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Harley owner finds lasting way to honor fallen military

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, May 25, 2014, at 1:14 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, June 22, 2014, at 12:10 p.m.

Photos

Dave Schoonover’s 2012 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic is a rolling tribute to Kansas military killed since Operation Desert Storm.

His silver, gold and navy bike features the names of all 94 military members also honored at the newly dedicated Operation Freedom Memorial at Wichita’s Veterans Memorial Park.

Schoonover, a Hutchinson resident, has been part of the American Legion Riders and the Patriot Guard since 2005. He said he served in the Army in Germany from 1979 to 1984.

“When I bought this bike here, I thought it was such a beautiful bike it would be a great way to pay tribute to all the young men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice,” Schoonover said.

Innovative Tint & Graphics in Hutchinson lettered the names for free, Schoonover said. The last name added was that of Sgt. 1st Class Forrest W. Robertson, who died in November in Afghanistan. Schoonover said it’s always emotional to add a name. He said he hoped he didn’t have to add any more but knows he probably will. The names are on vinyl lettering. When the current wars America is fighting are over, he hopes to have the names hand-painted on the bike.

A truck driver, Schoonover keeps two laminated pages that contain the photo and information about each military member with him on the bike. Their pictures also have been programmed into his bike’s GPS device.

“I’ve looked at them so many times I feel like I know them,” he said.

The bike is not just a show bike, he said.

“It’s a rider. It goes everywhere,” he said. “I always get people commenting on it.”

Schoonover brought the bike to the Operation Freedom Memorial recently. Family members of fallen soldiers surrounded him, taking pictures of the bike.

“It’s always very moving to hear the stories and very humbling,” Schoonover said. “The bike is my way of making sure their memories stay alive.”

Anita Dixon, president and founder of Operation Freedom Memorial Foundation Inc., lost her son, U.S. Army Sgt. Evan Parker, in 2005. He died from wounds he suffered while he was deployed in Iraq.

She’s been on the bike with Schoonover.

“When I first saw the bike, I was just blown away,” she said. “I’m very honored. I know a lot of hard work and tears and pride has gone into him creating that bike. It just means a lot to so many of us.”

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SGCountyDeb.

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