CRIPPLE CREEK, Colo. - A wall of sound blasted down Bennett Avenue in Cripple Creek. The ground trembled. The waiting masses saw the first hogs pulling into town.

The riders wore leather, black with chains, hard-looking men with scruffy beards and women with tattoos.

As they approached, the crowd cheered, making way for the riders as they passed through town and under the huge American flag that hung at the end of the street.

Approximately 5,000 motorcycle enthusiast from across the United States came together to pay tribute to the military and honor our country's servicemembers, missing in action or held captive, during the 18th annual Salute to American Veterans Rally and Festival at Cripple Creek, Aug. 21.

Before the riders arrived, the citizens of Cripple Creek began the festivities early, putting on their own remembrance parade, showing their support to the country's veterans.

The Fort Carson Mounted Color Guard, Ivy Division Band, and Soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division led Cripple Creek organizations and community members down Bennett Avenue.

Bill Martin, one of the event organizers, explained the town of Cripple Creek hosts the event every year because its citizens believe it is their duty to support the troops.

"This is our salute to the veterans," Martin said. "It is our way of saying thank you."

Pat Martin, marketing and events coordinator for Cripple Creek, said he is proud of his town's patriotism and involvement with veterans.

"We try to do what we can as a community for the military," Martin said. "We want to make sure past and present veterans are being honored."

Shortly after the parade concluded the motorcycles began to arrive.

Beginning in Woodland Park, the procession of motorcyclists stretched for more than nine miles.

Steve Dupont, a disabled Operation Desert Storm veteran who took part in the ride, stressed the importance of showing this generation of veterans support for their bravery and sacrifices.

"We go on these rides to show pride in our country and our military," Dupont said. "I try to go to as many I can. I want these servicemen and women to know they are not forgotten."

Following the ride, a memorial and remembrance ceremony was held to honor veterans both old and new, especially those missing in action or who remained steadfast while the prisoner of a hostile power.

Three veterans, former prisoners of war who have made Cripple Creek their home, were honored guests at the ceremony.

Col. Lee Fetterman, chief of staff for the 4th Inf. Div. and Fort Carson, who served as the ceremonies keynote speaker, thanked the brave men for their sacrifices and the sacrifices of thousands of other POWs and MIAs from throughout American history.

"All of us are stronger when we have our friends with us," Fetterman said. "But you suffered alone and we owe you a debt of gratitude for what you have done."

The Salute to America Veterans Rally-Memorial Walls Dedication was held Aug. 22 at the war memorial at Mt. Pisgah Cemetery in Cripple Creek. The Pikes Peak Region's Memorial Wall is constructed of Colorado red granite and other native materials and is open daily. Members of the Armed Forces who were killed in action after Sept. 11, 2001, and were stationed at of the five area military installations, had a home of record in El Paso or Teller County, or were Air Force Academy graduates are listed on the wall.

Brig. Gen. James Pasquarette, deputy commanding general for support, 4th Inf. Div. and Fort Carson, and Air Force Col. Tamara Rank, vice superintendent, U.S. Air Force Academy, spoke to guests and placed a wreath at the site.

Jim Wear, the event coordinator closed the ceremony by saying he believed it is the duty of citizens to give back to the Soldiers who protect them.

"While the debt of gratitude that we owe to every United States veteran, both living and passed on, can never be repaid," Wear said. "This gathering is one small effort to show how much we appreciate your sacrifices to our nation, and to our freedom."