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Veterans get first peek at Ride of Pride truck

By Kathy Chaffin
Salisbury Post
Freightliner’s seventh annual Ride of Pride truck was at the Hefner VA Medical Center Wednesday so veterans could see the new design before employees of the Cleveland truck manufacturing plant drive it to Washington, D.C. for Memorial Day.
This year’s artwork was designed by Freightliner employees Donald Stewart and George Huffman and sent to Transcal Graphics of Hickory ó owned by former Freightliner employee Jerry Banks ó which donated the time and materials for converting the design into decals that were applied to the bright-orange truck.
The design includes a huge bald eagle holding a yellow ribbon in its mouth with “2008” on one side and “Until they all come home” on the other. Beneath the eagle is a flag with insets of the POW-MIA emblem and a helmet posted atop a rifle and boots with military tombstones interspersed at the bottom with the words, “In memoriam to deceased veterans, 2007-2008.”
Symbols from each military branch are also included in the design.
Three flags are posted on back of the truck. The American flag stands tallest with the black and white POW-MIA flag on one side and a Freightliner flag on the other.
Patients at the VA, residents of the adjacent North Carolina State Veterans Home and area veterans stopped by to look at the artwork on the truck while enjoying music and food on the medical center grounds.
The truck, which features a new design every year, will leave next Friday to lead a procession of motorcycles to the nation’s capital to participate in various Memorial Day activities. Freightliner employees and Vietnam vets George Drexel Sr. and Ed Keeter are heading up the trip.
Instead of taking the interstates like they usually do, Keeter said they plan to go through “the heart of America, the small towns” so the truck will be more visible and they can talk with more veterans.
Keeter said veterans he’s talked with are worried about “what’s going to happen to them with benefits and what’s going to happen to our soldiers right now that’s coming back, our wounded warriors, how they’re going to be taken care of.”
“A lot of that stuff, we can’t answer,” he said, “but we can get answers.”
Some of the key Ride of Pride participants plan to return to Washington in November to talk with U.S. senators and House representatives about veterans’ issues.
Drexel said one of his personal concerns is that the soldiers returning home from the Iraq War be treated “in the proper manner.”
Keeter said he’s not bitter, but hopes no soldier is ever treated the way Vietnam vets were when they returned home. “We were really not accepted very well, and I don’t ever want to see that happen to any of our soldiers again.”
One of the main missions of the Ride of Pride, he said, is to hold government officials accountable for getting prisoners of war and the missing in action back to the United States. “We would like to have them home even if it’s just their bones,” he said.
Both men praised Freightliner and its employees for being so supportive of veterans and the Ride of Pride. The truck, which is owned by Schneider National Inc. of Green Bay, Wis., will be added to the company’s nationwide fleet of more than 10,000 trucks after the ride.
Freightliner has planned two send-offs for the Ride of Pride, in which several veteran and civilian employees will participate ó one next Thursday afternoon and the other early the next morning before the truck and motorcycles head out at 8:30 a.m.
The motorcade will go east on U.S. 70 toward Salisbury, turn onto Jake Alexander Boulevard and head north on Main Street through Salisbury. Drexel and Keeter said they expect the truck and motorcycles will go through downtown Salisbury between 8:50 and 9:15 a.m. Friday.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249 or kchaffin@salisburypost.com.

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