Nam Knights are honored guests at Ruskin VFW

By LISA STARK

Nam Knights brothers from Free State, Maryland, from left, are: Vic (Lay Low) Valerio, Tim (Pushin) Baker, Mike (Papa Smurf) Toala, Ronnie (Bocephus) Wood, Mike (Spanky) Malone and Pete (Hollywood) Dilma. Lisa Stark photos.

Nam Knights brothers from Free State, Maryland, from left, are: Vic (Lay Low) Valerio, Tim (Pushin) Baker, Mike (Papa Smurf) Toala, Ronnie (Bocephus) Wood, Mike (Spanky) Malone and Pete (Hollywood) Dilma. Lisa Stark photos.

They arrived with a flourish on Friday night, riding Harleys and sporting leather vests with the Nam Knights logo emblazoned on their backs.  A motorcycle club comprising Vietnam veterans and former police officers, the Nam Knights enjoyed a weekend of camaraderie and celebration at the Ruskin VFW Post 6287.

Music was provided by Calvin O (the O is for Oatsvall), Bert and Sassy, and a hearty Sunday morning breakfast was attended by more than 100 guests.

Hailing from hometowns up and down the East Coast and Great Lakes regions, the Nam Knights appeared in Ruskin as part of their spring tour of the Sunshine State in which they ride together to multiple sites around Florida to connect with various chapters of their national organization.

With 61 chapters in 14 states, the Nam Knights club presently contains hundreds of members, all seeking to recapture the brotherhood they shared while serving in Southeast Asia.

From left are: Fred (Fritz) Reiman, president of the Nam Knights parent chapter in Carlstadt,  N.J.; Andy (Pappy) Huber of Thunder Bay, Fla.; Ron (Ronbo) Coplan of Woodbridge, Va.; Brian (Big Dog) Wiedman of Liberty, N.Y.; Vic (Lay Low) Valerio of Baltimore; Tony (Ruff) Rufrano of Green Swamp, Fla.; and Jose (Thunder) Perez of Broward County, Fla.

From left are: Fred (Fritz) Reiman, president of the Nam Knights parent chapter in Carlstadt, N.J.; Andy (Pappy) Huber of Thunder Bay, Fla.; Ron (Ronbo) Coplan of Woodbridge, Va.; Brian (Big Dog) Wiedman of Liberty, N.Y.; Vic (Lay Low) Valerio of Baltimore; Tony (Ruff) Rufrano of Green Swamp, Fla.; and Jose (Thunder) Perez of Broward County, Fla.

The Nam Knights was originally founded in 1989, when a small group of Harley-riding Vietnam combat veterans (who were also all active or retired police officers) banded together to form a motorcycle club.

Led by Jack Quigley, a New Jersey sheriff who served as a platoon sergeant with the Marines, the group sought to honor the memory of American veterans and police officers who had lost their lives in the line of duty, both at home and overseas.

Today, the club contains members from throughout the Eastern and Great Lakes states, and is dedicated to preserving the bond they shared in combat, as well as helping veterans who are struggling to physically or financially support themselves.

The mission of the Nam Knights is to honor the memory of their Fallen Brothers, and to promote community awareness through sponsorship and participation in various community and fundraising events.

Membership consists of 50 percent police officers (active and retired) and 50 percent Vietnam and other military-era veterans.  All members ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles or custom-built motorcycles similar to the American-made brand.

Calling each other by their biker nicknames, it is easy to see the fierce patriotism and iron-clad bond that the “brothers” share with one another.  “We would literally give our lives for each other, and that’s not a cliché,” said Ron Coplan from Woodbridge, Va.,  a 25-year combat veteran of Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. Tattooed on his back are the names of  “four Fallen Brothers who gave their lives for me to be free,” he said. “I owe them my life.”

In addition to promoting brotherhood within, the Nam Knights members also strive to raise public awareness about American prisoners of war and those missing in action. They support legislation for the benefit of veterans and veterans’ facilities, as well as the advancement of studies for the treatment of those affected by Agent Orange, post-traumatic stress disorder and Hepatitis C.

Many of the Nam Knights projects are designed to benefit veterans homes and organizations that promote the advancement of police welfare and motorcycle safety.

“We want to thank the Ruskin VFW for all the friendship and support you have given us,” said Fred (Fritz) Reiman, president of the Nam Knights parent chapter in New Jersey.  “You have made us feel very welcomed and honored here.”  For more information on the Nam Knights, visit their website at www.namknights.org.

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