Everyone knows that our military members risk their lives while serving our country. Yet many of us do not realize that this risk often continues for them once they come home. They struggle to fit into civilian life and yearn for that sense of belonging that they had with their fellow servicemen. It’s for this reason that, since the 1960s, so many veterans have found that camaraderie at the motorcycle club where they can bond over a common love for motorcycles and the “open road”.
Shannon “Flash” Hume, the Sergeant at Arms of the Laurel, Maryland chapter of Chosen Sons Motorcycle Club and the chair of the board for the organization, Ride for the Fallen, can relate.
“[When you ride your bike], you can lose yourself in a good way,” Hume said. “On the open road, you feel small and connected to the greater world around you… there are not a lot of opportunities left for us to do that.”
Hume bought his first motorcycle in 2012 after one of the worst days of his life while on tour in southern Afghanistan. He had been advising combat troops when he witnessed a succession of IED explosions, resulting in numerous causalities. It was after that experience that he began to reflect on his life.
“If someone had asked me, ‘Who is Shannon Hume? What does he do?’ I couldn’t answer that,” he said. “So as soon as I returned to my post in Germany and got off that plane, I went straight to the overseas dealer and bought my first Harley Davidson.”
Once Hume returned home to Laurel, Maryland, he joined a local group of veteran riders. It was them, he remembers fondly, who gave him the nickname “Flash” for falling behind the pack when he couldn’t exceed 55 mph on his new bike. And it was also with them that he found something that resembled what he had in the military- a familial bond- something tangible and meaningful.
Yet, he and many of his “brothers” realized that not all veterans are so lucky. They knew that many still suffered from joblessness, homelessness, depression, and PTSD, all factors which have been linked to suicide. In fact, according to the Department of Defense, 541 military service members have lost their lives to suicide in 2018 and that number continues to rise.
“Think about it this way,” Hume said. “Today, half of a percent of Americans are serving in our military compared with 40% of eligible American males during World War II. That means a very tiny amount of people are incurring the burden of war today and the effects on these men, women and their families are much greater.”
To combat these issues, the group founded Ride for the Fallen in 2012, a 501(c) (19) non-profit dedicated to veterans’ issues and improving the lives of veterans and their families. The mission of the organization is comprised of 3 pillars 1) to help needy veterans, 2) to combat the causes of/prevent veteran suicide and 3) to honor and remember those who have died. This is accomplished each year by donating to veteran-focused charities, specifically those who have received a 90% rating or higher.
At first, they started small, organizing bike washes and events at their clubhouse, “The LZ”, and donating the proceeds to nationally-known charities such as Folds of Honor. However, they soon realized that they wanted to have a bigger impact and feel more connected to their community. Today, Ride for the Fallen, which is now run by the Laurel chapter of Chosen Sons Motorcycle Club, ensures that every dollar raised goes directly to local charities that help veterans.
For example, last year, through Wreaths of America, donors saw their dollars at work when they placed wreaths on every veteran’s grave at Ivy Hill Cemetery in Laurel, Maryland. Other contributions have gone towards purchasing a handicap-accessible vehicle for the Bowie chapter of Disabled American Veterans (DAV), sponsoring a service dog for a wounded warrior through Fidos for Freedom, donating turkeys to needy veteran families on holidays, and providing scholarships to veterans or their dependents for continuing education.
The organization raises money throughout the year, but especially during its “Season of Giving” which runs from February through November. The season kicks off with a Pre-riding Season Bash in February, culminating with their biggest event, The Captain John Odber Ride for the Fallen, which is held on a Saturday between Memorial Day and D-Day, and ending in November with a Veteran’s Day-oriented party where they donate the funds raised over the course of the year.
The Captain John Odber Ride for the Fallen, named after the first military leader from Maryland in 1684 and the first to die in combat, is an annual poker-run-style ride honoring 5 of the 141 military members from Maryland who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2016, Gold Star families have been invited to attend and participate in the event, which has been a huge honor for the organization.
According to Hume, the ultimate moment was seeing one of the Gold Star fathers from the first year’s Ride for the Fallen meet a Gold Star father who had just recently lost his son.
“That is the true purpose of the event,” Hume says. “To have those two fathers talk and support each other, and for that new father to know he no longer has to grieve alone. That’s what it’s all about.”
Over the past seven years, Ride for the Fallen has raised more than $80,000 and is predicted to have it’s most successful year yet, on course to raise more than $15,000 for 2019. The next Ride for the Fallen is scheduled for May 20, 2020. For more information or to get involved in next year’s ride, please visit The Ride for the Fallen Facebook Page.