GULFPORT -- A day before Independence Day, about 80 Harley-Davidson motorcycle riders roared through the gate and down to the front of the Armed Forces Retirement Home to give a unique salute to the veterans.
As part of the national Patriot Tour, the Harley Owners Group, many veterans themselves, held a short flag-transfer ceremony alongside the memorial pool. They then visited with the retirement home's residents.
During the ceremony, riders from Florida handed off an American flag, which will have made 100 stops in 100 days by the end of the tour, to their Mississippi Coast counterparts. Next stop for the flag is Baton Rouge.
Keesler Air Force Base's Honor Guard raised the flag over the memorial pool to the bugle tune of "To The Colors." After pausing momentarily for the national anthem, the Honor Guard lowered the flag to "The Star Spangled Banner."
"This, being on the heels of Independence Day, gives us a reminder that we sort of get lost in life sometimes and things get in the way," Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes said. "We need to be reminded of the reason why we're fortunate to live in the country that we do, to have the quality of life and the camaraderie and relationships that we do and the things we enjoy that no other country on this Earth do."
Steve Carrington, who served in the Air Force for 24 years and is one of the Harley Owner Group's coordinators for the tour, said Thursday's ceremony was all about showing their appreciation.
"It's heartwarming. It's our way of contributing to the veterans," he said. "Many of the Harley owners are veterans themselves, so to come to a facility like this that houses veterans who lived through World War I, World War II, the Korean War it's just amazing to pay our respects to these people and give our thanks.
"I hope they feel a sense of 'thank you' from us and let them know how proud we are of them for what they have done."