America’s heroes honored in motorcycle rumble

Pete Sill, a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars motorcycle club in Oak Harbor, gets ready to ride home after a rally honoring POWs and MIAs Friday, Sept. 17. - Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times
Pete Sill, a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars motorcycle club in Oak Harbor, gets ready to ride home after a rally honoring POWs and MIAs Friday, Sept. 17.
— image credit: Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times

America’s prisoners of war and missing in action were honored and remembered in Oak Harbor last week by both the roar of motorcycles and soft, heartfelt words.

Friday, Sept. 17, was National POW/MIA Recognition Day. And, for the second year in a row, riders clad in black leather clothes from several motorcycle clubs gathered in mass to show their support by rumbling down the length of Whidbey Island.

The more than 100 riders participating in the rally left the Chief Petty Officers Club in Oak Harbor at about 9 a.m. and rode non-stop to the Clinton ferry terminal. On the return trip, they made one quick stop at the soccer fields at Fort Casey before pulling up to the POW/MIA Memorial on the Seaplane Base at about 11 a.m.

Despite the blanket of heavy fog, and a fatal accident that detoured traffic on a portion of Highway 20, most riders said they had a pretty good time.

“The temperature was perfect,” Coupeville resident Lenny Brown said.

Brown participated in the 2009 rally as well. It’s hard to beat riding down Whidbey Island with a column of fellow motorcyclists, he said. But, as a retired master chief with the U.S. Navy, the purpose behind the ride is far more meaningful.

“It’s more for the cause than the destination,” Brown said.

The road rally is the machination of Lt. Cmdr. Brian Danielson of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station’s VAQ 134. He started the rally in 2009 to honor the sacrifice made by POWs and MIAs, along with recognizing the groups and individuals dedicated to bringing these lost heroes home.

“I’m personally attached to this day,” said Danielson, in a ceremony following the ride. “My father was MIA for 38 years.”

Danielson’s father, Capt. Ben Danielson, was shot down in his F-4C Phantom over Mu Gia Pass in Laos in 1969. After a lifetime spent wondering what became of him, in 2003 he was informed that a lead had been discovered as to the location of his father’s remains.

In 2006, he traveled to the excavation site in Laos with a 45-member team from Joint MIA/POW Accounting Command. Digging side by side with members of the group, sometimes with just their bare hands, Danielson searched for the bones of his father.

“It was a pretty painful thing,” said Danielson, in an interview following the ceremony. “I was, and as far as I know, am still the only family member who has participated in a dig.”

Friday’s ceremony also included remarks from chaplain Lt. Cmdr. Philip King and Island County Commissioner Angie Homola, who, like many in the crowd, was dressed in black leathers. She participated in the ride with her husband Jerry Homola.

Although not a motorcycle owner himself, Danielson said he got the idea for a rally from the role played by the Patriot Guard Riders, a national motorcycle club, at his father’s funeral.

The group was formed to shield families and funerals from protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church. The organization claims the deaths of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are the result of God’s anger over American tolerance of homosexuality.

The Club shrugged off the Westboro faction and performed its function perfectly, said Danielson, forever earning the respect and gratitude of himself and his family.

“There are no greater fans of motorcycle noise than the families of repatriated MIAs,” he said.

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