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PostHeaderIcon Harley Across the USA: The Sequel

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In 1993, David Bieber (left) of San Diego took possession of the remnants of a WLA 1945 model U.S. Army issue Harley Davidson motorcycle as collateral for a loan to a personal friend.  The bike was retrieved from a chicken coop in Montana, where it had sat for some 20 years or so, non-operational and unloved.

The plan was to return it to his friend upon repayment of the loan but the plan was rendered moot when the friend unexpectedly passed away, leaving David as proud owner of the feather-covered relic.  He moved the Harley to his airplane hangar at a small San Diego airport and it remained there for another 20-plus years.

Early in 2009, he began to work at restoring the bike by acquiring parts for it from all over the world.  By June of 2012 he had gathered the original parts that were necessary. He cleaned, painted, welded, and soldered everything until it was ready to be assembled.  During one 36-hour session, the Harley was restored by David and his 3 sons to its original condition. You can see the story and assembly in a 5-minute clip on YouTube: WLA 45 Solo.

Now that this unique machine was road worthy, what to do with it?  He did not want to sell it or donate it to a museum just yet. So, David came up with an idea to honor the soldiers that rode this motorcycle in action. The plan was hatched to display the bike across the country and along with that, to raise funds for the Wounded Warrior Project, which provides services to military personnel who were injured in the line of duty.

The ambitious schedule was set during the next several months: Fifteen locations in 15 days, beginning at the VA Hospital in San Diego and culminating at the VA Hospital in Washington, DC.  The distances required that the bike be pulled on a trailer between locations for the most part.  No other way to make the tight schedule.  Bob Stratton (that's me), his childhood friend, would drive the support truck and trailer and David would ride the bike, always in authentic WWII Army garb.

The trip started June 1.  WWI veterans at the VA hospital were present for the send off, as were about 40 motorcyclists who escorted them out of town.  Two hours later, Bob received his only moving violation of the entire journey for excess speed while towing a trailer.  Camp Verde, AZ was the first stop.

The next morning, a police and local motorcycle club escorted them through the town to a local park where there was a presentation by the airmen of a local Air Force base as well as a barbecue fundraiser.  A similar theme played out at their next destination in Monticello, UT.  In Salt Lake City, they were greeted by a contingent of 10 motorcycle police and a large group of bikers at the local Harley Davidson shop. They were led 30 miles through the neighboring towns to a Veteran’s Memorial Park where they were presented with commemorative coins from the Special Forces unit.  There was another barbecue fundraiser held at a nearby American Legion hall.

This was the general trend throughout the trip.  Legion posts, Harley shops, and VFW halls were the usual focal points  The next days took them to stops in Wyoming, where they were greeted by the mayor of Cheyenne, Kearney Nebraska, Cedar Rapids Iowa, Valparaiso Indiana, Erie Pennsylvania, and Binghamton New York.  Some events were large and festive, and some were smaller, but all were enthusiastic.  Even stops for gas or rest drew crowds and quite a few donations to the cause.

The next to last venue was Laconia, NH which is the home of a very large week-long annual motorcycle event, which happened to be in progress (not by coincidence).  Tens of thousands of motorcyclists generated a plethora of donations and a good impetus to the last stop in Washington, D.C. on June 15.

Once they arrived there, another day-long barbecue fundraiser was held at the Harley Davidson dealership and then the very touching culmination at the VA Hospital where, again, they were greeted by appreciative WWII veterans.

From this point, all scheduled events were completed.  Part B of the plan was for David to realize a dream by riding the nearly 70-year-old motorcycle the entire way from DC back to San Diego.  Traveling at moderate speeds and making mechanical adjustments along the way, he realized his dream.  They rolled up to the Veteran’s Memorial on Mount Soledad in San Diego on the morning of June 20 to a crowd of about 50 well wishers and family members.

The final tally for donations was in excess of $25,000.  Not bad for three weeks’ work and 8,000 miles traveled.  David dedicated the trip to his father, who was a veteran of 3 wars (WWII, Korea, and Vietnam), and he wore his dad’s Navy dog tags for the entire trek.

It should be noted that David and Bob paid their own way for the trip.  Gas, food, lodging, and incidentals were all out-of-pocket.  They did accept some meals and places to spend the night but any cash offerings to defray personal costs were returned or placed in the donation box.

The WLA 45 Solo Harley Davidson motorcycle is now on display at the Air & Space Museum in Balboa Park, San Diego. For more information on the Wounded Warriors Project, go to Wounded Warrior.  .-BS

Bob Stratton is an adventure seeker who has run 32 consecutive Bay to Breakers, has danced and sang on East Bay stages in plays and musicals and now training to do a hike in Machu Picchu. He's written several stories for All News No Blues.

Last Updated (Saturday, 10 August 2013 17:39)

 

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