Thursday, December 12, 2013
By KEITH EDWARDS Kennebec Journal
TOGUS -- Despite losing both his arms and legs to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, Staff Sgt. Travis Mills, according to his uncle, Tim Harriman, is fond of saying the explosion didn't end his life; it just made him more unique.
To raise funds to help in his ongoing recovery and celebrate Mills' inspirational strength and will to live, about 100 hot rod owners and motorcyclists gathered Sunday morning at VA Maine Healthcare System at Togus and rode together to the Owls Head Transportation Museum in the Miles for Mills car-and-bike cruise.
Mills is recovering steadily at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where he is being fitted with increasingly longer prosthetic legs, a topic he jokes about with Alice Buck, of Hallowell, the petite grandmother of his wife, Kelsey.
"He's quite a character. He's got such a great attitude," Buck said before the cars departed Togus on a muggy Sunday morning. "He was joking with me, before, that I was taller than he was. That's not true anymore."
Kelsey Mills grew up in the Gardiner area, according to Harriman.
Harriman, of South China, organized the benefit ride because, he said, "The man is amazing."
He said rather than feeling sorry for himself, Mills has served as a de facto inspirational leader to other injured veterans, especially others who have lost limbs. Fox News has done multiple pieces on Mills, following his recovery. A Facebook page following his story has some 22,000 followers, and Mills posts online videos about what he is going through in recovery. Despite the difficult subject, Mills has not shied away from speaking about his injuries or recovery.
"Travis' natural persona just draws people to him," Harriman said. "His intent is to show life didn't end for him, that he's going to accomplish anything he wants. He's putting the focus on our (military) men and women and their fight. The fight is still going on."
More information on Mills is available online at www.travismills.org.
Harriman, who drove his souped-up, big-block 1984 Chevy El Camino in the ride, said he talked to Mills on Saturday night, and Mills said he wished he could be in Maine for the ride.
Mills hopes to be able to participate in the ride possibly as soon as next year, and he wants to get a Dodge Challenger sports car outfitted with special controls so he could drive it.
There didn't appear to be any Challengers at the ride Sunday, but there were multiple Camaros and Corvettes, as well as Cadillacs; Mustangs; Pittston resident Roy MacGee's immaculate 1973 Barracuda, which has been featured in a car magazine and a calendar; and Unity residents Tony and Pat Grotton's 1955 Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria.
"I think it's a good cause. How can you have a better cause than this?" said Tony Grotton, who is a retired Marine himself. "I think we should stand behind our vets, and this is a way to give back just a little bit."
The event raised money by charging participants a fee, and through raffle ticket and T-shirt sales. The ride ended at the Owls Head Transportation Museum and its Wings & Wheels Spectacular and Aerobatic Airshow.
Harriman said the ride started at Togus so veterans there could check out the classic cars and motorcycles.
When Cory and Maureen Lathrop, of Pittston, fired up the massive orange custom Ram Jet 502 engine in their 1969 Chevy Camaro RS/SS with a loud bark, other participants in the ride noticed.
Cory Lathrop said a friend and his brother-in-law helped him work on the car, spending some 2,000 hours tearing out major components, including the transmission, engine and brakes, and replacing them with modern parts. Cory gave the bright-orange car to his wife, Maureen, for their 25th anniversary.
Built in 1969, the brand-new-looking Camaro is 43 years old, well beyond the age at which most cars would be destined for the junkyard.
There were older cars at the event, too, many painstakingly brought back to life and customized by their owners.
When the cars got old, their lives didn't end. They just became more unique.