- Written by John Crawford John Crawford
The hum and roar of motorcycles sounded throughout town as riders gathered recently at the American Legion Post 455.
Under a blue sky with high, patchy clouds that made the rain date moot, the 64 riders left the Legion parking lot and headed north on Route 24.
The riders quickly arrived at the end of the small town and reached their real destination: the open roads of central Pennsylvania. From there, the group, organized through the Legion Post, rode the rolling roads of southern and eastern York County for the next two hours.
As they traveled, they stretched the line of vehicles far enough that, combined with the curved roads of the county, rarely were the front riders visible to those in the rear.
Bobby O’Farrell is one of the leaders of this unlikely group of riders: American Legion Riders Post 455.
“We are a military service organization,” he said. “In fact, I am the post commander … You have to belong to the legion, in the capacity of the Sons of the American Legion or the Ladies Auxiliary. What this will get you is a membership in the American Legion Riders.”
The lure of the ride is not the sole reason for the group’s gatherings. Their rides offer comradeship and aim to raise money for many area charities.
Since the Legion is a veterans service group, they also participate in many motorcycle events and charity rides like the one along Route 24.
That ride benefited MilitaryShare, a veterans program of the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank; The Higher Standard Project, a recovery home for veterans undergoing treatment for substance abuse or trauma; and Mission 22, which employs treatment programs, memorials, and national awareness to combat veteran suicide.
“It is a big problem, especially for veterans coming back from the Middle East,” O’Farrell said.
The ride rose over $2,500 for the organizations.
The Legion Riders also honor fallen veterans with procession rides and flag lines on the service member’s return, and have done so since the Legion’s inception in 1919. Among the most recent was honoring the 100th anniversary of the return of local World War I Cpl. Alvin T. Rehmeyer.
“When someone in the military dies, we come and do a flag line. (Rehmeyer) passed away a day after his 23rd birthday. He was a corporal in Montfaucon, France. He was buried in a makeshift grave, and a year later, they brought him back … in 1919,” O’Farrell said.
“That was the first thing that the American Legion did was honor him (on his return). We did it (again) 100 years later.”
While a strong focus for the Legion Riders is helping veterans, other local charities benefit from the riders’ activities.
In May, ALR Post 455 participated with the Eastern Harley-Davidson Association in the MDA Ride for Life, held at Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Somerset County. The fundraiser generated more than $1.7 million for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
Like many Legion Riders, service and riding come naturally for O’Farrell. A U.S. Army veteran, he has been riding since he joined the Legion and purchased his first motorcycle while in Panama.
“I joined in 1977, Post No. 1, Balboa Canal Zone in Panama. It is also where I married my soulmate, Nora, 43 years ago. When I was in Panama, I bought my first Harley-Davidson at the Post Exchange. It was shipped down there from someplace called York, Pennsylvania.”
Originally from New York City, years would pass before O’Farrell and his family would settle in central Pennsylvania, but the motorcycle rides for charity began early during his career.
“(My) first real charity ride was back in the ’80s,” recalled O’Farrell.
While riding with the Legion and/or Nora has been the usual scenario, a solo trip in 1982 from his Army days stands out as his most memorable. Following a transfer, he rode from New England to Alaska.
“While I was at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, I had PCS (permanent change of station) orders to Fort Greely, Alaska. I rode my motorcycle from Fort Devens to Fort Greely. It actually took three and a half weeks because I stopped at places with people that I knew.
“The scenery was beautiful,” O’Farrell said. “I left in the May-June timeframe, and they had 3 inches of snow in the highlands of Montana. That was the same year they evacuated all the state and federal parks. They had a big blizzard going on. I went up on a motorcycle in the middle of that. When I got up to Alaska, it was about 90 degrees.”
Around that time, the O’Farrell family expanded from two boys and cat, adding his daughter Jennifer Bridget, born during their three years in Alaska. With a growing family, they felt the need to stabilize their home front for the children, and O’Farrell began searching for a non-military job.
Throughout his military career, he had worked as military police with a secondary career in firefighting. He had connections in Maryland that eventually brought his family to central Pennsylvania as a trainer in firefighting.
“I had a very close friend who was a chief officer in Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, and he said, ‘Come on down.’ At the time, there was no availability there, so the first place I actually received a position was Bayonne Marine Terminal in New Jersey.
“I did not want to go back to the New York/New Jersey area,” O’Farrell said. “I wanted to slow life down a little bit, so I actually moved from the interior of Alaska to the town of Woodbine, Pennsylvania … in 1984.”
“Slow down” may be a relative term, as O’Farrell eventually became part of the Federal Fire Service at Aberdeen Proving Ground and advanced to become a chief officer.
He is a certified fire protection specialist, nationally certified fire and arson investigator, and has been an adjunct instructor for the University of Maryland, Maryland Fire Rescue Institute, for 28 years. He holds almost every fire-protection certification available for the fire service.
Even in retirement, O’Farrell remains active with the American Legion Post 455, organizing the charity rides and other events.
“I’ve always been a service-oriented person. Even now being retired, I am going to a lot of organizations, and for whatever reason, I’m coming to the top of them.
“I like to help people; I like to help veterans. America is No. 1 thanks to our veterans,” O’Farrell said. “There are a lot of veterans who are still in need. I am very lucky. I did very well in life. Not everybody has, and I know that.”