Roll Free, Roll On But Remember
VFW 9376 Leads Nearly 130-Bike Motorcade Of U.S. Military Veterans To Honor The Fallen and Celebrate Freedom On Community Day
By Raoul Dennis // Photography By Raoul Dennis And Amir Stoudamire
Being on a bike is the closest feeling you can get to flying without leaving the ground.
But the 127 veteran bikers that came together Apr. 7 did so for higher purposes. They came together in memory of fallen warriors who came before them.
Led by Post Commander Sgt. Major Mike Eason of The Veterans of Foreign Wars at VFW 9376, now ranked as the #1 VFW post in the world, the riders took a route to the Cheltenham Veterans Cemetery under police motorcycle escort. Like Rolling Thunder, the bikes made their booming presence known for all residents, onlookers and motorists within ear shot. Bikes of all models and shapes ridden by men and women veterans of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds dominated the roads on the 15 minute ride from the post to the hallowed grounds.
Clubs from across the region were part of the ride. They included the Sons of Solomon (who led the group), Boys 2 Men, Cruisin, Flamin’ Knights, Cycles United, Dog Pound, Ruff Ryders, Ruff Ryders, Just Family II , Maryland Hill Riders, Ruthless Riders, Roadwolves, Touch Of Class, The Tuskegee Airmen, Top Notch Bike Club and many other bike groups, small groups and lone riders.
For the bikers, high 60s temperatures and blue skies that started the 10 a.m. ride was nearly text book perfect. Each group that rode up to the parking lot of Grace Brethren Church brought another level of strength to the promise of the day.
“Thank you for coming,” Eason said to the assembled. “I have been commander of VFW 9376 for two years and when we did this last year there were only three bikers here and I was one of them,” he joked.
Then he reminded them why they were there. They would remember those who wore the uniform and then celebrate the freedom they helped to earn.
Mr. Alphonso Torain, Sr., who is buried at Cheltenham, symbolized all the veterans the VFW Post planned to honor and the brief ceremony took place at his burial site.
Torain’s family was present to receive the prayer and to hear taps as nearly 120 watched on with bowed heads.
By 11 a.m., motorcade was back at the post where the community event portion of the afternoon began. Vendors included Paparazzi, Christian Fire, Custom Crafts and Creations, The Prince George’s Department of Parks and Recreation, The National Association of Black Veterans, College Stomp, Virginia Affairs Solutions and more. The afternoon was filled with horseback riding, face painting, food donated by BK Miller and Shoppers Food Warehouse.
Clinton’s VFW 9376 led The Veterans Motorcycle Charity Ride/Community Day bringing over 15 bike clubs, 18 vendors, some 100 county residents, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, County Councilmember Sydney Harrison (D-Dist. 9), Pastor Charles McNeil, Prince George’s Fire Department Deputy Chief Tiffany Green, Prince George’s County Sheriff Melvin High, Prince George’s Police Chief Hank Stawinsky and the new County Veterans Affairs Director, Dr. James Dula.
“This is not only a family community day but we are here to celebrate you and to celebrate your service to our country and your continued service to our community,” Alsobrooks said. “I understand that there were a bunch of motorcycles that left out of here this morning and I missed out on that opportunity [due to schedule]. But I will be back to make sure that I’m able to join in that motorcade.”
The County Executive took the moment of the occasion to introduce the county’s new Office of Veterans Affairs and its director, Dr. James Dula, a U.S. Air Force veteran and staunch supporter of the Prince George’s County community.
“We heard you all loudly and clearly that you wanted to have your own office of veterans affairs and it makes sense [as we have] the largest concentration of veterans in the state right here in Prince George’s County,” Alsobrooks added.
The County Executive noted that Dula’s experience in health and human services as well as his dedication as a veteran makes him a valuable asset to the new department. The department is already in dialogue with Congressman Chris Van Hollen, himself the son of a U.S. diplomatic family working in foreign affairs, regarding improvement of resources for health services for veterans. Alsobrooks mentioned housing, jobs and better food opportunities for veterans.
“The reason I’m here today and the reason why you have my solemn promise that I will continue to show up, is because you can’t represent people that you don’t know or understand,” Alsobrooks said. “It’s important to me that I hear from you first-hand what your needs and concerns are so that we can address them to the best of our ability,” Alsobrooks said to an energized crowd.
Councilmember Sydney Harrison shared an official proclamation with the VFW Post.
“This is a great day to be in District 9 with all our veterans and to say congratulations to the VFW for being number one in the world,” said Harrison.
“When we think about our veterans and the sacrifices that they have made for our country it’s remarkable but it’s also humbling because we don’t get to where we are in life without the help of others; the help of others who fight for our freedom - those that stand for us, protect us and preserve us,” he said.
National Association for the Black Veterans (NABVETS) member Shaihi Mwalimu was available as a representative for veteran’s benefits. Mwalimu is responsible for taking claims for the Post. He affirmed that over $3 million in benefit claims have been received between Feb. 2018 and Feb 2019. As remarkable as that may be, he says there is much more work to be done to support local vets. “Currently we get $0 from the state and $0 from the Veterans Administration,” Mwalimu says.
But Mwalimu is heartened by the new Veterans Affairs office in the Alsobrooks administration. He also says that his NABVETS office has three locations now, including at Prince George’s Community College in Largo, Silver Hill Road in Suitland and at the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro.
Veterans in need of their services to get their due benefits should contact Mr. Mwalimu at firstname.lastname@example.org
The day was especially meaningful for Cynthia Savoy, the Veteran Service Officer for the Post. Cynthia Savoy is Alphonso Torain, Sr.’s daughter. Her family was recognized at the laying of the wreath.
“My father was drafted as young man in college at North Carolina A&T.” Savoy says of her father. He’d already done two years of college when the draft notice came. So when Torain completed his tour of military service with the U.S. Army, he completed his studies at Howard University and settled in the Washington, DC metro area and worked for the U.S. Department of Defense as an engineer for forty years.
Alphonso and Wilhelminia Torain married and had five children – including Cynthia - who went on to join the military when she came of age. He died March 6, 2016.
“It means that God is good,” Savoy says of the Capitol Heights home she grew up in provided by her parents. “My father loved his family and he made sure that we had a home. He wanted to be sure that we had the best of everything and he did that. There are about 15 grandchildren and 7 or 8 great grandchildren.”
Savoy smiled broadly and went to volunteer her face painting services to children of all ages. Her father’s story—like many of the veterans recognized that day -- is another one of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. It’s one of a band of individuals who come together to make something greater than any one of them – and thinking nothing of their own personal pride.
It’s why the roar of the big bikes feels as powerful of thunder when they roll by --- it all comes together because they serve a higher purpose.