Ask Chad Miller why he organizes the Cpl. Brandon Hardy Memorial Scholarship Motorcycle Ride and he will tell you it is to repay Jill Hardy, his first cousin, and her family for all of the support she has given to his family over the years.Last Saturday marked the third annual ride that starts and ends at Gap Fire Hall. This year the 106 mile ride brought in over 180 motorcycles, several with two riders. With a $25 registration fee per rider, this year's event brought in approximately $6,000 to go toward the scholarship that Hardy and her husband established just days after hearing the news of their son's death.
The scholarship goes to an Octorara senior who is joining the military after graduation.
Brandon, a 1999 graduate of Octorara, was killed in action while on patrol in the Haditha Dam area of Al Anbar on April 28, 2006. "Brandon loved serving his country," his mother said. "We knew he would love being able to help other military personnel purchase the things they are required to have, as they are very much underpaid."
Miller said his brother was killed while serving in the Army 21 years ago and Jill was a big supporter for his family. He also recalled when his dad was seriously injured in an accident and Hardy organized a bicycle ride and barbeque with the Lions Club to help raise money for his medical expenses.
"When Brandon died I had the chance to repay her family," Miller said. "So I came up with the motorcycle ride as a way to get people together and help out with the scholarship. I have a Harley, my dad does, and a lot of people in my family do. It's almost like a family reunion when we do it."
Miller and his wife Dorris plan and organize the event along with Rob and Jody Eby, also cousins of Hardy.
Miller and Hardy both said they never expected the event to become as large as it has. The first year brought somewhere between 65-85 people, with roughly 150 the second and over 180 this year. As the ride is always held the third Saturday of July, Hardy said people have already told her they have it on their calendars for next year.
The riders left the fire station in Gap around 9 a.m. Saturday and were able to cruise right through the red lights thanks to the local police and fire departments. Miller said Jeff Burkhart of Cochranville was instrumental in making that happen as he got a lot of rescue vehicles from Parkesburg, West Sadsbury, and Cochranville involved in stopping traffic for them at the intersections of routes 10 and 41 and also 10 and 30. "It was pretty awesome," said Hardy.
From there they headed to Route 100 where the Uwchlan police departments helped them along the way. "There were people along the way waving flags and cheering us on at some places," Hardy said. "And drivers who were stopped to let us pass were so supportive and understanding." A pick-up truck made-up the rear of the pack and had signs attached to the back letting motorists know the importance of their ride.
The first stop along the way was at Smaltz's Harley Davidson in Eagle. "They treat us really well," Hardy said. They also stopped at Herr's Foods in Nottingham to use the rest facilities and grab a drink, and, of course, Herr's potato chips.
As they come back into the area, the group passes by Bran-don's grave at Calvary Monument Bible Church in Paradise, less than a mile from Nickel Mines. "That is the best part for me as a parent," Hardy said. "Everyone backs off to about 10 miles per hour to pass the grave. It is a great and emotional ride."
Hardy rode on the back of her husband Warren's motorcycle during the ride. "As always, Warren and I continue to be amazed at the support of the community for our family," Hardy said. "The people that come out are just so respectful. They come up and thank us for Brandon's service. They just appreciate what these men and women are doing to preserve our freedom. It's an incredibly heartwarming feeling."
The ride ended back at the Gap Fire Hall where there was a large lunch waiting for all of the riders. Hardy said many, many people donated items for the meal and Rob and Vicki Eldredge helped considerably with that and with getting coffee and donuts for the morning.
Hardy's youngest son, Chad, left for boot camp on Father's Day last month. Miller, along with Ken Brong, a member of the Patriot Guard who works with Warren, planned a special surprise for Chad's sendoff. They wanted to get 20 motorcycles to come out and escort him to Downingtown, where he met with other recruits to head to camp in Mechanicsburg.
That morning, the Hardys were in the front yard of their home taking photos of Chad and getting ready to leave when 60 motorcycles pulled up. Each of the riders got off of their bikes and came into the yard to say good-bye and thank you to Chad and the two other boys who were heading out with him. "It was a very powerful statement to Chad," Hardy said. "It was just awesome, and it all happened by word of mouth."
Hardy was expecting them to ride along for a few minutes after they left their house, to her surprise, all 60 bikes-with their vehicle in the middle of the pack-made the entire trip to Downingtown. She said about half of them also headed out toward Mechanicsburg and 18 riders went the entire way.