CALUMET - Chapters 1 and 2 of the Forgotten Eagles of Michigan converged at Lakeview Cemetery in Calumet Wednesday evening for a remembrance ceremony in honor of veterans both past and present.
Hosted by Chapter 2, the ceremony was part of the Forgotten Eagles annual RAM (Ride Around Michigan) Ride campaign.
"I want to thank the riders who came from the Sault (Ste. Marie) area across the eastern U.P. to join us today," Chapter 2 President Al Utzman said. "All of the funds raised along the ride goes toward the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund."
Kelly Fosness/Daily Mining Gazette
Lake Linden American Legion Post 90 Chaplain Ed Gardner leads a prayer during a remembrance ceremony at Lakeview Cemetery in Calumet Wednesday evening. Seen in the background is Forgotten Eagles Chapter 2 President Al Utzman.
Utzman said Wednesday's RAM Ride, now in its ninth year, began in Chassell where Chapter 2 met up with Chapter 1 riders. Chapter 1 members, some on motorcycles and others in vehicles, made stops along the way in Newberry, Munising and Ishpeming before arriving at the Chassell VFW Post 6065. From there they headed north to Lakeview Cemetery.
American Legion Post 90 Chaplain Ed Gardner led the group of about 40 in prayer beneath blue and sunny skies before Post Commander Dan Judnich spoke.
"If you were to think back to the '60s and '70s ... would a ceremony like this even be taking place?" he asked. "To show you how times have changed, when you think about the guys coming back from (Viet)nam, when you think about what's happening now where you have color guard and everything else meeting our guys ... coming off the plane when they're coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, we need to continue to support our troops - support the troops from our past and our present and we need to continue to do what we're doing."
The difference between what is happening now, he said, has much to do with those who returned in the '60s and '70s.
"I appreciate all of you," he said. "This should have been done back then. Just like it is being done now."
Three rounds fired by the American Legion Color Guard echoed over the treetops while attendees stood in salute as the bugler played "Taps."
Utzman then presented Chapter 1 President Ritch Camp with a $750 donation to the MVTF on behalf of Chapter 2.
"If it wasn't for Chapter 2, we wouldn't be in this fine part of the country," Camp said.
With "great pride," Camp said he took over as Chapter 1 president "from a great friend," Duke Mayo, who was also present. During a short speech, Camp gave thanks to those who served.
"From one veteran to another, thank you for your service and continue on with peace and tranquility," he said. "And, have a great day folks."
The MVTF, to which the Forgotten Eagles group has contributed more than $100,000, provides assistance to Michigan veterans and their families in emergency situations.
"Every penny that we have raised so far has gone to help veterans all over the state. ... Several from the U.P. ... have been helped with this money that we (all six chapters of the Forgotten Eagles) raise," he said. "The biggest thing individuals don't know is they can go to their county veterans affairs officer and tell them they need help."
While many join in the RAM Ride year after year, Wednesday was Jim Slater's first time. And he didn't hesitate to take on an important role during the ride.
"I was blocking for them, as a matter of fact," Slater, of Chassell, said after the ceremony. "What you do is (for example) coming into Calumet there's a light where we had to turn left, you get out in front and you block traffic ... so the whole pack can go through."
Slater said participating in the ride was one way he could show his support for the organization's cause.
"I was never in the military myself but I've got a lot of relatives who are," he said. "I know there's a lot of guys coming home who need help."
Closing out the ceremony just after 6 p.m., Utzman reminded those in attendance there are many veterans in need of assistance.
"I was thinking that maybe we were getting to see the light at the end of the tunnel and now we have another generation of veterans coming back and they are going to need our help even more," he said. "If we thought we had our mission accomplished, we were thinking wrong. We've got a long way to go and we can all do it together."