Editor's note: The following is the the fifth story in a yearlong "Digging in the Archives" series by reporter Caitlin Skvorc. The series looks 25 years into the past and updates readers on stories that were big news in 1991.

WASILLA — If there’s one thing current members can agree they love about the Alaska Vets Motorcycle Club, it’s the brotherhood.

Now in its 29th year, the club started at the end of 1987 as the Vietnam Vets Motorcycle Club. After just a few years of existence, the local chapter of the club showed itself as a force to be reckoned with, meriting a full-page spread of photos depicting its annual Memorial Day weekend ride to Byers Lake in the Friday, May 31, 1991 edition of the Frontiersman.

Last weekend, the local chapter made that same trip, meeting the rest of the state’s club members Sunday afternoon at the Alaska Veterans Memorial above the lake after a two- or three-day ride (depending on where each biker started from).

Sitting around a private Trapper Creek campsite on Saturday evening sipping iced tea, nine-year chapter president “Weird” Wayne Manning spoke to the Frontiersman by phone about the club.

“It’s really a family,” he said.

Though the club is fairly selective — potential members go through a “hang out” period, followed by a more formal “prospect” period before an invitation to join is extended — the chapter presidents acknowledged several years ago that keeping the club to Vietnam War veterans only was too exclusive, and could stifle the group for good. So in 2011, the name of the club changed to the Alaska Vets Motorcycle Club (AVMC) to serve a wider range of Alaska veterans and allow for continued growth.

“Guys back from Iraq aren’t interested in joining a club called Vietnam Vets (Motorcycle Club),” Manning said.

The Anchorage, Chugiak and Mat-Su chapters also were consolidated shortly after the name change, and now meet as the Southcentral chapter in the Anchorage clubhouse once a week.

Community impact

As a member of the Alaska Coalition of Motorcycle Clubs — and the Anchorage, Chugiak and Mat-Su communities at large — AVMC reaches beyond its membership throughout the year.

The club works with Abate of Alaska (Alaskan Bikers Advocating Training and Education) on their annual Christmas in July project — bringing toys to children in local hospitals — and makes an appearance on the ice at the Alaska Aces Military Appreciation Night every November. The club also partners with the Big-Lake-based Last Frontier Honor Flight to send veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit national memorials for free.

Eagle River AVMC member Havoc Coffey, who was on the Byers Lake trip last weekend, said the community involvement was one of the reasons he decided to join the club 13 years ago.

“I saw what these guys were doing for veterans and I wanted to be a part of it,” Coffey said.

Mat-Su AVMC member Joseph “Duke” Garner — who joined the club when he was still serving in the Army in 2012 and is now the chapter’s sergeant-at-arms and military liaison — said he had a similar thought process, and that he hasn’t been disappointed.

“I can take my riding and find like-minded people that want to give back to the veteran community, retired or active duty, and get that warm and fuzzy feeling of doing the things I love,” he said.

Mutual understanding

In addition to serving as a kind of outreach organization for other veterans, Manning said the club has also operated as a kind of support group for its members — often a necessity for combat veterans.

“When you go into the military, you go in as a kid, they pretty well screw you up, and then society doesn't understand you. The only people that really do understand you is vets,” Manning said.

Add the common bond of biking to that mutual understanding between men and women who have fought on the battlefield, and the group becomes even more tightly knit.

But that intimacy also makes saying goodbye to a fellow club member that much harder.

“Burying brothers is probably the worst part of it… losing somebody that you give your heart to,” Manning said.

He recalled one man, a friend, who died in 1992. Few remaining club members remember this man, Manning said, but his face is one of several that grace the Anchorage clubhouse memorial wall.

“I’m looking forward to being on that wall — not now or any time soon — but I think every brother I’ve got has that same wish to be remembered,” he said.

Contact reporter Caitlin Skvorc at 352-2266 or caitlin.skvorc@frontiersman.com.

 

 

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