By Tom Christian
It was a beautiful morning as I rode down from Big Bear to Riverside Harley-Davidson to cover this event. My mind drifted south to San Diego as I thought about a Thanksgiving conversation that I had with my friend Reta Holbrook’s brother, Donald Bennett.
Reta’s family was full of veterans and I had the pleasure to meet Donald, one of our United States Marines who served in the Korean War. The Marines and other military personnel who fought in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir were known as the Chosin Few. I asked Donald what the weather was like and the answer was shocking. He replied that on a warm night it was thirty below zero; on the cold nights it was more than sixty below zero which happens to be the coldest winter on record in Korea. They were outnumbered too; 18,000 Allied forces to 120,000 Communist military, and the battle lasted sixteen days.
Donald served 31½ years in the Marines, retired as a Major and is now 86 years young. He can recall every minute of every day in all his battles, the events, times and who he was with, going back to May 26, 1947.
On November 27, 1950 Master Sgt. Hopkins was checking on his Marines, including Donald Bennett, going between tank, truck and battle positions trying to keep the morale up by taking them food, ammo and extra warm clothes without caring for his own safety, when he was shot as he was climbing out of his Jeep. I am riding in memory of Master Sgt. Hopkins on this Memorial Day.
Shannon Venturo, another Quick Throttle Correspondent, rode in from Las Vegas with some of her Bling Devas MC members. A new club friend and supporter, Vanessa Borrego, assisted with beautiful videos of this West Coast Thunder event for us. The Bling Devas hit Riverside H-D with a big bang and the photos opps started.
First was the pancake, bacon and sausage breakfast with coffee for five dollars. That’s how you start off a West Coast Thunder ride. It was surprising to see all the folks who were already chowing down at the tables. Seeing the faces from the past along with a lot of young new riders was very refreshing. It was very enjoyable listening to all the bikers visiting with each other, who had never met before just like they were old-time friends. The table with the tickets for the raffle of that beautiful Harley was very busy. Inside the store lots of folks were buying that new summer gear, getting ready to hit the open road in style.
Walking out to the front of the dealership, the number of new riders coming in was amazing. It was like an overrun anthill of people coming in from everywhere. The place was getting packed and you can feel the tension of the excitement for the Ultimate Sacrifice Ceremony which was about to take place. I hope my pictures show the patriotism and the love of country that was on display at the ceremony. You can see the new crop of younger riders which makes me feel good to see them enjoy protecting tradition for our country, military, and those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom.
The ceremony went off with only one hitch and it was an elderly veteran in a wheelchair who had lost his hearing. The crew tried to explain that his wheelchair was on the sidewalk where the ceremony was to take place and they needed to move him off the sidewalk. With tender love and care they managed to find him a good spot where he could still see everything going on.
Event Executive Director Sharon Bridges made sure we were able to get to the top of the ladder set up especially for photography, before kickstands went up exactly at 9:11 am. Shannon and I were up there together doing a Facebook Live feed for Quick Throttle while I was taking overhead still shots with my camera. From our vantage point, we could see all the riders scrambling to get to their bikes to hit the big road and ride to this year’s new event destination, the SoCal Fairgrounds in Perris, CA.
On the ride over it was just mind-blowing to see all the folks cheering on the riders with American flags and banners hanging along the fences. Everyone loved the sounds of our bikes as we rode by, with some little ones giving high-five which I slowed down for, that gave them the biggest smiles in the world. This is where all the bikers have the biggest smiles, just enjoying the ride while watching all the onlookers along the road through Riverside. The ride was a little shorter than last year but still lots of folks watching. Vanessa was on the back of my bike while her husband Dennis waited for her at the Fairgrounds to watch the concert. She managed to take some very nice videos that can only be taken on the back of a bike. See the video of our ride on our Facebook page and website.
As the bikes rolled into the fairgrounds you could hear and see them for miles. The riders had happy smiles as they got off their bikes preparing to watch the concert and grab a bite to eat. Before entering the stage area, you could see all the vendors with biker gear, eye wear and clothes. Shannon did a live feed with the Russ Brown Attorneys’ booth staff and checked out the bike that was going to be won in a drawing from people signing up for their free BAM Program. This program is a great arrangement that lets bikers help bikers who may have a breakdown along the road.
It was time to see who was playing on stage and shoot some photos while enjoying some good music. On the way through the crowd we bumped into a few folks from the mountains in my neck of the woods and they were first-timers at West Coast Thunder. The event is drawing more and younger bikers from a lot more places and let’s hope it keeps going that way.
Entering the stage area at the fairgrounds I wanted to get the best photos of the action as it was quickly changing every minute. But the first thing was to get a big hug from my all time favorite DJ, Pepper from K-FROG 95.1 FM. She always has a warm smile and is ready to greet the fans with open arms. The Tyler Rich band began playing and the music was getting the fans on their feet. Tyler would walk over toward the spectator stands to meet the fans while singing to them. The song that stuck out to me was a great Toby Keith song, “Should Have Been a Cowboy.” The band was young with a lot of talent and plenty of enthusiasm that we all enjoyed.
Then the Ultimate Sacrifice Ceremony was repeated here, and it was heart touching with a bugler playing Taps accompanied by a bagpiper. Jim Bridges and his crew from Riverside H-D did a super job again. The K-Frog crew of Heather, Pepper and Anthony emceed and introduced the ceremony; Heather and Pepper had some lighthearted fun teasing Anthony about his ‘rank’ at the station. He was a good sport and took it with a smile.
Granger Smith hit the stage with the fans jumping in the air with loud cheers for their favorite song. My favorite song was “If the Boots Fit” and when they played it I sang like nobody could hear me. The good thing was they could not hear me and I felt like a star anyway. Granger and his crew really knew how to play to the fans, and made it very fun to watch the interaction between the performers and fans enjoying the show. The band gave the fans water and lots of beer as they picked out a person in the crowd and threw the beverage to them. One fan dressed like Granger was given a guitar that just made the fans lose it with clapping and yelling for the young man and that was a sight to see. Granger and his band kept the fans rocking until the end of the show.
After the dust cleared the West Coast Thunder crew took the stage to prepare for the drawing of the Harley that was being raffled. K-Frog crew was on stage to help out and then Pepper was showing off by doing the splits onstage. We later learned she’s very good with yoga. Then it was time to see who won the Harley and they pulled out the winning ticket. The name Richard Tapia of Moreno Valley was called, but he was not at the fairgrounds at the time. Sharon Bridges called me later to let me know Richard was going to be at their Bike Night with the bike he won, so I could interview him and shoot some photos.
It was a nice ride down to Riverside Harley-Davidson for Bike Night where I had the pleasure to meet Richard Tapia and his family. This family has a rich military history with several of his children currently serving. They have a garage full of motorcycles. His wife Angie has two bikes, one of which took first place in the Ladies Ride Class at the Las Vegas BikeFest Bike Show, sponsored by Quick Throttle Magazine. I was very blessed to meet Richard and his family. See the video on our Facebook page and website.
This year there were a total of 4,832 bikes participating whose riders paid their registration, with many bikes ridden two-up. In this nineteenth year, while the donations are still being tallied, it’s estimated that the total donation for the year will be about $50,000 to the Riverside National Cemetery. This brings the total for overall donations through the years to about one million dollars. Stay tuned for final totals for this year at www.WestCoastThunder.com.
We hope that next year we will see you out there for the twentieth annual event, and let’s make some big West Coast Thunder!