Remembering a key part of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

A day dedicated to veterans, truly a part of a greater message during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

RAPID CITY, S.D. — You can never say ‘thank you’ enough to a veteran.

On Tuesday to pay tribute, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally dedicated a day just to show appreciation to veterans with its “Veteran’s Appreciation Day.”

The sounds of the motorcycles may be filling the Black Hills, but while you celebrate, the real reason we say thank you actually has a lot to do with the Rally.

His name was Clarence “Pappy” Hoel. He’s remembered in Sturgis as the man who created the Jackpine Gypsies. 

He’s somewhat of a legend around there.

“After the war, several veterans bought Indian and Harley-Davidson surplus military motorcycles and would ride them out here to find this guy, Pappy,” said Gregg Harrington, with Post 33 in Sturgis of the American Legion.

As the story goes, Pappy would fix the riders’ bikes, sometimes free of charge. In return, the only thing he asked was for their stories of service.

His legend led to the largest biker gathering in the world.

Veterans from all over the country now come to share their stories with soldiers just like them.

“We served, you know, I did 23 years. My wife served 20. She’s done six combat tours, she’s in the South Dakota Guard now,” Harrington said.

Members of the Sturgis American Legion say that the ‘thanks’ to veterans was done to remember the back story of the Rally -those it wants to especially honor.

“Really the Rally is kind of a place to showcase the military appreciation,” said Craig Sanderson, the Sturgis American Legion Commander for Post 33. “We find that the majority of the biking community are veterans.”

But the thanks, Harrington says, isn’t what they served for, but it brings veterans and members of the public together for a deeper message.

“We’re not looking for pats on the back because we live in the greatest country and that freedom is just thanks enough. It means a lot that the town and the Rally committee is dedicating a day and time to the veterans,” Harrington said.

If you know a veteran that may not be at the Rally, Sanderson says that when you go home, remind them you’re thankful for their sacrifice.

“Go back to your hometown, spread the word of the veteran and a veteran story. But most of all, do your buddy check on him, keep your eye on him, let them know they’re appreciated,” Sanderson said.


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