Disabled Vet inspires, advocates

BARNESVILLE – As he lay in a South African hospital in 1981, Dave Barr, a United States Marine Corps veteran from Los Angeles, says he asked God not “why me,” but “what now?” Serving a tour of duty with the South African Army a decade after his tour in Vietnam, Barr’s vehicle ran over a land mine, and 20 operations later he had lost both of his legs.

Fitted with prosthetics and back home in California, Barr took his Harley Davidson FX Super Glide out of storage. He’d bought his first bike, a 1961 Harley Davidson Panhead, when he returned from Vietnam and rode it to the east coast and back. Upon his return, Barr refit the starter and brake pedal to accommodate his prosthetic legs. Barr got the answer to his “what now” question on this first ride on the refurbished motorcycle.

“I knew inside. It was an epiphany,” he remembers. “I could show other people with disabilities that they don’t have to be victims. They can still live life even though they’ve lost some of the privileges of good health. I wasn’t going to be a victim. I knew my duty wasn’t done.”

Barr not only became a role model but an advocate for the disabled as well. In 1989, Barr took his Super Glide on a 9,000 mile trans-continental journey starting in Johannesburg, South Africa on behalf of the international Leonard Cheshire Foundation, which provides assistance for the disabled. Barr’s next awareness trip in 1990 ended 3 1/2 years and 83,000 miles later, spanning six continents and the Sahara Desert, the Chilean Andes and the Arctic Circle. His first book, “Riding the Edge,” tells the story of his world tour.

Subsequent motorcycle rides earned Barr two Guinness World Record spots. The first was for a trip across Eurasia, 9,375 miles from France’s Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast in Russia. This was especially grueling because much of the ride was completed in winter, the only time the land route was accessible. The second Guinness mark was awarded after Barr’s Southern Cross journey, a 10,000 mile trek to each of Australia’s farthest points east, west, north and south.

A “natural progression” led Barr to ride for the Operation Military Embrace organization which provides services and resources for wounded soldiers and their families at no charge. The organization has raised $1.2 million over the last five years, and it is entirely volunteer driven. “Families may send a member off to war,” says Barr. “But they don’t always come back whole. They may be missing limbs or be broken. There is a lot of focus on the soldiers, which is good, but who helps the families deal with that? This is my part in the war on terror.”

His “part” includes linking up with groups like the Barnesville American Legion Riders from American Legion Post #168. The Barnesville Riders began in 2010 to enjoy the camaraderie of motorcycle riding and to raise awareness of community causes, much like the 117,000 Legion Riders across the U.S. According to Post #168 President Clint Stephens, the Barnesville Riders number about 25 currently and are open to new male or female members, with any type of bike 300cc or larger and an American Legion membership card.

The Barnesville Riders were appreciative of Barr’s time on the tour, and member Bob Ewing presented Barr with an initial check for $1,000 from community donations. Stephens added, “It’s great that someone spends his life doing something like this.”

An area rider, Charlene Downing of Cambridge, arranged Barr’s “Patriot Express” Ohio stops for this trip, including dinner with the Barnesville post, a visit to the American Motorcycle Association Museum on Thursday (where Barr’s world trip motorcycle resides and where he is a member of the Hall of Fame), a dinner with the Whitehall American Legion in Columbus and a radio interview and dinner in Byesville on Friday. Barr has already stopped in Las Vegas and is on his way to Indianapolis and Missouri.

Throughout all the miles and countries, what does Barr consider his most memorable moments? “I think riding the bike into Tiananmen Square in Beijing and Red Square in Moscow – these places of oppression – but the greatest thing, all over the world, has been the people. I wouldn’t have made it without all of the people encouraging and helping me. And the war is never over. I have no intention of stopping what I do.”

For more information on Dave Barr, visit www.DaveBarr.com. For information on Operation Military Embrace, visit www.operationmilitaryembrace.com. The Barnesville American Legion Post #168 is located at 317 E. South St. For information on the Legion Riders call (740) 425-9143.