to the governor’s office helping the organizations figure out where to take their proposal and Bullock speaking at the dedication.
House Bill 211 was also a major victory during the 2015 Legislature, putting into law that the POW/MIA flag will fly over state buildings. The win came after disappointment in the 2013 session when a similar effort failed, Linda Juvik said.
The association maintains the 55 POW/MIA flags that fly along Highway 287 west of Helena, each embroidered with one of Montana’s POW/MIA personnel.
The ride not only raises awareness but also the funding necessary to maintain the flags and other programs.
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“We’re veterans and veteran supporters and the whole idea is not to charge these riders to ride, but we are accepting donations if somebody wants to contribute,” association member and organizer Dick Juvik said.
The riders held a ceremony at Memorial Park before embarking on the 183-mile journey to West Yellowstone.
Riders joined in prayer and the singing of the “Star Spangled Banner” as they crowded around the war memorial. A statement was read on behalf of Rep. Ryan Zinke, a retired Navy Seal, recognizing the work and dedication of organizers to bring the ride together.
Along with calling out the names of the 55 Montana POW/MIA, a line of riders each took a dog tag printed with one of the names to wear on the ride.
Major General Matthew T. Quinn, the Adjutant General for the State of Montana, took to the podium as the keynote speaker, saying that Saturday’s ride was a time to reflect and remember the pledge made to men and women in the military.
“It’s a pledge that comforts those who bravely serve in foreign theaters of war knowing that if they fall in battle, our nation, our people, will do everything in their power to bring them home,” he said.
The answer to why so many choose to ride in remembrance is freedom, Quinn said.
“That freedom for us is what those who serve are fighting for,” he said. “That freedom to ride is what those who are not here today tried to defend. So today let’s ride in the name of freedom and let’s ride to remember.”