One of the biggest highlights of every Great River Honor Flight is the homecoming and it begins with the motorcade of motorcycles.
It's organized by the Patriot Guard, but it includes other motorcycle groups and individuals who want to ride. But more importantly, they all share a tremendous respect for our veterans.
During the September 11 Honor Flight, WGEM's Matt Schmidt got the chance to ride with the motorcade, to experience yet another way we're honoring our veterans.
"How many patriotic Americans do we have here?" Vern Bastian asks a crowd of motorcycle riders.
On this night in September, the answer is more than 220. And they're revved up to escort home the Honor Flight veterans.
Whether lit up in red, white, and blue, or just flying the national colors, these bikers share more than a love of riding, they also have a tremendous respect for anyone who defended our country.
And that's the only requirement to ride in this motorcade.
"It's respecting that guy that made sure they have that freedom," Bastian said.
Bastian organizes each motorcade and each ride is special to him.
"It's just an honor to be here, to help bring these guys home, the way they should have been brought home 60 years ago," Bastian said.
In each of the 15 Great River Honor Flights, there's been a motorcycle brigade to lead them home. Tony Jones has ridden in all but two of them.
"Even though it's fun for me, we get back to the motels and I see those veterans get off the bus and they look like kids on Christmas morning. I've talked to some and they're just so appreciative, all us guys out here on bikes escorting them and making a big deal when they get back in, and they love it," Jones said.
Alyn Dyke of Hannibal is one of a couple of dozen first time riders on this night. As an Army veteran himself, he knows the importance of showing appreciation to those who served.
"Just showing a lot of respect to these guys, what they went through that we'll never know," Dyke said.
As soon as the veterans' bus goes by, the bikes are off, passing the bus and creating a long line of taillights leading the way home.
Each mile is an amazing sight. From crowds lining the streets to the loop at the 172 Exit to Quincy, which gives you an unbelievable perspective of motorcycles coming and going.
And then there's the arrival to a cheering crowd, eager to welcome home our veterans.
"Watch the vets when they get off the bus, coming off the bus like little kids after seeing motorcade," Bastian said.
And that's what keep these bike riders coming back.
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