Community members have the opportunity to join local veterans in remembering an important piece of American history while supporting those who served their country.

The Rolla VFW is preparing for their ninth annual Freedom Ride, taking participants across Phelps County to remember the events of 9/11 while celebrating local veterans. In addition to the festivities, all proceeds from the events go to veteran’s assistance in Phelps County through the VFW organization.

Pat Samel, one of the trustees for Rolla’s VFW Post 2025, said the ride was originally designed as a poker run, but changed over the past number of years to be more accessible to everyone. The ride also transitioned from being a motorcycle event to one where any vehicle can participate, giving families an opportunity to enjoy the ride together.

The ride will take participants to the different VFW post’s in Phelps County, moving from Rolla to Buckhorn, then to Crocker and Dixon before moving to St. James and back to Rolla. At each stop, there will be refreshments and opportunities for riders and drivers to get to know one other, and a meal prepared by the VFW Auxiliary will be served as well. The ride gives civilian riders and drivers a chance to be a part of veteran culture and history in Phelps County, and get to know the veterans living in the area.

Samel, who was a part of similar events during his time in the service, said that not only is it a way to remember what happened in the past, but it’s a way to help veterans in the present. The funds collected by the VFW through the ride go directly into their Service Officer fund, which is used to assist veterans in need in Phelps County.

“It’s being used for vets, and it’s all staying her in this community,” he said, explaining how the money is used to give aid to veterans in almost any situation where they need it. Samel gave the example of a veteran calling because his electricity was about to be turned off; they were able to use the funds to keep it on and help him through the situation.

“We get phone calls all the time time with veterans needing help,” Samel said. “If a veteran’s driving through and he’s needing gas, we’ll put gas in his tank.”

Samel said that enabling veterans to help other veterans is one of the best ways community members can support those that have served their county. According to him, sometimes the only way to reach a veteran in need is to have another veteran reach out to them.

“Veterans have an need but they are also proud,” Samel said, “They don’t always like to ask for help, sometimes we have to go them. With veterans helping veterans, it’s easier to get things done.”

People can register for the event in advance by contacting the Rolla VFW at 573-364-2025. By participating in the ride, according to Samel, community members can support local veterans while remembering one of the most important parts of American History.

“We don’t want to forget,” Samel said. “Right after 9/11, people were all out for the United States, they had flags on their cars, truckers had flags on the side of their trucks, and within three months the division started again….We’re seeing unity with Harvey in Texas. It didn’t make any difference who was white, black or brown, they all worked and pulled together to get things done and save people. That’s what this United States is all about, working together.”

This sense of unity and pulling together is the theme Samel and the rest of the VFW want to express with the Freedom Ride this year, as veterans and community members join the same team and travel across Phelps County.

“When you’ve been on the road together, you get close-knit,” Samel said. “It’s like being accepted into a group.”

The freedom rides costs $20 per driver and only $10 for each passenger. The signup cost covers the meal and refreshments as well as a T-shirt for participants.