(WFRV) – Nearly 13 hundred people participated in the 16th annual Pearly Gates Veterans Ride today with event proceeds benefitting several local veteran programs.

“Over 16 years we’ve raised over a couple million dollars for local veteran organizations,” says owner of Pearly Gates Bar and Grille and event organizer Jeff Fonferek.

Organizers tell us each year this event raises about $100,000 and pearly Gates raises about $150,000 a year for veterans through all the events they host.

More than 30 local veterans organizations benefit from the ride. The major ones include:
Vietnam Veterans Chapter 224, Combat Motorcycle Veterans Association, Honor and Valor Outdoors (a veterans group that takes disabled vets hunting and fishing), The Brown County Veterans Services Fund, Disabled American Veterans, the Brown County Sheriff’s K-9 unit, and the N-E-W Homeless Shelter.

We are told at the Pearly Gates Veteran’s Ride this year there were 768 motorcycles, 175 cars, and 338 people who were passengers in either the motorcycles or the cars.

“Just to be part of this rush, be part of this ride. It’s phenomenal,” says Vietnam War Veteran Bob Wiedenhaft.

Wiedenhaft says he’s attended the event every year.

The event also includes a military ceremony. Right before the military ceremony starts, a bus pulls up with older veterans. Some of the younger veterans escort the older veterans to VIP seating while the crowd gave them a standing ovation.

The military ceremony includes a fly-over, 21-gun salute, the singing of the national anthem, the playing of taps, and a color guard. Each veteran in attendance received a challenge coin as a thank you for their service.

“It’s a tearjerker, when the ceremony starts there won’t be a dry eye in the crowd,” says Wiedenhaft.

Local Five’s Tom Zalaski emceed the ceremony.

“We get to look into the eye of the people who served, some of them are wounded both inside and outside, and we get the chance to say thank you for our freedom,” Zalaski says.

After the ceremony ended, the veterans hopped on their motorcycles or into their cars, revved up their engines, and rode in procession to Maribel. They left town underneath a giant American flag hanging from a firetruck. Green Bay Metro Fire and DePere Fire provided the flag.

Participants stayed in Maribel for a few hours before returning to Green Bay for a night of food, drinks, live music, and dancing.