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3:36 AM Thu, Nov. 22nd

Patriot Tour riders to exchange flag at Kingman Elks Lodge

The Patriot Tour makes its way across Arizona in 2017, with a large gathering in Winslow, the final stop before turning the flag over in New Mexico. (Photos courtesy of Sandy Bitzer)

The Patriot Tour makes its way across Arizona in 2017, with a large gathering in Winslow, the final stop before turning the flag over in New Mexico. (Photos courtesy of Sandy Bitzer)

KINGMAN – The Patriot Tour will meet up Saturday at the Elks Lodge for a ceremonial flag exchange, handing it from Nevada to Arizona for a ride across 48 states in 110 days to raise money for wounded veterans and their families.

The Arizona and Nevada Nation of Patriots will come together for fellowship and lunch at the Elks Lodge, 900 Gates Ave., starting around 11 a.m. Saturday. The flag will arrive around noon.

The Nation of Patriots is a volunteer organization that returns 100 percent of donations to the people who need help the most, said Rick Bitzer, Arizona state chairman since 2015.

He rides with his wife, Sandy, in memory of his father, who was an original Seabee and one of the many unsung heroes of World War II.

“Kingman sets the tone of this whole thing,” Bitzer said Thursday from his home in Flagstaff. “It’s the people, the ceremony, it just keeps growing. People are honking in the cars, people waving. It just … I don’t know where to begin.”

The Nation of Patriots formed in 2008 and launched their Patriot Tour the next year, carrying the U.S. flag through 48 states. This year’s tour started May 19 in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.

About 90 motorcycle riders are expected to come to Kingman for Saturday’s flag exchange, with the tour proceeding on to Williams, Payson and Flagstaff, Twin Arrows and Winslow. Arizona’s Nation of Patriots will pass the flag in Gallup, New Mexico.

Twin Arrows is probably one of the most interesting and “touching” stops on the tour, Bitzer said. They actually have a bilingual Navajo-English salute to the veterans.

About 30 percent of Native Americans are military veterans, compared with about 7 percent of the entire U.S. population, Bitzer noted.

Last year, he met “Mr. Willie,” a Navajo code talker for the U.S. Marines in World War II.

“I’m prejudice because men like him helped win the war. He was a humble and patriotic individual who came back and picked up life where he left off,” Bitzer said.

“He was a very proud man. At 93, he let go of his walker and stood up ramrod straight and saluted as we went by. We always get someone who humbles us at these events, Medal of Honor winners and unsung heroes. He was a proud American patriot.”