COLUMBIA — Revving motorcycle engines, clouds of exhaust smoke and the smell of fried wings dominated the atmosphere of the fifth annual Wingstock, which raised money for Central Missouri Honor Flight.
The Saturday afternoon event at the Mid America Harley-Davidson dealership welcomed thousands of motorcycle and barbecue enthusiasts to take part in a wing cook off and carnival games while local rock bands entertained.
All of the proceeds from Wingstock go to Central Missouri Honor Flight, a nonprofit organization that sends America's veterans to memorials in Washington D.C. The organization focuses its efforts on World War II veterans and the terminally ill.
"Harley-Davidson is an American icon, and it represents freedom," said Steve Tuchschmidt, owner of Mid America Harley-Davidson. "The freedom that we can enjoy today in the United States is only because of those who have fought in past wars and have been able to keep our country free."
Wingstock raised more than $16,000 for Honor Flight last year and about $30,000 over the past four years.
Russell Fischer, owner of Truman's Bar and Grill, created the event as a way to give back to veterans.
"With veterans, police officers and firefighters, they're the people that keep us safe," Fischer said. "So I do anything I can to raise money for any kind of cause that helps those guys."
Fischer coordinated the event with Fred Jenkins of Nauser Beverage Company.
"Nowhere in Missouri is there an event like this," Jenkins said. "The military needs to give Russ some sort of civilian honor for as much as he's done."
Veteran Frank Winter was in attendance and said the event raises awareness for the Honor Flights and furthers the bond that all veterans share.
"We are honored to support it," Winter said. "Military people are like family. Even though we don't know each other, we're all family."
Raymond "Ziggy" Letourneau is a Vietnam veteran and volunteer for Columbia's sector of the American Legion, a veterans service organization that sponsors community groups such as Boone County 4-H and Diamond Council. He also spent three years as a volunteer with Central Missouri Honor Flight.
"All of the veterans that were involved as Honor Flight veterans always said they thought this was one of the best days of their life," Letourneau said. "And since then we've lost a lot of them, but we've managed to get them out there in time. It was a very satisfying thing."
Letourneau volunteered as an accountability officer on one of the Washington D.C. trips. His job was to keep track of all the veterans and make sure that none of them got lost.
Letourneau served as a Vietnam fighter pilot from 1964 to 1967. He said he wasn't subject to the extent of violence and hardship that the ground officers were, but he understands how some of them came back and "dug themselves into a hole."
"We had it pretty easy," he said. "We got shot at, but then we would always get back and have a cheeseburger waiting for us and a movie. It was a lot easier for me than it was for most of the ground veterans."
He also said he feels more empathy for World War II veterans than Vietnam veterans like himself because "they saved our whole country."
Fischer said he would like to see the Honor Flight extend more of their charity efforts to Vietnam veterans, because they didn't receive any appreciation when they finished serving. Instead, he said soldiers from Vietnam returned to a climate of disrespect and misunderstanding.
"I'd love to see eventually when we could start taking Vietnam guys that kind of got shunned when they got back," he said. "They were the last guys to get any sort of praise."
Tuchschmidt referred to the wing cook off as "pros vs. joes," a competition that featured 16 "regular guys" from the community and three Columbia restaurants. Harpo's Bar and Grill, Willie's Fieldhouse and Smokin' Chick's BBQ participated in the competition.
The vendor that raised the most money for Central Missouri Honor Flight won the wing competition.
Supervising editor is Zachary Matson.