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Veterans, bikers honor one of their own

Sgt. Charlie Linville of Boise, Idaho, lost his leg and some fingers when he stepped on a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. But in a few months, he'll be riding a Harley Fat Boy — thanks to Thunderstruck Custom Bikes in Medford.

Some 200 flag-waving veterans, mostly bikers, welcomed Linville during a Friday meet-and-greet at TouVelle Lounge.

Fellow Marines in dress blues from the local recruiting office saluted 28-year-old Linville, who came from Boise to be honored and to be fitted for his new bike, which will be built over the next four months with the controls situated so Linville can use them.

Linville will take delivery of the gift bike in mid-May in California, in time to join the Run for the Wall, a caravan of 2,000 bikers who cruise across the nation to honor fallen comrades on Memorial Day in Washington, D.C.

Among the vets at TouVelle was pal and fellow bomb-defuser Brian Meyer of Oceanside, Calif., who also rides a motorcycle and lost limbs to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.

Linville, married with two daughters, will use the Harley to get to college classes as he retools his life for an as-yet-undecided career.

Scores of vets and other people flocked around Linville to thank him for his military service and to hear his stories and jokes, such as, "I've got one foot in the grave" and "I can count to 13 on my fingers."

Linville in January 2011 was called to clean up a "post blast," in which a fellow Marine had already stepped on an improvised explosive device.

But then Linville stepped on one, too. Meyer helped him get to a Medivac copter.

"It was a treacherous area," says Meyer, who, a month after Linville, lost a leg, right hand and half of a left hand in a blast.

Recalling Linville's blast, Meyer says, "We lost one guy to gunshot and merged our two EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) teams into one. We were working post-blast and found an IED the hard way."

Giving bikes to wounded veterans "is a symbol of freedom and inspires other vets to accomplish things in life," says John Barker, a Grants Pass veteran who organized the event, did fundraising and found Linville as the recipient of the next bike.

"We're doing it because these guys fought for our country," adds Barker, "and we're going to welcome them home as heroes, instead of as a bunch of rats, like we were welcomed after Vietnam."

Mark Daley, owner of Thunderstruck, is donating the complete rebuild of the 1999 Harley, moving the shift from the left foot to the left hand and making the right brake be the left foot brake. Jeremiah Thiring of Thiring Design in Talent is donating the paint job, which will include the Purple Heart Linville received.

Describing daily life in bomb disposal, Meyer says, "Charlie did all this amazing, heroic stuff. ... We see how the Vietnam vets look out for each other back home, and I'm not going to stop looking out for Charlie and all of them."

EOD techs rarely wore the "bomb suits" seen in the movie "Hurt Locker," says Meyer, adding, "They're great in concept, but that 85-pound suit is not practical. It's going to encumber you, what with all the other gear you have. It's safer without it."

Saluting the two bomb-hunting sergeants and wearing dress blues with a chestful of medals, Marine Col. Dave Dotterer says, "This is the community saying thank you in the only way a community can do that — very spontaneously and heartfully."

Adds recruiter Staff Sgt. Anthony Silva, of Medford, "It's about appreciation — and it's about respect."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Veterans, bikers honor one of their own