Heavy Rain Doesn’t Stop Freedom Ride, Statue Ceremony
By Dianne Alward-Biery
Cleaver Staff Writer
HARRISON – Whether using the term Ride for Freedom or Veterans Freedom Ride, in a weekend plagued with ambiguous and potentially disastrous weather, the much-anticipated Ride pressed on. The event was a fundraising effort, with proceeds going toward purchase of a statue representing the Vietnam War to be placed at Veterans Freedom Park in Harrison.
The ride began at Trail’s End in Leota and wended its way down M-61 through Harrison and on to Old U.S. 27 toward Clare. The entourage was led and followed by Clare County Sheriff Department vehicles with lights flashing to ensure participants’ safety. As the group crested James Hill and approached Dover Road, it became evident in the light rain that the forecast had altered the plans of many of those who had intended to participate, as only 20 motorcycles led the group, followed by 17 autos and pickups.
The group pressed on to the American Legion posts in Mount Pleasant, Midland and Sanford, then north to M-61 and west through the city of Gladwin, then home to Veterans Freedom Park in Harrison. After the ride, statue fundraising coordinator Maye Tessner-Rood reported having fed at least some 120 people at the lunch provided at the Midland American Legion.
The returning entourage was far smaller than left, comprised of 10 motorcycles and a handful of vehicles, which is not surprising considering the long-threatening rain had commenced in earnest. But the spirit of those in attendance was positive and strong, and the dedication of the Korean War statue proceeded.
Renee Haley, director of veterans services for Clare County, was joined on the dais by Sheriff John Wilson and Tessner-Rood. Wilson delivered a prayer to bless those in attendance, and Tessner-Rood expressed her gratitude to all those who have helped with statue fundraising through the Snowballs over the last three years. The 2018 Snowball, alone, raised the $26,000 which enabled purchase of the statue dedicated Saturday.
Haley recognized the Korean War veterans in attendance and thanked them once again for their service to the nation and for being present to help unveil “their” statue.
She also noted the appropriateness of the rain – which became heavier as the ceremony progressed – as in Korea it is the monsoon season and such rain was faced by U.S. soldiers in the Korean War. She also spoke of the nation’s dilemma of having lost so many of its citizens in a conflict that never officially began and never officially ended, and how to deal with that. Haley said the most public notice that war received came through the television series “M.A.S.H.” about an Army surgical field hospital, a series which ran from 1972 to 1986, a time frame more than three times the duration of the actual conflict. She also said the program’s final show drew the largest viewership in history.
The highlight of the program, of course, was the actual unveiling of the statue, which was flanked by Legion Honor Guard members Shelley Hardy and Jan Adamski. With rainfall becoming literally torrential, the veterans gave a coordinated tug and revealed the life-size bronze statue of an infantryman clad in a rain poncho and helmet, carrying his rifle as he trudges through the muddy terrain of a forbidding, foreign land.
The statue, which Haley said is a replica of one of the soldier statues which is part of the Korean War Memorial installation in Washington, D.C., is equally inspiring at the head of its pentagon-shaped room at Veterans Freedom Park.
After some camaraderie and storytelling among the Korea veterans (and who really thinks some heavy rain can stop a good war story?), the Ride participants headed out for Harrison American Legion Post 404 and then returned to Trail’s End Pub for the rest of the party, dancing and fundraising which were planned.
With the weather being what it was, it would be fair to say the committed Freedom Ride-ers definitely wet more than their whistles that day. Seriously speaking, such dedication to a cause is not only laudable, it is profound.