Riding to Serve

November 2021 View more

If you’ve enjoyed a parade in Naperville, you’ve most likely seen the American Legion Riders, a division of American Legion Post 43 since they were chartered in January 2013. While they are a consistent feature in local parades and veteran ceremonies, they also make countless contributions to veterans and service members throughout the community.

The first Riders chapter was established in Michigan in 1993, and currently, there are over 2,000 chapters throughout the country. Not wanting to be defined as a motorcycle club, Riders focus on service to veterans and service members, and strive to maintain the American Legion image. Members also must be registered, licensed, and insured owners of a cycle with a 350cc or larger motor.
As a Vietnam veteran and motorcycle enthusiast, ALR director Steve Strickland finds participating in the group to be very rewarding. “I enjoy the company and the camaraderie—it’s a wonderful group of guys with big, generous hearts.”

In addition to parades and ceremonies, the Riders have welcomed home veterans after every Chicago Honor Flight for the past five years. “As they come off the airplane we stand in formation and form a line with six-foot flags. We salute them as they walk by, thank them for their service, and welcome them home. It’s a very moving experience,” explains Strickland.

The Riders are also available for veteran funerals. Oftentimes, when a veteran passes away, families request a military walk-through at the funeral. “Riders walk past the casket in a single-file line and render a salute. Our service officer delivers a brief talk and then taps is played and we file out,” Strickland explains. Families may also request a motorcycle escort to the cemetery.

Aside from being a visible presence at events, the Riders spend a good portion of the year raising funds for special projects. One such project is a scholarship they established to support the children of U.S. military personnel who have been disabled or killed in the line of duty since 9/11. “Every year we have contributed $5,000 or more to the Legacy Fund,” says Strickland. “We also donate to Naperville Responds, a homeless shelter for veterans in Wheaton, and Operation Support Our Troops. Nothing is kept for us. Everything we raise, we give away.”

This year, the group hosted a red T-shirt fundraiser to support the new Gold Star Family Memorial in Veterans Park. Since May, they have raised over $12,000 by selling the shirts at local establishments and events.
The Naperville ALR Post 43 currently has 55 members and meets at the VFW hall on the fourth Wednesday of every month. For more information, visit naperlegion.org/legion-riders.

Photo courtesy Steve Strickland