This story was originally published in August 2018.
More than three decades ago, Jim Wear owned a motorcycle shop on the south end of town.
One day a bunch of Colorado College kids came in looking for accessories and clothing that would make them look like bikers for a biker-themed frat party. Upon seeing a POW/MIA patch, one young student was puzzled.
“One girl says, ‘What is that POW/MIA? Is that the motorcycle club?’ It floored me,” Wear said. “This was the late 1980s. To me, it was the second most recognizable flag in the country, and it blew me away she had no idea what it meant.”
In that instant, he decided to organize a motorcycle ride for veterans around CC during the frat party to create awareness.
“A bunch of bikes together brings people out to see what’s going on,” said Wear, founder and organizer of the Salute to American Veterans Rally and POW/MIA recognition ride. “The first time was 20 bikes, then 100, then 300, then we started riding through the Springs.”
Eventually, the number of riders grew so large, and the Colorado Springs Police Department grew so impatient with the way they impeded traffic, that Wear realized he needed to take the ride out of town. Off to Cripple Creek they went.
He had no idea then that his initial impulse to educate a few college kids about the military and veterans would grow into the hugely popular Salute to American Veterans Rally, now in its 26th year. The POW/MIA ride, in its 31st year and about 1,000 motorcycles strong, leaves Woodland Park High School every August and travels to Cripple Creek for the rally.
This year’s free event is Friday through Sunday and features a parade at 10 a.m. Saturday, POW/MIA recognition ride at 10:15 a.m. Saturday, POW/MIA remembrance ceremony at noon Saturday in City Park, the Vietnam Memorial Wall at Cripple Creek High School, a poker run, vendors, beer garden and live music by Ryan Chrys and the Rough Cuts, Blue Steel and the Voodoo Hawks.
About 30,000 to 40,000 people show up over the three-day event, with about 10,000 people in Cripple Creek at any given time. About 80 percent of attendees are veterans, though plenty of patriotic civilians show up to thank the vets and show their support.
“I was too young for Vietnam and too old for Desert Storm,” Wear said. “This is our way to serve those who have served us. All we’re doing is creating a venue for all these vets to come together. They make the whole thing happen. We had no vision of what this would turn into. It’s about camaraderie and healing. When these guys get together, they can share experiences and reminisce. Only a vet can understand what it is to be a vet.”