HIGH COUNTRY — A convoy of bikers, veterans, family and friends turned out on Saturday, July 17, to remember the service and sacrifice of a fallen soldier laid to rest in Ashe County in 2017.
Known as Dillon’s Ride, the expedition through the High Country honored the memory of Sgt. Dillon Baldridge, who was tragically killed in action on June 10, 2017 in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, while supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.
“I’ve done literally hundreds of veterans funerals, but this young man was 22-years old; it just hit me harder than any of the others,” said Benny Hayslett, a ride captain with the North Carolina Patriot Guard and organizer of the event. “I don’t mean to make light of any of the rest of them but, Dillon just hit me hard and the look in his mama’s eyes when I first saw her, it just touched my very soul.”
The ride began with an opening ceremony at Cross Roads Harley-Davidson in Wilkesboro on Saturday before departing for Sparta. After a brief lunch break in Sparta, the procession of thundering motorbikes made their way to the Ashe Lawn Memorial Gardens for a graveside service and wreath laying ceremony.
Present during the ceremony were several of Baldridge’s friends and fellow soldiers — men who were with Baldridge during his passing — who had the honor of placing the wreath at their brother-in-arm’s grave.
Following the graveside service, the riders crossed over the Sgt. Dillion Baldridge Bridge overpass located where U.S. 221 and U.S. 421 converge in Deep Gap, before heading back down the mountain toward Wilkesboro. Once there, a recognition of the family was held, as well as a concert by country musician Rockie Lynne.
An estimated 80 riders participated in the second annual Dillon’s Ride. All of the proceeds raised from the ride will benefit the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors — also known as TAPS — an organization which provides comfort, care and resources to all those grieving the death of a military loved one.
“When I first mentioned the thought of doing a fundraiser to Tina, Dillion’s mother, I said, ‘If you had a few thousand dollars that you had to give to somebody who would you give it to?’ And she instantly rattled off TAPS,” said Hayslett. “Evidently, they helped her a good bit initially when Dillon passed, and that’s where she wants the money to go, and by God that’s where it’s going.”
Baldridge was said to have been a proud infantryman and was assigned to D Company, 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd BCT, part of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). For his actions he was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, Combat Infantry Badge and the Army Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster.