GARDNER — Though the pandemic shutdown may have changed many things, it did not sideline the efforts by the local chapter of the Patriot Riders of America to honor a veteran and one of their own by distributing scholarships in his name.
James “Digger” Ringquist was a member of Patriot Riders Chapter 3 and proudly served his country during the Vietnam War as a member of the U.S. Army. After he died in August 2016, his Patriot Riders brothers decided that he should be remembered with a scholarship each year as seniors graduated from high school. The tradition devised to honor “Digger” Ringquist was an afternoon spaghetti dinner with all the fixings. The scholarship recipient, whose essay described his/her thoughts on veterans, would receive the award during the dinner.
But COVID-19 put a damper on the tradition this year, but the Patriot Riders decided that since the spaghetti dinner was not a good way to practice social distancing, they voted to instead hand out two James “Digger” Ringquist Memorial Scholarships instead of the one. It seemed fitting since seniors missed out on so much in their last year of high school due to the pandemic.
“The seniors have had a really tough year,” said Patriot Riders member Normand Leger.
With help from the police and fire departments in Gardner, Ashburnham and Fitchburg, the motorcycle club delivered the scholarships while escorted by police on motorcycles, a tanker fire truck from Gardner, a fire engine from Ashburnham, and police cruisers. There were lights, sirens and revving motorcycles that first delivered a scholarship to recipient Logan Schluter in Fitchburg. Schluter is graduating from Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School.
Patriot Riders member Michael Enright delivered the speech with the scholarship to Schluter. Enright told the graduate that he was impressed by the scholarship essay he produced and commended Schluter for knowing what veterans mean to today’s society.
“You know what their value is. You wrote a phenomenal essay. I was extremely impressed. You nailed it Logan,” said Enright.
The scholarship can be used for whatever Schluter needs for his continuing education.
“You were raised right, that is for sure,” said local Patriot Riders vice president and founding member Jack McGrath.
Schluter was surprised as the contingent pulled up to his home with sirens blaring and lights flashing. He had no idea he had won the scholarship. His family in fact, he revealed with a laugh, had informed him that he did not win the scholarship.
All bystanders broke out in applause and laughter.
In Schluter’s essay, he noted that veterans had answered the call to fight for the country’s freedom since 1775: “In a time where peace has never been more present, appreciation for these men and women has waned. Our veterans put their lives on the line for their other brothers, their families, their country, and their very way of life. They are as brave as they are strong.”
Schluter spoke of the horrors of war that veterans endured and the disrespect veterans received when returning from Vietnam.
“These people are heroes and should be treated as such,” he wrote.
Schluter pointed out that there are 40,000 homeless veterans.
“These people should be a top priority for housing and employment. They sacrificed so much and are not given anything in return.”
Schluter said that he entered the scholarship essay content because he wanted to show veterans how much he thought they are worth.
Schluter studied HVAC and property maintenance at Monty Tech.
Samantha Gastonguay, a graduate of Oakmont Regional High School, was surprised in Ashburnham as police cars, the tanker and motorcycles made their way up the long gravel drive to her home.
Enright and the Patriots Riders local chapter president, Neil Goguen, and McGrath made the presentation of the scholarship as her family watched.
Enright told Gastonguay that her essay was the best and that she really “nailed” the value of veterans in today’s society.
Gastonguay thanked the Patriot Riders for the scholarship and all that veterans have done for the country. The Oakmont graduate wrote that she believes veterans are tossed aside when they return home from duty after giving up everything for their country.
“It is not only horrible that the government can just let this happen after they gave up pretty much everything for us, but it is disappointing, giving many people reasons not to enter into one of the branches of military, as they know there will be little to no benefits for them when they return,” wrote Gastonguay. “They deserve better treatment, better care, and overall, a more stable environment to return to.”
She spoke of post-traumatic stress disorder and other issues that make it difficult for veterans to assimilate when they return.
“Overall, our veterans are who we should all aspire to be. People who are selfless, giving up themselves for the greater good, fighting for what they believe in, and undoubtedly have a heart of gold. They are the backbone of who America really is,” she added, “and the glue that keeps us together. They have fought for us. We should be doing the same for them.”
Gastonguay will be attending Worcester State University in the fall to study occupational therapy.