By Bill Mossman, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Public AffairsDecember 22, 2009
HONOLULU - 'Twas the morn when the traditional bell sounds associated with the holiday season were replaced with the thundering roar of engines.
'Twas the time of unorthodoxly dressed Santas, many of whom sported either shaved heads or long ponytails, tattoos and body piercings, and puffed on cigars or cigarettes rather than anything resembling St. Nick's smoking pipe.
'Twas the day when gifts were not placed in large knapsacks, but rather, inside of saddlebags, on tops of trailers, or strapped to handlebars and sissy bars.
'Twas all of this and more, and it still had a Christmas ring to it.
Biker style, of course.
Thousands of motorcycles descended upon Waikiki, Dec. 6, for the 35th Annual Street Bikers United Hawaii Toy Run Parade, a benefit for local youngsters through the Marine Corps Reserves' Toys for Tots program.
Among the participants were many veterans, as well as active duty and reserve service members from all branches of the military, all of whom pulled together for a worthy cause.
"The services are well-represented out here today," said Master Sgt. Charles Owens, first sergeant, 305th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment (MPAD), 9th Mission Support Command. "Giving back to the community is what the military is all about. That's what we live for."
For the last several years, Owens has garnered a heap of attention at the annual event, in large part due to his red-and-white Honda Valkyrie and what it has in tow. The large bike was on hand again, pulling a sleigh full of presents, and drawing a lot of "oohs" and "aahs" from the crowd due to its 500 lights, which ran off a car battery with an inverter.
"Santa likes to give his reindeer a vacation for a little bit whenever he's in Hawaii," explained Owens, who was joined at the event by fellow members of the biker club, Hawaii Goldwing Road Riders Association (HGRRA). "So instead of pulling the sleigh with reindeer, we pull it with a motorcycle. The kids really love the Hawaiian-style Santa pulling up and dropping off gifts. It makes them go nuts.
"I started doing this about four years ago, when me and some Army reservists built this sleigh to help get out into the community and show our appreciation," Owens continued. "Since then, we've been bringing this sleigh out to the Toys for Tots event, different parades around Hawaii, and even to the different military bases when they have unit parties."
Bikers brought a variety of presents to the parade, from stuffed teddy bears and dolls to board games and skateboards. Sgt. 1st Class Chris Laye, 13th Military Police Detachment, for example, decided his haul would have to include several Transformers' models, namely, the highly coveted Bumblebee.
It was the kind of toy he would have hoped for in his youth, he said.
"I got shovels when I was a kid," noted Laye, while sorting through presents stored away in the saddlebags of his 2006 Harley-Davidson Street Glide bike.
"I got rocks and sticks," added his girlfriend, Christy Wilden, before breaking into laughter.
Riders from numerous biker clubs began pulling into the Magic Island parking lot at Ala Moana Beach Park during the early morning hours of the day, and lining up their motorcycles of all makes and sizes. After killing their engines, the bikers warmly embraced each other, many of them once again enjoying the company of old riding buddies.
But while the camaraderie was nice, it was not the reason for the gathering. These bikers had come to show what they - long ago stereotyped as blights on civic behavior and responsibility - could do for the good of society.
Their collective aim, as is the goal of the Toys for Tots program, was to send a message of hope to needy youngsters through the gift of giving. In doing so, they trusted that the youth would grow to become responsible, productive and patriotic citizens.
Many believe the bikers succeeded in their mission.
"I think it's great when people can come out and see these bikers doing something great for the community," said Sgt. Charity Boedeker, a broadcast reporter with 305th MPAD, and on hand to document the day's activities. "There's usually a stereotype that often goes with bikers, and it's kind of sad, but this kind of event shows that they're people with hearts."