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Cruisin’ with Honor set for May 27

Next weekend is the traditional Memorial Day weekend, and one local soldier is hoping to make Saturday a big day for area veterans, families, bikers, and car enthusiasts.

Staff Sgt. William Arnder of the North Carolina National Guard, along with Mindy Chilton of Freedom Designs and Graphics, as well as other volunteers and sponsors, will be putting on the annual Cruisin’ with Honor Saturday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the National Guard Armory at 185 Patrol Station Road.

Well, most of it will be there. Part of the day’s festivities will be a benefit ride that will see “kickstands up at 11 a.m.” according to Arnder.

The event also will include live music, the 40th Army Band from Raleigh, food trucks, 50-50 raffles, and a host of other activities, with all proceeds going to the annual Honoring America’s Heroes program on Veteran’s Day in November.

Arnder said he and Chilton held the first Honoring America’s Heroes event in 2020, after the annual Veteran’s Day parade in Mount Airy was cancelled because of COVID-19 precautions.

They raised funds that year to put on a free hot dog cookout for veterans and their families, giving them the chance to get together for food, fellowship, and fun despite the surging pandemic.

The following year, with far more time to plan, he said they drew nearly 600 veterans and relatives for a much larger dinner.

A year ago, 750 veterans and relatives come through the event — “And it’s probably going to be bigger this year.”

Thus the Memorial Day weekend activities this year have grown along with the Veteran’s Day event, to garner more attention and bring in more money to help fund the fall dinner.

“All the funds we make go toward Honoring America’s Heroes,” he said.

In addition to the various activities set for May 27, he said a number of area agencies will also be on hand, distributing information on the services they can offer to veterans, and more than three dozen local businesses and agencies are pitching in as sponsors to help the cause.

How big the Veteran’s Day dinner might eventually get — and the size of the Memorial Day fundraiser — is anybody’s guess, but Arnder has his sights set on serving more and more veterans. A year ago, he said he would like to see 1,000 veterans and their families at his fall get-together.

Now, that number is higher.

“We have roughly 4,000 veterans in the area who get services from the VA office,” he said, before adding there are probably more who don’t get those services. “If I can get half of them to show up and fellowship with us, I’d be tickled pink. We just want to show them we appreciate what they do, that we care. “

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