Honoring the Past, Looking to the Future

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After the Ride to the Flags, actor Eric Christian Olsen joins the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts of America, who waved flags on both sides of PCH as the bikers road into Malibu Bluffs Park on Sunday. 

By 11:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, a small crowd had begun to gather at Malibu Bluffs Park. 

The sun, obscured by an American flag suspended on two ladder trucks, shone on the Boy Scouts and volunteers, vendors and spectators. In the distance, some of the nearly 3,000 flags sweeping across Pepperdine’s campus waved in the wind. Then, the distant roar of a Harley-Davidson could be heard and one bike after another rolled into view.

The ninth annual Ride to the Flags took place on Sept. 11. The annual event involves hundreds of motorcyclists riding down the coast along PCH from the Naval Base at Point Mugu to the Waves of Flags on Alumni Park at Pepperdine University. This year, an estimated 800 riders took place in the procession. But this is no ordinary ride, nor is it simply a 9/11 memorial.

“This is a huge opportunity for the community to see a show of the American spirit and that it hasn’t died yet,” U.S. Marine veteran Jed Morgan explained to The Malibu Times.

Morgan experienced firsthand that American spirit when he became the beneficiary of the Ride to the Flags two years ago.

Sponsored by the White Heart Foundation, the Ride to the Flags raises thousands of dollars each year for a wounded American veteran to receive help that will make a sizeable impact in his or her life. Morgan, who at the time was still at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, received a track chair. With the loss of both legs and loss of use of his right hand, the track chair made a big impact in his life — as did the fully accessible home White Heart partnered with Jared Allen of the Chicago Bears to build. Now he comes back, year after year, to help support fellow wounded vets.

“You get to go and drive through some of the most beautiful scenery,” Morgan described. “It’s an opportunity to show support for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and other veterans who lost limbs, to keep their country what it is.”

The Ride to the Flags began as a simple ride to Pepperdine’s Waves of Flags installation, the striking display of 2,977 flags — one representing each life lost in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“It just basically started as a group of people who wanted to have a ride through the mountains and end at the flags,” Craig Breskin, a participant who had been with the Ride to the Flags since its inception, described. He was part of the first group to do the ride, which he said originally began with an idea by John Nanney and his wife, Nettie.

Breskin, an Army National Guard veteran, was enthusiastic about how the event has grown.

“White Heart started something special to help wounded warriors,” Breskin said. “I think it’s fantastic — in the beginning, we maybe had 10-15 motorcycles. Once we started at Point Mugu, that’s when it really started to explode.”

Eric Matthews, a White Heart board member and event organizer, said working on the ride since 2010 has helped him feel connected to men of his generation who served.

“A big part of it is, I would help coordinate and volunteer when I could with USO and other military nonprofits,” Matthews said. “I met guys my age — millennials who served in post-9/11 combat.

“I was already in my mid-20s when I joined this — this is my way to give back.”

Eric credited Ryan Sawtelle, a Pepperdine grad and the man who founded White Heart and established Waves of Flags, with bringing him on-board.

This year, the beneficiary was Marine Cpl. Caleb Getscher, an Afghanistan veteran.

Getscher was injured in 2011, losing one leg below the knee, one leg through the knee and his left arm below the elbow after stepping on an IED. 

Money raised from this year’s Ride to the Flags will go toward construction of Getscher’s house in Leonardtown, Maryland.