On a beautiful autumn day in Manhattan last month, more than 700 members of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America made their way up Fifth Avenue in New York City’s Veteran’s Day Parade. The vets were only a fraction of the thousands of marchers on hand for the largest Veteran’s Day celebration in the U.S., a nationally televised event that’s commonly referred to as “America’s Parade.”
Of course, bikers and vets go hand-in-hand, so the IAVA contingent was escorted by a small group of motorcyclists on brand-new Victory motorcycles, and Rider was proud to be among the lucky few. Before the parade began, R. Lee Ermey, aka The Gunny, rallied the IAVA marchers with a pep talk, and by the time Polaris Vice President of Motorcycles Steve Menneto led us onto Fifth Avenue aboard a beautifully customized stars-and-stripes Cross Country bagger, the crowd along the parade route was fired up as well.
Old-timers in full dress and glad-handing politicians mixed with celebrities and dignitaries on military trucks and parade floats to greet the tens of thousands of onlookers. As we crept up Fifth, we encountered members of the Buffalo Soldiers, African-American vets on horseback who made their name in Vietnam. It was great to see the crowds react to the beasts; to be honest, the horses got louder cheers than did the bikes! There was also a massive contingent of riders representing the Nam Knights, who came to New York from all over the Northeast to march on two wheels with their brethren, and honor the memories of their fallen comrades.
The Empire State Building gleamed high above the parade route, and everywhere you looked the red, white and blue was on full display. Waving flags, signs and cheering, shouting and waving, the revelers thrilled at the sight of their heroes and the sound of the revving big twins. Every few minutes, a couple of soldiers would take turns running a lap around our group holding flagpoles, full-sized American flags trailing behind. The IAVA vets went wild and the crowd hooted its support. We riders would occasionally gun our engines and honk our horns in salute, just glad to be a part of a soul-stirring afternoon filled with touching moments.
The IAVA was formed by Paul Reickhoff in 2004, a vet who returned from Iraq to find alarmingly few resources available to vets of the recent Middle East conflicts. Today, the IAVA is the largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization representing new veterans and their families in the U.S., boasting nearly 300,000 post-9/11 veterans and supporters. Among its achievements, the IAVA pioneered the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, VA funding reforms, and is fiercely active on many veterans’ issues including combating suicide, improving support for female vets and defending education benefits. Victory Motorcycles is one of IAVA’s supporting partners, and helps the organization help veterans by donating $500 to the organization for every Victory sold. Through its Hero’s Metal program, Victory also offers all past and present service personnel – including military, police, and fire men and women — $1,000 cash back on the purchase of any new Victory. For more information on the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, visit IAVA.org.