TOMBSTONE — As Dennis “Doc” Smith transferred from wheelchair to Harley Davidson last Saturday, his American Legion Family erupted into applause and cheers.
Smith, a paralyzed veteran with 18 years service, never expected to ride a motorcycle again.
That changed when he was presented with a specially modified 2010 Harley Davidson Softail with a sidecar, made possible by his Tombstone American Legion Family as well as other American Legion organizations and veteran service groups.
“Before I was injured, I rode quite a bit,” said Smith, who suffered a life-changing injury in 2006 when his convoy was struck by an improvised explosive device while serving in Iraq. “So many people were involved in making this dream come true for me. This is the best thing that’s happened to me in years.”
Doc Smith and his wife Terrie — also a U.S. Army veteran — moved to Tombstone from Seattle in 2019. Not long after arriving, they joined the Roy Fourr American Legion Post 24 and became friends with American Legion Riders President Gerard Brinkmann.
“I developed a special connection with him because we were both Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans and were in Iraq at the same time,” Brinkmann said. “During the course of our conversation, the subject of motorcycles came up, and I learned he used to ride and really enjoyed it.”
What started out as a casual conversation between two veterans evolved into a community-wide project.
“We were determined to find a motorcycle for him so he could get back on the road,” Brinkmann said.
Once the project got started, it took on a whole life of its own.
“Doc provided the entire American Legion Family an opportunity to start the Dennis ‘Doc’ Smith Bike Fund, which brought all of us together,” Brinkmann said.
Legion members Gary and Pam Button donated the 2010 Harley Davidson that was given to Smith. Not long after their donation, the community raised enough money to purchase a sidecar that carries Smith’s wheelchair and service dog, Corporal.
“They made special modifications to the bike so I could use my thumbs to shift,” Smith said. “Because I had ridden before, it was a smooth transition for me. This whole experience has been just fantastic. It’s a lot more than I ever expected, and a lot more than I deserved.”
Commander of the Sons of the Tombstone American Legion Tracy Hallberg is another friend of Smith’s.
“Doc is incredibly humble and always puts others before himself,” Hallberg said. “He is a true patriot and hero, but doesn’t see himself that way. He volunteers at the Warrior Healing Center in Sierra Vista, the American Legion Post 24 and at the Medal of Honor Museum in Tombstone.
About 100 people gathered on Tombstone’s historic Allen Street in front of the American Legion Post 24 Saturday to celebrate Smith’s new bike.
Incoming Department of Arizona American Legion Commander Ben Headen, who attended the celebration, praised those gathered for the way they came together “as one team, with one goal, one heart and one soul.”
“The actions leading up to today epitomizes the true meaning of the American Legion Family,” Headen said. “Doc and Terrie, welcome to our family, and thank you for inspiring us.”