CHELSEA, Maine — Warren Ard knows a lot of veterans who could use a little help.
He knows one whose wife is recovering from major surgery, another whose home recently burned and another struggling to heat his home. And then there are the homeless ones.
“The government takes better care of vets than when I got out of the service, but there are still a lot of veterans out there who can’t get the help they need,” said Ard, who served in the Army in the 1970s and now lives in Liberty. “If we know of a veteran who’s in trouble, if he needs anything, we should do our best to help him.”
That’s the premise under which Ard and some others formed the Garry Owen Motorcycle Club last year: to help veterans whenever they can and, of course, enjoy their iron two-wheeled horses. The club, which started officially last May, has already gathered donations, raffled off firewood and a handmade quilt and is organizing benefit suppers.
And then there have been some of the activities you’d expect from a motorcycle club: applying symbolic patches to their leather vests, tuning up their machines and, on Saturday, making their allegiance to the club permanent with tattoos.
For many, it might be difficult to distinguish the rough-around-the-edges Garry Owen riders from members of other motorcycle groups, but club Treasurer Curby Biagiotti of Montville said there are some key differences. The mission, he said, is purely charitable.
“We’re not a 1 percent club or an outlaw club,” he said. “Our primary goal is to help veterans, and that’s it.”
Garry Owen is not a person. Garryowen is a place in Ireland near the city of Limerick and, more importantly, a legend perpetuated in an Irish quick-step fiddle tune that dates back to the 1600s. More recently, the tune has been used by the U.S. Army’s first and seventh Cavalry Regiments and holds an honored place in military history. That history is captured by the Garry Owen Motorcycle Club’s crest, which includes the color yellow, which is a color traditionally used by American cavalries, a horse that signifies the mode of transit and a heavy black line that represents the road taken. That crest appears on the club’s vests — known as “cuts” — and after the tattoo session Saturday, on members’ bodies.
But permanent ink is not a requirement. The only qualification to join is military service by the member or someone in his immediate family and ownership of a motorcycle with a 750-cubic-centimeter-or-larger engine, whether it’s made at the Harley-Davidson factory or anywhere else.
Clint Dodge of Rockland is one of the younger members of the club who joined up about two months ago. He said he did it in honor of his grandfather, a former Navy sailor.
“I saw it as an opportunity to try to help out some veterans,” he said. “My grandfather always taught me to respect your elders. Any elders. He’d be pretty proud of what this club stands for.”
For more information about the Garry Owen Motorcycle Club, visit the website www.garryowen.org, or call Curby Biagiotti or club member Dwayne Keller of Chelsea at 313-2644 or 215-7782, respectively. Members are expected to attend monthly meetings whenever possible and to participate in fundraisers for veterans.
“We are 100-percent Americans,” reads the club’s website. “We are a family oriented club that still adheres to the values of OUR founding fathers.”