Nov 15, 2023

Amid the Roar of Motorcycles, Veterans Find Comfort and Community

Reporting Texas


A member of Cowboy Harley-Davidson of Austin HOG chapter looks at the American flag at Heroes Memorial Park in Kyle after the group’s recent ride. Michael Nolan/Reporting Texas

Soaked by pouring rain, a group of Harley Davidson riders’ fire up their engines and begin their journey to Heroes Memorial Park in Kyle. Undeterred by the adverse weather, this group of military veterans takes pride in their shared passion and cherishes the brotherhood they’ve developed.

 “As veterans, we always look forward to events like this,” said Allen Deaver, an Air Force veteran. 

On Oct. 28, riders met at Teddy Morse’s Cowboy Harley Davidson dealership off Interstate 35 in South Austin to raise money for a local service member. After a short talk about ride safety, two dozen riders, escorted by Kyle police, fired up their engines and journeyed to Heroes Memorial Park through torrid rain. The park was opened in 2022 to honor veterans, first responders and community heroes. 

Back at Harley Davidson, riders stayed for the afternoon to listen to live music, examine each other’s bikes and socialize. The bikers and psychologists say rides like this can provide an invaluable community for veterans to connect with others with shared experiences.

Ed ‘Horny Toad’ Harris, a member of Leathernecks MC, rides to Heroes Memorial Par in Kyle. Michael Nolan/Reporting Texas

 “I think veterans need to be around other veterans,” said Deaver,

A  report by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in 2022 found that about 16 veterans took their lives every day in 2020. Veteran communities, such as Harley Davidson chapters, often aim to provide important community for veterans who may be finding it difficult to integrate back into civilian society. 

 Suzannah Creech, a clinical psychologist at the University of Texas’ Dell Medical School and the VA’s VISN17 Center of Excellence on Returning Veterans, finds that it is common for service members who’ve experienced trauma to struggle. 

“They can experience depression or anxiety, which can turn into post traumatic stress disorder,” Creech said. 

This can affect veterans’ day-to-day lives, relationships and work, she said. They may struggle to connect with others and can become reclusive, which may exacerbate symptoms.

A member of the Cowboy Harley-Davidson HOG chapter of Austin observes HeroesMemorial Park in Kyle. Michael Nolan/Reporting Texas

Veteran community groups “actively work to make you feel less isolated,” Creech said.

 She believes  veterans connecting with groups that match their interests can be cathartic and offer a place to talk about some of their experiences, 

“Veterans can have a hard time fitting in when they return,” said Ed Harris, a former Marine who participated in the Kyle ride with Leathernecks MC Lone Star Chapter.

Harris emphasized that young veterans “need our support more than ever.” 

The intergenerational nature of the Harley Davidson chapters can provide an important support structure as older members can offer advice and guidance to young veterans. 

Back in Kyle, Steve Dakhil is working to make these connections during the ride. He was raised in Iraq and left for Syria in 2006 when his jewelry shop was bombed and became a U.S. military contractor. In 2009 he was granted a visa to the United States through the United Nations, and became a U.S. citizen in 2015. 

“It’s a brotherhood, man, when we see someone in need, we all hop in to help out,” he said.

Bikers arrive at Heroes Memorial Park in Kyle where the flag flew at half-mast following a shooting spree in Maine. Michael Nolan/Reporting Texas