A Ride 2 Remember

Fallen soldiers honored before 200 motorcyclists hit the road from Granite Falls

Photo by Mike Lamb A motorcycle rider salutes in front of the memorial for fallen soldiers set up outside the Granite Falls American Legion Saturday. He placed a rose representing a friend or family member who died while serving. The banner in front of him lists the honored fallen soldiers.

GRANITE FALLS — U.S. Army Sgt. Andrea Willis needed some support from her boyfriend, Cody Haugen, as she stood in front of more than 200 motorcycle riders.

Wiping some tears from her face, she started to speak.

“I just got back from Iraq, literally about three weeks ago,” she said before describing the circumstances of losing four Army comrades while stationed in Afghanistan less than a year ago.

Two of the fallen soldiers, David Knable and Kirk Fuchigami, were Apache helicopter pilots. Willis was in charge of loading ammunition on the Apaches.

“They were killed on a mission in Afghanistan covering surveillance for people on the ground. They crashed into a mountain top. They passed away November 20, literally a month into our tour. You can imagine just getting over there and you lose two of your own,” the Leavenworth, Kansas, native said.

The story of losing the two pilots was part of the third annual Ride 2 Remember ceremony held outside the American Legion in Granite Falls Saturday. Ride 2 Remember was formed after another fallen military veterans memorial motorcycle run, KMS Memorial Ride, was discontinued. After the ceremony, the riders took off for Clara City and made stops in Raymond, Penmock, Willmar, Atwater, Lake Lillian, Olivia, Redwood Falls, Delhi and return to the Granite Falls American Legion for dinner and entertainment.

Willis also talked about Specialist Juan Miguel Mendez Covarrubias.

“He did all the computers, all the radio stuff. He always had a smile on his face. He always kept me going on my worst day. He had me laughing,” she said.

She recalled on the day he died, they were watching a Western movie with other members of the unit. That would be the last time she saw him.

“He got hit with direct fire that night and got the news five hours later after being in a bunker he was gone,” she said.

Johndavid Hilty died from a heart attack while asleep.

“He would have done 21 years (in the Army),” Willis said.

Others who died while protecting our nation were also honored. Family members and friends walked up to the stage and placed a rose next to Army boots, a military rifle and a helmet.

Bob Bardwell also spoke during the ceremony. With a surprised reaction on his face, several motorcycle riders at the event raised his wheelchair with him in it onto the stage so he could speak.

He told his story of working in construction and crushing his spinal cord in an equipment accident 47 years ago.

“I’m paralyzed to here down completely,” Bardwell said pointing toward his waist.

“It’s a rare occasion when a paralyzed person from the waist down gets goosebumps on his legs. I’m talking about this event, folks. This is incredible. I’m just soaking it in,” he said.

After the accident, Bardwell said he had to search for his purpose in life.

“I had two words that I had to come up with. One is called being a victim the rest of my life. The other one is called being a victor. Extreme difference as you know — with God’s help, community, friends and family — I choose every day to be victor. Did I say it was easy? I don’t think so. It takes commitment, heart, passion, work,” he said.

Bardwell said he never served in the military, but has served in other ways. One of those ways is working to raise funds for the Miracle Lodge. The $4.5 million lodge is used for retreats for members of the military coming back home as a place to spend time with family.

“We serve well over 2,000 military families. It’s weekend, Friday through Sunday. In the summer time we do a week one. We do two Gold Star one. One just for families and kids. Combat veterans in the fall,” he said.


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