Salute to Veterans Motorcycle Ride benefits Scranton’s Gino Merli Center

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Rolling Thunder, an advocacy group supporting veterans and full accountability for soldiers with POW/MIA status, made its first ride in 1987; since then the group has attained non-profit status and founded chapters across the United States.
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July 17’s Salute to Veterans Ride is a motorcycle ride organized by the Rolling Thunder motorcycle group to benefit Gino Merli Veterans Center. Pictured are veterans and Rolling Thunder members. From left: James Traglia, Peg Barhight, Clifford Davies, Augie Barhight, Dave Sevensky II and William Bernavage.
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Registration for July 17’s Salute to Veterans Ride is $10 per person and lasts from 9 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. at Gino J. Merli Veterans Center, 401 Penn Ave., Scranton. Last year’s ride raised money for the Christmas gifts received by residents of the center.
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Gino Merli is a local World War II hero. The veterans center in Scranton was named after the Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.
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More Info:

IF YOU GO

What: 17th Annual Salute to Veterans Motorcycle Ride

When: Registration begins 9 a.m. July 17. Ride begins soon after.

Where: Gino J. Merli Veterans Center, 401 Penn Ave., Scranton

How Much: $10 per person

SCRANTON — Clifford Davies served as a member of the United States Armed Forces from 1962 to 1982. During those 20 years he was stationed in New Orleans, Hawaii, Washington, D.C. and Spain, but for the better part of two years Davies’ base has been Gino J. Merli Veterans Center in Scranton.

Davies, 73, is a resident at the state-run center that acts as a skilled nursing facility for veterans who can no longer receive adequate care at home. During the 2015 holiday season, Davies was a recipient of their annual holiday gift: heavy blankets embroidered with the facility’s logo, paid for by the local chapter of non-profit veterans advocacy organization Rolling Thunder and their annual Salute to Veterans motorcycle ride.

“It boosts morale here, it really does,” Davies said. “It’s the little things they do for us that really matters. It’s not the cost of things, but it’s being appreciated for what we did.”

Registration for the 17th Annual Salute to Veterans ride is from 9 to 11:30 a.m. July 17 at Gino J. Merli Veterans Center, 401 Penn Ave., Scranton. Soon after, riders who pay the $10 registration fee will set out from that location, among them 64-year-old Covington Township resident, Augie Barhight, president of Rolling Thunder Pennsylvania Chapter 3.

From 1971 to 1975, Barhight served in Vietnam and Thailand. In 1991 he took part in his first Rolling Thunder ride in Washington, D.C. Seven years later he helped found the local chapter, which meets every month at the Dupont VFW.

“We’ve been doing a ride at the Gino Merli Center for 17 years now and this is our 17th year (of operation),” Barhight said about the organization. “The best way to describe us is a veterans service organization and our primary mission is POW and MIA issues, along with veterans of all wars … to improve the quality of their life and any issues they have.”

For Gino Merli Center residents, quality of life is improved through donations; the state of Pennsylvania pays for their room and board, but necessities like clothing and toiletries are provided via benefactors. According to Volunteer Resource Coordinator Delores Davis, all proceeds from the Salute to Veterans motorcycle ride go into the center’s Resident Welfare Fund to help pay for auxiliary items and programs, including the annual holiday gift.

“Anything from bingo to activities, entertainment, decorations for the center for the residents, any trips,” Davis said. “Anything above and beyond a cot and food. It helps pay for all the luxuries.”

Gino J. Merli Veterans Center is one of six state-run veterans facilities. The center has 196 beds and is also open to veteran’s spouses. For more information about the center and its volunteer or donation needs, call 570-961-4300.

Reach Gene Axton at 570-991-6121 or on Twitter @TLArt

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