The Gold Star Mission 500 mile bike riders were greeted with the display of a large U.S. flag as they arrived at Bryan Memorial Park late Thursday afternoon.
The riders started in Springfield and will end their ride there over the weekend for the Gold Star activities.
This is the second year for the 500 mile ride according to the Gold Star Mission Founder and President Dave Helfrich.
“Gold Star Mission started about a year and a half ago and a group of U.S. military and veterans wanted to make sure our fallen service members names and legacy lived on. We found out that just too many of them were being forgotten and we thought we had a voice in the community to make sure their memories stay alive. So what we did was we said we are going to do things that will bring attention to our cause because that is what is going to carry their name forward.”
Helfrich says there are always 34 riders who represent the 34 Illinois National Guard members who have lost their lives in combat. But he says the program honors those killed in all branches of the service.
Helfrich notes those who agree to ride are not all in the best of shape.
“As you can see we’re not stellar athletes here but we do things that cause pain because its a symbol of the remembrance and the sacrifice that that family is currently going through and the community is going through. we remember those who have fallen here in Salem.”
A moment of silence was held after Helfrich remembered those from the local area who had lost their lives.
One of the riders is from Salem. Steve Dunahee is retired from the National Guard. He explained how the ride is structured.
“We set up break areas all the way along. We stop at about every town that we ride through that we have breaks in and meet with the Fire Department and people. Through some of the times with schools there have been hundreds of kids along the streets.”
The Gold Star Mission provided 34 scholarships last year and expects to offer more this year.