When Jerry Vanasdale led 500 motorcycles through the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies in Cecil, he knew there had to be a run again the next year, but for a different cause.
Riding five miles an hour through the 300-acre cemetery modeled after Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C., it was possible to read the headstones of fallen soldiers from the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and more.
"There's so many people in the Pittsburgh area that don't know that the Cemetery of the Alleghenies is there," said Mr. Vanasdale of Mars, who served six years in the Marines. "These are all the people we do it for. That made me realize I need to be able to help every branch of the service, not just Marines."
This year's motorcycle run on Sunday will benefit the Wounded Warrior Project, not just the family of a fallen Marine as was the target of each of Mr. Vanasdale's nonprofit motorcycle runs for the past seven years.
Because he is in the process of transitioning nonprofits from the Fallen Marine Memorial Run to the Marine Run, this year's ride will be organized by his longtime friend Jerry Lang. Once initiated, Mr. Vanasdale's new nonprofit will benefit all areas of the service.
Ever since he saw a powerful photo on the cover of a newspaper seven years ago of a little boy pointing to a flag-drapped casket saying "Daddy," Mr. Vanasdale wanted to give back to families affected by war. His company, Pierce Contracting, paid for administrative work and marketing for the 80- to 100-mile runs each year.
For the first run in 2006, Mr. Vanasdale said there were about 250 bikes, and this past year it grew to 500, making it one of the biggest runs in Pittsburgh, next to the Blue Knights Ride for Pittsburgh police and fire departments. The Fallen Marine Memorial Run last year raised about $30,000.
"People in Pittsburgh are very patriotic," Mr. Vanasdale said. "Everybody knows somebody or is related to somebody that's been in the military."
This year the run will start at noon at Jergel's Rhythm and Grille in Marshall and ride through Enon Valley in Lawrence County, ending at Jergel's at about 4 p.m. Ed and Mark's Shop 'n Save in Millvale will sponsor lunch for riders.
Although he doesn't expect as many people as in years past because it has been advertised only by word of mouth, Mr. Vanasdale said there are always a variety of people who come to the runs, ranging from general bikers, military-oriented bikers, young people on sport bikes and older folk.
Mr. Lang's father, a veteran of the Korean War, is one of the elders involved with the run since it began. At 81, he doesn't drive but rides happily as a passenger.
Unlike his father, Mr. Lang of Shaler has been riding motorcycles for 35 years. He became involved with Mr. Vanasdale's runs after his nephew was killed in Iraq by a roadside bomb in 2006.
"Do you think 400 motorcycle riders just got up this morning and just decided let's go for a ride?" Mr. Lang said. "There's a reason behind this. ... I hope it makes people understand why we are out there. We are not just doing it to have a Sunday ride."
Mr. Vanasdale said initially some people are scared of hundreds of bikers on the road because of the stereotype bikers have of being rude, tough guys and even criminals.
"Once they get to know bikers, bikers are some of the most generous people I know," he said. "Some are business owners, some are doctors, some are lawyers, nurses, and they appreciate everything they got.
"We always appreciate the freedom of the road as well as the freedom that the military provided for us."
There is no pre-registration for those who wish to participate in the run. It is $20 for drivers and $10 for passengers.
Marina Weis: email@example.com or 412-263-1889.