The roar of 300 motorcycles will briefly disturb the Sunday morning quiet of Mount Airy as Operation God Bless America IV comes to town on behalf of America's hospitalized veterans.
The riders will travel from Mount Airy to the Martinsburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center in West Virginia in a fund-raising effort for the hospital.
Robert K. McCulloh of Mercersburg, Pa., started Operation God Bless America four years ago during the Persian Gulf conflict. The ride was intended to be a one-time event, but after visiting the hospital in Martinsburg, Mr. McCulloh decided to make it an annual fund-raiser.
He said federal budget cuts have pared veterans hospitals to the bone.
"Everything except the absolute medical necessities was cut out," said Mr. McCulloh, 26. "There's no money for haircuts, televisions or exercise bikes. It's bad enough being in the hospital, but being there without a TV to watch really makes the days long."
Most of the money raised in the event comes from the bikers' $5 registration fee.
Until now, the bike route has been from Greencastle, Pa., to Martinsburg. Charles Levy, a Mount Airy motorcycle enthusiast, decided to organize a second route this year from Mount Airy to the hospital.
Mr. Levy, a senior electrical engineering technician at the National Institute of Standards and Technologies in Gaithersburg, was in the Army for a year in Korea from 1964 to 1965. His volunteer work for 15 years at the Martinsburg Veterans Hospital led to his involvement in Operation God Bless America.
He expects about 300 motorcyclists to depart from the American Legion Post on Prospect Ave. at 11 a.m. and continue on Main Street to I-70. The cyclists will meet the group from Greencastle at a truck stop in West Virginia and ride to the Martinsburg hospital together.
Mr. McCulloh said he expects about 900 riders in the two groups.
Operation God Bless America organizers have arranged a picnic and a bluegrass band for the bikers and hospital patients. Then the motorcyclists will visit the veterans who are unable to leave their hospital rooms for the outdoor events, Mr. McCulloh said.
Last year, Operation God Bless America raised $2,500 for the hospital, Mr. McCulloh said. The money was used to buy televisions, exercise bikes and hearing aids.
Mr. McCulloh said he organized the event around a motorcycle ride because he had participated in many successful fund-raiser bike rides for various groups. And, he said, several of his biker friends served in Vietnam.
Although Mr. McCulloh isn't a military veteran, he says Operation God Bless America is "my way of serving my country now."
He was particularly pleased to receive a congratulatory fax earlier this week from former President George Bush.
Mr. Bush wrote: "I would like to salute you for your uniquely patriotic event and your selfless efforts to help our nation's veterans."
Next year, Mr. McCulloh plans to expand Operation God Bless America to veterans hospitals in Baltimore and Lebanon, Pa. Eventually, he hopes to bring the event to one VA hospital in each state.
Mr. Bush's letter has encouraged him to broaden his efforts.
"Getting recognized by a former president makes us feel that what we're doing is going to turn out to really be something," Mr. McCulloh said.
An all-you-can-eat breakfast will be served before the ride from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at the American Legion Post 191 at 801 Prospect Road. Tickets must be purchased in advance by calling Mr. Levy at (301) 831-7116.
For more information, call Mr. McCulloh, (717) 328-9063.