Motorcyclists roll in Rally for Troops tradition on Cleveland's Public Square

Tags: HeroStories

[caption id="attachment_3569" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Rally organizer John Kikol, left, gets a big hug from Robert Gilbert, who spoke at the event about the death of his son, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Robert Gilbert II, last month from combat wounds in Afghanistan."][/caption]

The colors of patriotism were black, blue and silver Sunday as columns of leather, denim and chrome converged on Public Square in rumbling ranks that set the air vibrating and pavement tingling.

They rolled on dirt bikes, Harleys and massive everything-but-the-kitchen-sink trikes; wearing back-stitched affiliations including the Warthogs, American Legion Riders, Rolling Thunder and Leathernecks Nation.

Hundreds of people gathered for the eighth annual Rally for Troops, and if it seemed the closest recipients of this support were Civil War combatants on the nearby Soldiers & Sailors monument, you just weren't looking hard enough.

That man in the crowd, clutching a framed photo of a soldier to his chest, was James Kloos, of Cleveland, father of Army Sgt. Randolph Kloos, veteran of combat in Iraq. The elder Kloos said he came to the rally because, "I want people to know our boys are not forgotten."

Or the woman in tears and a sweatshirt emblazoned with family photos and the words, "My veteran, my hero, my everything." That was Laurie Lewkowski, whose son, Marine Lance Cpl. David Baker, was killed in Afghanistan last October.

These are the people representing the reasons why John Kikol organizes the rally each year.

The gathering is a show of support for the military, veterans and their families, plus a heartfelt salute to the fallen, Kikol said.

As he told the assembled crowd, "You are here today because you understand how important it is to recognize the sacrifices of our nation's fallen heroes. We shall never forget."

Becky Blackmore, president of Rolling Thunder Chapter 8 in Medina, doesn't have a personal connection to anyone in the military, but said, "We need to let these young people serving know that we care."

Rolling Thunder rider John Hohne 58, of Parma Heights, said a little support like the rally, instead of scorn and indifference, would have been appreciated when he and fellow Vietnam vets came home from the war.

That's why he was at the rally. "We can't let what happened to us ever happen again," he said.

Similar sentiments were echoed by Bob Elfers, 75, of Elyria, who served in Korea in what has been called the "forgotten war." "When we came home, we were more or less alone," he said.

Veterans of conflicts dating back to World War II stood with today's military families for a program that included reading the roll of Ohio's fallen, and remarks by loved ones of those killed in action.

Robert Gilbert, of Richfield, father of Marine Gunnery Sgt. Robert Gilbert II, who died March 16 of combat wounds in Afghanistan, noted, "Freedom is not free. I learned that the hard way."

And after Tracy Holmes, of Lorain, spoke of her brother Marine Lance Cpl. David Hall, of Elyria, killed last August in Afghanistan, she said she was glad her family had talked her into coming to the rally.

"It makes you feel better, the support you get from all these tremendous people," she said, nodding to the crowd.

"I just wish my brother was here to see this, and receive this support when he was aliv