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National Veterans Awareness Riders visit Iowa Veterans Home

Monday morning, around 50 people from around the nation rode in to the Iowa Veterans Home on motorcycles and four-wheeled vehicles as part of the NVAR (National Veterans Awareness Riders) annual ride, which culminates in Washington, D.C. on Sunday.

“This facility is one of the best we visit. We rearranged our schedule a number of years ago to be able to spend all morning at the Iowa Veterans Home, and we’ve come here every year since we got started in 2005,” National Coordinator Jerry Conner said.

The (NVAO) is a non-profit organization dedicated to honoring all veterans. The ride kicked-off May 14 in Auburn, Calif. Bikers and veterans from around the U.S. participate, some able to ride the whole duration, others joining mid-ride. Others just ride for the day.

Vietnam War vet Mike Barnes made the journey from his home in Oregon and is now in his seventh year of participating.

“We ride cross country to talk to the vets — stopping at hospitals, homes and schools — to make sure the public has not forgotten our vets,” Barnes said. “I’ve gotten to talk to one of the last survivors who raised the flag at Iwo Jima and women that flew planes interstate during World War II. It’s just a lot of history and some that breaks your heart. But as long as I’m able, I’m riding.”

IVH employee Brad Shipley said many residents have formed bonds with the riders, looking forward to chatting with them each year.

“The residents really enjoy speaking to them. The riders pay their respect to them for their service and it’s a great organization,” Shipley said.

Ride participants vary in age and military service, with the youngest being high school students along for the ride, up to veterans in their 80s.

Conner said younger folks have joined the organization.

“We visit the monuments in Washington, D.C., but we also make a stop to the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial in Marseilles, Ill.,” he said.

Participants do not have to be veterans.

“I love visiting with our veterans and bringing awareness for them and welcoming them home. I’m not a veteran myself, but I give back this way,” Kat Tipton, who is from Wyoming, said.

The NVAR folks broke into groups and visited with veterans at IVH all morning, then joined them for lunch. They concluded the day with stops in Iowa City and Davenport.

They begin the ride at 5:30 a.m. each day, wrapping up at 8 p.m.

“If a veteran wants to talk and share stories, they can stay with them awhile to chat,” Conner said. “A lot of these folks don’t get a lot of visitors and might not have a lot of friends and family around, particularly the older vets, and so they really appreciate having someone hold their hand, share some stories and some laughs and jokes. For our riders, this is the most important thing that we do all year.”

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Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at

641-753-6611 or

sjordan@timesrepublican.com