JOHNSTOWN – When Thomas Voght built the U.S. Army Tribute Bike, the motorcycle was meant to honor his father-in-law’s years of service.
However, the city resident soon found another mission for the vehicle: to raise local awareness about the needs of veterans while boosting the morale of troops serving overseas
“I’m just a local guy that wanted to help the veterans and boost the morale of those currently serving our country,” Voght said. “They have already given and sacrificed so much, so it’s only right I take the time to do what I can as well.”
Thomas Voght and his wife, Marlyn, have been bringing the U.S. Army Tribute Bike across the region to various parades and community events since last year.
Voght said he decided to create the motorcycle in 2012 after his father-in-law Walter Fort Jr., 80, of Meco, severely injured his back and was recovering in the hospital.
With the mission of honoring Fort’s service in the Army during the Korean War, Voght spent a month in his 10-foot-by-10-foot shed modifying an old Honda to resemble a military motorcycle from the 1950s.
Voght painted the bike Army green, equipped it with a jockey shifter, a decorative grenade and various military emblems to make it resemble a motorcycle previously used by U.S. soldiers.
After showing Fort the motorcycle, Voght decided the bike could have a bigger purpose and raise the awareness in the community, while also lifting the spirits of those serving today.
The Voght’s have been setting up the bike at events all over the state to inform veterans of the federal and private programs available to them, fundraising to throw parties for those at local nursing homes and boost the knowledge of what veterans have done for the rest of us.
The motorcycle has also made its way into places most wouldn’t expect to see it. When Voght isn’t taking the bike to an event, he is trying to find unique places to have it pictured – such as inside bars, offices and restaurants – so he can send the photos to local troops overseas.
Voght said he sends the pictures to remind soldiers of home, and give them a moment to reflect on their life at home life rather than the battle before them.
The couple have been selling fleece blankets to raise money and have a donation tin at every event. Donated money helps pay for the parties at local nursing homes, and also help pays the cost of sending the photos.
The couple have given old flags that have been tattered and torn a new life by cutting out each of the 50 stars and passing them to veterans they meet along their journey.
“The stars really have an impact on them,” Voght said, noting the stars bring tears to many veterans eyes. “It gives something that was thought to be ruined a purpose and let’s our veterans know they aren’t forgotten.”
Also along the bike’s journey various infantry military personnel have provided Voght with their personal badges from their years of service and he put them on the bike.
“They dedicated their life for that,” Voght said. “It’s only right it has a place on the bike. The people we meet and the stories they tell is what makes this all worth it.”
While Voght has steadily gained both recognition and a reputation on the local level, he is also being invited to bigger events including the Pearl Street Jam, scheduled as a kick-off to a larger concert at the Times Union Center, on Saturday.
The concert features the Charlie Daniels Band, Brett Michaels and the Marshall Tucker Band, and the proceeds go towards the Benefit Center for Homeless Veterans of Albany County.
Voght and the tribute bike will be featured in an “Awareness Ride” through Albany and received a special invite from an artist playing that night to bring the bike backstage for pictures, said charity event motorcycle organizer Patrick Brisson
“[The U.S. Tribute Bike] is in my bike show, and later on in the evening I have prior approval from the Charlie Daniels Band management to bring them backstage so we can do a photo shoot of Charlie Daniels on the motorcycle,” Brisson said.
“It’s been an honor doing this and I’m just really thankful to give back to the veterans and also for all the support,” Voght said about the experience. “It’s just been getting bigger and bigger. We are booked all the way into the summer this year.”