Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
Rusk residents Dennis and Pat Schwartz have been bike enthusiasts since the early days of their marriage, and it wasn't unusual to see the couple out on a spin, with a son each riding behind them.
So when the Texas Honor Ride project began seven years ago as a fundraiser to help families of wounded warriors receiving treatment at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, the couple – then living in Houston – immediately threw their support behind it.
“I'm a veteran myself,” explained Dennis, who served an eight-year-stint with the U.S. Air Force in the mid-1960s to early '70s. “We've been biking enthusiasts a long time and it just fell into place (with Texas Honor Ride) … I thought it was a good cause (because we were) getting (involved with) the wounded vets.”
Since its founding seven years ago, the 501(c)3 charity has raised more than $900K for wounded troops and their families, according to www.texashonorride.org.
The ride takes place on a weekend nearest the national Nov. 11 Veterans Day holiday; this year, one leg of riders will converge in Houston on Saturday to make the jaunt along Interstate 10 to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, where BAMC is located.
A police escort provided by the Blue Knights International and representatives of various South Texas law enforcement agencies will accompany the entourage, which last year numbered 724, Pat said.
Pausing, she recalled how, the previous year, supporters lined six overpasses along I-10 near their destination, waving flags and giving encouragement to riders.
“There's a lot of people who know we're coming through because of past rides and they're stopped along the road just to watch (the procession),” she said. “It's a sight to see.”
At their destination, after taking part in a donation ceremony, riders get to meet with wounded warriors and their families.
“It gives you such a warm feeling to see them,” knowing that these service members are more than likely greeting members of the public for the first time since their arrival at BAMC, she said, then laughed as she and Dennis recalled the one wounded warrior who held up last year's procession when he spotted the couple.
He was Jason March, who, because he missed seeing them the previous year because the Schwartzes were in England, “saw us and came running up, stopping the parade so he could give Pat a hug,” Dennis laughed.
“And there were three or four others who also came running over, and we held up the line because of that.”
The sense of camaraderie and closeness between THR participants and the families they serve is more than just being able to give back, Pat said: It's helped her own beloved husband, a Vietnam vet, find healing after the cold welcome his generation got after returning from Vietnam.
These “vets basically were spit upon and called 'baby killers,' stuff like that and it took him a long time to get back involved and be able to even talk about it,” she said “He did not talk about any of this; it was very hard.”
However, after a healing moment that came during their son's Air Force retirement ceremony – when Dennis received a standing ovation for his military service – an interest was triggered in her husband “in doing things like this,” Pat said. “I think this is like a healing process with him.”
He agreed. “I've enjoyed working with veterans, and anything we can do to help these guys makes us feel good.
“We've invited others to join us, and some have. I think they do because there's a kind of satisfaction there for them. Because that's what it is for me, a personal satisfaction.”