RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — On Wednesday, a World War II veteran made his way back to Richmond after a nearly 7,000-mile journey across the country. Dr. E. Bruce Heilman has spent the last month atop his Harley-Davidson bringing attention to the 75th anniversary of the war.
“Everybody thinks I’m on a three-wheeler,” said the 89-year-old. “I’m saving that until I get old.”
Escorted by fellow veterans and law enforcement officers, Dr. Heilman was greeted with signs and American flags as he and his motorcade made their way across the Lee Bridge to the Virginia War Memorial.
“To see my name ‘Welcome Home Dr. Heilman’ and to have a nice turnout like this, it’s always a bit of awesome for a country boy to have more than a hamburger when he comes back home,” he said.
Dr. Heilman is a national spokesman for the “Keep the Spirit of ’45 Alive.” He’s been starting conversations about World War II in city after city during his trip.
Dr. Heilman says it’s important to honor veterans because they’re the reason we have freedom today.
“People understand that and they understand it more, and only if someone continues to tell them that they ought to remember it. You know, we forget easily,” he said.
Raised in Kentucky, Dr. Heilman has been in Richmond for the last 45 years. He was the president of the University of Richmond and is currently chancellor. He says he got his first motorcycle in 1946.
“When I was at Quantico in the Marine Corps,” he said.
His dismounted only when he got married — but the break from the bike was temporary.
“My wife bought me a brand new one when I was 71,” he said. “She said, ‘You’re old enough to have a motorcycle.'”
He turns 90 this July.
After Dr. Heilman arrived at the Virginia War Memorial, dozens gathered for a ceremony to honor his efforts.
Kirk Cox, chairman of the Virginia World War I and World War II Commemoration Commission, was one of many there to show support.
“He’s an amazing man and a real tribute to what you can do at 90, what that generation was all about and their sacrifice,” he said. “What an inspiration.”
Cox says he believes Virginia is the first state to kick off a big 75th anniversary to commemorate the war and its heroes.
“We’re going to honor all our living WWII vets and maybe for the last time that can happen, so we’re excited,” said Cox.
The Virginia World War I and World War II Commemoration Commission is marking the milestone anniversaries of the attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into WWII on December 8. To register, click HERE.
Cox says part of it will include a mobile unit that will travel around the state with interactive planes, tanks and history lessons.
“If you have a relative that and would like to document what they did, that mobile display will allow you to do that,” he said.