May 23, I was looking for some place to ride that was close. It was Memorial Day weekend plus I wanted do some kind of article about veterans. The American Patriots Chapter of Milledgeville were having their Georgia War Veterans Home Third Annual Poker Run. Any riders who wanted to ride with the American Patriots Chapter could do so by meeting at the Milledgeville Mall at 10 a.m. Each rider would pay $20 to ride and $5 for an extra poker hand, and the money would go to help the veterans home. At 11 a.m. the bikers would pull out for a two-hour ride through the countryside. The poker run would end at the Veterans Home for drinks and snacks. Then the riders would head back to their club house and have their Third Anniversary Party.
I arrived a few minutes early and found no one from the club in the mall parking lot. Twenty minutes later I began to hear the rumbling of motorcycles off in the distance. As I listened to the rumbling sound of the motorcycles, the sound of the bikes started to get louder. The bikes finally came into sight and turned into the parking lot and started to park. The first biker that I recognized was HardTail, the club President of the American Patriots. Then HardTail and his fellow riders started to set up a table to register the bikers. As everyone waited for 11 o’clock to come, they gathered in groups and talked about their bikes and other rides that had taken place over the past few months. As the riders climbed onto their bikes you could see rain clouds forming all around Milledgeville. Everyone was thinking that the first leg of the poker run was going to be a hot and wet ride. You could see in their faces that they were going to ride no matter what. When it came time to head out, the Baldwin County Sheriffs Dept. lead the motorcycles safely out of town.
The first destination of the day was the Georgia Memorial Veterans Cemetery. After two hours of being on the road with rainless skies the bikers came riding in to the Georgia Memorial Veterans Cemetery. Upon entering the cemetery, the group headed up the hill and parked near the Chapel. As they walked around the cemetery, each rider in their own way paid homage to each veteran for their time of service. Before the bikers mounted their bikes, HardTail formed a prayer circle and prayed for the veterans of all wars.
The next stop would be the Georgia War Veterans Home just a few miles up the road. This leg of the ride to the veterans home was only five minutes long. As the riders entered the grounds, it dawned on me that the veterans home was larger than one aging building. Over the years of riding by the home I could only see the main building from the street. We made our way around to the back of the main building to the recreation building. Here is where all the riders would visit and take time to talk with each veteran and have a snack. When we entered the recreation building, in back of the room was a small stage. On this stage sat a veteran of 80-plus- years old. Later when I the chance to talk with Charley Perkins he told me that he was playing the guitar as far back as he could remember. Charley loved to talk about the days that he played in the honky-tonks around Georgia. I was just amazed how Charley could play that guitar.
As the American Patriots set up in the rec room, the veterans started to come in for the party. I was thinking that there were not too many veterans coming down for the party. I could hear talk of disappointment from the other riders because there were only going to be less than 20 patients. When they came riding in last year over 100 veterans were waiting for them under the shelter outside. I discovered that there were less than 20 vets left here at the home. The veterans were being placed in other VA Homes because this facility was going to be shut down completely.
Like in any nursing home, the residents are longing for someone to spent time talking with them. I was somewhat taken by surprise that the veterans talked about their family and their life or just about anything that come to their mind. One of the vets showed me his garden that he had planted nearby. There was no talk of wars or anything that was connected with wars. Just the good things or maybe some bad things that had taken place in their lives over the years.
After the poker run I made my way back to the American Patriots club for the party. What I liked most about the party was the sign said All You Can Eat (BBQ chicken) for $5. I did my best to turn that into a dollar ($2.50) a plate but I couldn’t do it. The Southern Crossroads Band was on hand to perform for the party.
I would like to thank HardTail and the other riders for the good time that I had that day. This is one of the times that I laid my camera down and joined in with everyone and took time to talk with the veterans. The American Patriots made me think that this is something I should have been doing a long time ago. I was ashamed to think that these veterans were alone two times in their lives and had only each other to depend on. One time when they were serving their country in a foreign land and now when they are at home in a veterans home and still far away from their home. I hope you will ride with me next year to visit a veterans home here in Georgia. If not, try to visit your local veterans home.
By Tommy Pittard