Tag Archives: American Legion Riders

Memories, Tradition, and Families

May 26, 2016 by
Myron Roker

Myron Roker

World War II ended 70 years ago, but Myron Roker still feels the pain of battle. He served with 324th Infantry Regiment of the 44th Infantry Division on VE Day. The 93-year-old now lives in Glenwood, Iowa, and still carries shrapnel from a wound sustained in France. His hearing is almost gone, stolen by explosions in war.

But the most painful wound he carries is the loss of friends in combat.

“Freedom is not free,” says Roker. “We have to pay for it. Those are the heroes. The wounded and the ones that gave their lives.”

Memorial Day has a deep, personal meaning for Roker.

“I lost a close buddy over in France to one of our own mines. Sometimes I still tear up,” Roker said.

He and his wife, Karen, spend Memorial Day at the graves of family members in their hometown of Clatonia, Nebraska.

A Family Tradition of Service

Thomas Shimerdla

Thomas Shimerdla

Thomas Shimerdla’s family has a proud military tradition. When he was fighting in Vietnam, so was his brother. His father served during World War II in the 14th Army Air Force. His grandfather fought in France during World War I.

When Shimerdla was a youngster,  Memorial Day meant visits to cemeteries with his father and grandfather to honor veterans.

Shimerdla enlisted in the U.S. Navy Seabees when he was 19. He spent two years serving in Vietnam, a war that took more than 58,000 American lives. “I lost classmates in Vietnam. I think about them on Memorial Day,” he says.

He fought in the devastating Tet Offensive in 1968 that turned Americans against the war. Many who fought faced danger in Vietnam and disdain in the United States.

For Shimerdla, Memorial Day is about spending time with his children and grandchildren.

Before suffering injuries in a motorcycle accident in October, he was part of the American Legion Riders, and rode with them to a cemetery on Memorial Day. “I was proud to be there, honoring soldiers who were killed,” he says.

The motorcycle enthusiast also rides with the Patriot Guard Riders, formed to provide shield from harassment at the funerals of “Fallen Heroes.”

Tradition and Family

Susan and Bill Eustice with son Sean

Susan and Bill Eustice with son Sean

Susan Eustice says tradition is a big part of her holiday. She agrees that time with family is what Memorial Day is about. For four generations, her family has spent Memorial Day at Lake Okoboji.

“My mother was six weeks old when she first spent the holiday at the lake,” Eustice says.

Her mother’s paternal grandparents, the Rectors, built a home at the beach. Eustice is also related to the Clarke family, who were among the first families to settle on Okoboji’s Omaha Beach.

This year Susan and her husband, attorney Bill Eustice, plan to enjoy  fireworks, boating, swimming, sailing, biking, and dinners with family members. He and his band, The Firm, will perform at the Barefoot Bar.

They haven’t missed a Memorial Day celebration at Lake Okoboji in three decades. For them, the day is about tradition.

Bikers With Bells

December 15, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Christmas means Salvation Army red kettles swinging, bells ringin…and volunteers in biker gear and Santa hats.

Navy veteran Bob Swanson is one of the Salvation Army’s most faithful bell ringers. For 10 years, he has rounded up a group of fellow motorcyclists to ring bells at the entrance to Dillon Brothers Harley
Davidson in Omaha.

The riders share the holiday spirit in their own unique way. “We wear our biker’s gear with leather vests along with Santa hats,” Swanson says. “And some of us hand candy canes to the kids.”

All are members of the American Legion Riders. That big guy in the Santa hat vigorously ringing a bell might have spent time in a war zone in Vietnam or Korea. The younger man saying “thank you” may have recently returned from Iraq.

People seem to be more motivated to donate to the Salvation Army when donating through a veteran, Swanson says. “One lady said she always feels good donating to the Salvation Army, and the fact that it’s veterans who are bell ringing made it even better.”

Swanson formed the chapter of American Legion Riders for Omaha Post 1 in 2005. Members are veterans, veterans’ spouses, or veterans’ adult children who ride motorcycles.

Men and women who are American Legion Riders represent all branches of the military with a wide spread of ages. The chapter has about 55 members.

Not all who donate are motorcyclists. Some stop to drop money into the kettle as they enter the store to buy a collar with a Harley Davidson logo for their dog. Or maybe they have their eye on a bib with the logo for their baby’s first Christmas.

“It’s fun to watch the kids. They see this big, ugly biker standing there and are a little intimidated,” Swanson says. “One of our members is Santa Claus size and last year when bell ringing he wore a Santa suit.”

Ringing bells for the Salvation Army is a good fit for the American Legion, he says. “It involves the community, and that’s one of the primary tenets of the American Legion.”

After retiring from Physicians Mutual Insurance Co. where he was a vice president, Swanson, who is 72, donned a uniform and joined other military veterans to form an American Legion color guard. They perform at funerals, parades and various functions.

“I had always been moved when I saw family reactions to military funerals. It is the final opportunity to show respect for someone who served our country,” he says. “One of the main things we have to do is keep the public aware of sacrifices that go along with military service.”

Swanson will lead members of American Legion Riders as bell ringers at the entrance to Dillon Brothers Harley Davidson near 174th and Maple streets each Saturday prior to Christmas starting November 8.   

By the way, you don’t have to be a motorcyclist to ring bells. Visit RingOmaha.org to learn about volunteering.