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Outside the Gates: Hundreds of bikers ride to honor America’s fallen

Motorcycle clubs from all over the state celebrate Memorial Day with a long-standing tradition
Motorcycle clubs from all over the state celebrate Memorial Day with a long-standing tradition
Updated: Jun. 2, 2022 at 12:15 PM AKDT
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DENALI STATE PARK, Alaska (KTUU) - It was a clear and sunny afternoon on Sunday, as the Alaska Veterans Memorial opened its gates to the public just in time for Memorial Day. Nestled in one of Alaska’s most popular state parks, Denali was as clear as the day. It was quiet — until a convoy of motorcycles turned into the parking area.

Dan “RC” Owens has been making this ride each Sunday before Memorial Day with the Alaska Vets Motorcycle Club for 20 years.

“We’re taking the time to honor our veterans,” Owens said. “Those that have served and paid the ultimate sacrifice.”

The normally quiet memorial site fills with the thundering sound from hundreds of bikers this time each year. Motorcycle clubs from across the state met in Trapper Creek on Saturday before making their way north to milepost 147.1 of the Parks Highway.

A statue of two Alaska Territorial Guards watches over Denali at the Alaska Veterans Memorial.
A statue of two Alaska Territorial Guards watches over Denali at the Alaska Veterans Memorial.(AKNS)

The caravan of two and three-wheel bikes loop around a paved path before coming to a stop directly in front of the monument. After a few roaring turns of their throttles in unison, the bikers put their side-stands down and surround the center of the platform in opposing silence.

Members of the all-veterans motorcycle club walk four flags from their bikes through the center of the platform before carefully placing them in their holders. Walking next to them are long-time attendees of the commemoration — Rep. Laddie Shaw and Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

“It’s been something that I have worked really hard to get to every year,” Murkowski said. “If we can’t go that extra mile to show our respect for what they have provided us, that’s just false words. So it’s worth it. It’s worth it and we need to be reminded of that.”

The ceremony marks the summer reopening of the memorial to the public. It consists of five concrete panels representing each branch of the military, attended by a statue of two Alaska Territorial Guards.

The local motorcycle clubs have been riding out to the Byers Lake area on Memorial Day weekends for over 30 years — many are veterans themselves.

A man salutes the American flag as a bagpiper plays Amazing Grace at a Memorial Day ceremony in...
A man salutes the American flag as a bagpiper plays Amazing Grace at a Memorial Day ceremony in Byers Lake.(AKNS)

“The American military individual writes a check, a blank check, that the government can cash at any time up to, and including their life,” Owens, a Marine Corps veteran, said. “And many, many of these people that we honor have done that. They have put themselves out there and they have died to preserve what they believe in.”

The clubs hosted a number of traditional military honors under the 20-foot pillars, each met with moments of silence and veterans’ salutes. While every club has different religious and political affiliations, on Sunday they were all there for one reason.

“They’ve come together to show their respect for service, and that’s something that we need to honor,” Murkowski said.

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