Veterans and motorcycle clubs have a long and colorful past. Some of the oldest motorcycle clubs, or MCs, for short, were started after WWI by veterans returning from the war — some of whom had ridden motorcycles as messengers — and looking for something to add some excitement to civilian life.
That only increased after WWII when veterans, many of them still in their 20s, came home and found civilian life too calm and mundane. Hopping on a 40-horsepower, 61-cubic-inch Harley-Davidson Knucklehead and tearing off down the road and raising a little hell provided release.
Editor's note: As we observe Memorial Day by remembering the veterans who didn't come home, one U.S. Navy veteran, J&P Cycles employee, and member of the Fortis in Unum Comoto employee resource group for veterans and first responders, talks about how important his motorcycle club has been in his post-service life.
But what really drew many veterans to MCs was their longing for the camaraderie they had in the military but was missing in their civilian social lives. And while from the outside the MCs may have appeared to the general public to have wild and unruly ways, there were usually some pretty strict rules of conduct internally and a well defined hierarchy of leadership that wasn't so different from the military command structure.
This isn't a history lesson on veterans and MCs, however. It's just my way of setting the stage so you can understand why MCs are still so popular with many veterans and why I was irresistibly drawn to the MC world myself.
What my MC means to me as a veteran
Let me just say now that the MC world is not for everyone. Most riders are actually happier and better suited as lone riders or "unaffiliated" riders. However, there are those among us, such as myself, who want to be part of something bigger and beyond mundane routine of everyday life. We either need, or desire, the structure of an organized group of like-minded individuals to associate with and experience the freedom and pride that comes with riding down the highway two by two in a large pack of bikes.
I say these things not from doing extensive research but rather from my own post-service experiences. After leaving the U.S. Navy, for many years I felt there was something missing in my life but I really couldn't put a finger on it. I moved around the country from job to job, searching for something to make me happy, to make me feel whole. Not really knowing what I was looking for. Then, after buying my first new Harley-Davidson and getting involved with a local chapter of HOG (which stands for Harley Owners Group), I found that I enjoyed the structure of monthly get-togethers and rides. It seemed to awaken something in me that I had unknowingly been yearning for. In a word, camaraderie.
While the manufacturers groups, of which Harley-Davidson's HOG is one of many, are modeled after an MC, I found it to be lacking in some small way that I just couldn't put my finger on. The basic structure of an MC is there, but it really seemed to lack the spirit, or heart, if you will, of a real MC. While they planned and went on rides and organized events, they really shied away from the true MC culture in southeast Texas.
After about a year in the HOG chapter, I met a member of an AMA-sanctioned MC at work one day, and he invited me to attend his club's meeting that Sunday. With no other plans, I decided to check it out. The weather was great for southeast Texas that weekend, and the ride out to the small Texas town for the meeting was great. I liked what I saw and heard at the meeting and quickly made friends with a couple of guys who lived only a few miles from me. We started to hang out together and go riding on the weekends and sometimes in town during the week, and after we became closer friends and I attended a few more monthly meetings, they asked me to join the club.
I had finally found that missing piece in my life for which I had been searching for so long. During my probationary membership phase, and after patching in, I got to meet and talk with a lot of MC members both in my club and in other clubs, and what I found did not really surprise me that much. A fair percentage of club members were fellow veterans. We all had different stories and came from different walks of life, but the one thing that seemed to be a common thread among all of us was the fact that the MC world gave us that sense of belonging, of unity, of camaraderie that we had all shared while serving in the military.
The MC world also gave us the structure that some of us need to help keep order and control the chaos that tends to swirl around us in our daily lives. It also provides an outlet for our sense of duty to something above and beyond ourselves, and serving and protecting one's brothers is a most powerful human response and can fill us with a sense of pride and worthiness. I have found nothing else in the civilian world that even comes close to the bonds of brotherhood shared between the members of a motorcycle club.
The one last thing that I would like to touch on here in this article is that the MC world has a few fairly strict protocols that should always be observed, especially with 1%er clubs or their support clubs and affiliates. Whether or not you are a member of a club or group, the best advice I can give is this. The MC world revolves around one key ideal. Respect. Give respect. Show respect. You'll get respect.
I was a member of my MC for more than eight years just south of Houston until I had to move to Daytona Beach, Florida. The time I spent as a club member was, I think I can honestly say, some of the happiest times of my life. Also, some of the saddest. Over the course of those eight years, I lost more than a few brothers, some of whom I was closer to than my own flesh and blood.
I will get back to Texas again someday, and when I do, you can bet your last dollar that I will rejoin the club that I still love and respect.