by James C. Moore
Down yonder, in those “old Kentucky hills of Tennessee," country music legend Loretta Lynn has pulled together an annual event that celebrates music, motorcycles, and the American military veteran. She describes it as a four-day festival that showcases the mid-South’s “devotion to music, motorcycles, food, art, entertainment, and Southern hospitality.”
The conclusion of the gathering, which runs from Sept. 28 to Oct. 1, will be highlighted by 22 separate motorcycle rides that end at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch along Hurricane Creek and are designed to bring attention to the number of veteran suicides that are estimated to occur in the U.S. each day. Mission 22, an organization devoted to ending the suicides and the stigma associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury, will be the beneficiary of the fund-raising through the rides that begin throughout various locations in Tennessee.
Mission 22 has already had an impact. The organization created a “War at Home Memorial,” which honors vets that lost the battle with PTSD and took their lives after returning from service. The goal is to have a permanent monument in New York City and/or Washington, D.C., but there is already a version traveling the country to raise awareness. The mobile memorial consists of 22 steel plates that are produced in the likeness of a real American veteran who lost a personal battle with PTSD. Details of their lives and service will be described in an inscription located at the base of each plate.
Ms. Lynn, who was unaware of the suicide crisis among veterans, added the motorcycle event to her revival in hopes of raising money and awareness.
“In addition to the motorcycle people camping at the Ranch and anyone coming in on their own,” Lynn said, “We have 22 motorcycle dealers hosting their own motorcycle rides that will all converge at the Ranch. We want to give them a real nice show with a Special Military Tribute and recognize that many of these young men and women who serve our country, often come home with turmoil and grief that leads to suicide. When I heard 22 veterans commit suicide a day in our country, I just thought this could not be true and what could we do.”
Military veterans have long been drawn to the American motorcycle culture for its realization of freedom and emotional release. Veteran riders provide honor guards for military funerals and honored servicemen and women. Their $50 registration fee for the “Mission 22” ride for Lynn’s festival will all go directly to the organization trying to assist veterans troubled by their experiences during their service.