The roar of 600 motorcycles can take your breath away, especially when the police are your escorts and allow you to run through all the traffic lights along the Pacific Coast Highway like a bunch of outlaws.
The summer weather here in California had been blazing hot, so the invitation I accepted from the Fire Hogs M/C to participate in the 2022 Ride to the Flags along the Pacific Ocean with cooler temperatures was appealing and an honor.
Sponsored by the White Heart Foundation, the Ride to the Flags is an annual event honoring the lives lost on 9/11 and those injured in military service ever since. It began in 2008 with a ride to the annual Wave of Flags 9/11 Memorial at Pepperdine in Malibu, California, which consists of 2,977 national flags paying tribute to those who lost their lives on that tragic day. Donations raised from the ride go toward helping a different wounded warrior each year.
This year’s Ride to the Flags check-in was at Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC) near Point Magu. We were given registration bands and directed on base, where we lined up four-abreast to accommodate the hundreds of motorcycles.
Related Story: Ride to the Flags 2018
The ceremony began sharply at 10 a.m. and included a WWII aircraft flyover, a rifle salute, guest speeches, and a wreath-laying ceremony. The singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” put goosebumps on my neck, as did the ringing of the bell to remember those lives lost 21 years ago. I wasn’t the only biker wiping away tears.
Hope Is a Powerful Tool
The recipient of donations for the 2022 ride was Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician, 2nd Class, Jordan Stevenson, who had spent seven years on active duty in the Navy and spoke at the ceremony. Stevenson was grievously injured during a deployment in Afghanistan with the 3rd/75th Rangers.
While atop a wall getting eyes on the enemy, he was struck by a bullet that went through his helmet, through his head, and out the back of his helmet, causing him to fall 30 feet. Surviving such a wound is a miracle, and he ended up with paralysis of his right leg and arm.
Stevenson captured my heart for his determination to return from hell. His military training had prepared him for death in battle, but he said he was “pissed-off” when doctors told him he would never walk or talk again.
“Hope is a powerful tool,” he said passionately, adding that it would’ve been better if the doctors had instead told him, “‘Your right leg and arm are paralyzed, but you could get better with a lot of hard work.’”
“That could is monumental,” he said. “I could run with that. I could work with could. ‘Can’t’ is hard to work with.”
And yet Stevenson bravely carried on. He explained how he dedicated himself to rehab and chose not to focus on his pain. Through hard work, physical therapy, and family support, he learned how to walk, talk, and ride a bicycle again.
Beyond his personal recovery, he also wants to be an encouragement to others going through similar situations. In 2023, he plans to ride his bicycle from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego to challenge himself and raise awareness for veterans’ health.
White Heart exceeded its goal to raise $40,000 with this year’s event. The proceeds will go toward retrofitting Stevenson’s bathroom for easier access and building a physical rehab area in his home. It’s a great gift for a courageous wounded warrior. Stevenson made me proud to be an American.
Ride to the Flags
The roar was deafening as we fired up our motorcycles at NBVC. We would ride the 30-mile route south in pairs, accompanied by a full police escort. On both sides of the on-ramp to Highway 1, about 50 Boy Scouts in full uniform with American flags stood tall at full salute to send us on our way as if we were heroes. They honored us and those who lost their lives during 9/11.
Bystanders all along PCH watched hundreds of motorcycles moving as one. Children jumped up and down, surfers waved flags, and some stood at salute. One scene that is burned into my memory is a guy who was standing on top of his camper waiving a huge American flag with the beautiful Pacific Ocean in the background.
Law enforcement and first responders, the Boy Scouts, and traffic volunteers were heroes for coordinating 600 motorcycles to travel safely without stopping from Point Mugu to Malibu Bluffs Park at Pepperdine University.
After the ride ended, bikers remained to walk among the 2,977 flags paying tribute to those who lost their lives that tragic day 21 years ago. Never forget.
For more information, visit White Heart’s website.