Like many Americans, Tom Tarver said he felt compelled to do something for his country after 9/11 occurred.

Unable to enlist in the U.S. military, the Denver native focused his energy instead on finding a way to support the men and women who do serve. As a result of his efforts, Colorado drivers have since 2007 been able to purchase vanity license plates that read "support the troops."

Speaking at the Buffalo Chip campground on Tuesday, Tarver said the hope for veterans who see the plates is that they understand their service has not been unnoticed. For others, he said they serve as a reminder.

"If you forget the sacrifices people made, you’re going to lose the essence of this country," Tarver said amid the live music and motorcycle roar.

In a similar vein, Buffalo Chip organizers have for years shown their support for armed service members with a large-scale display of American flags. Per tradition, 800 of them are being flown on a field in the western part of the campground that lies just off of Fort Meade Way.

Called Freedom Field, the staple display was erected this year in time for Memorial Day weekend. A kind of traveling version of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall spans the length of the field.

In the center of a sea of flagpoles lies a stone memorial and a statue made to look like a battlefield cross. Made up of a rifle stuck upright in the ground between a pair of boots and with a helmet on top, such markers are commonly placed on battlefields or base camps for soldiers who are killed in combat.

The idea to honor slain soldiers with the display came to Buffalo Chip owner Rod Woodruff more than 10 years ago during the early days of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Buffalo Chip Spokeswoman Nyla Griffith.

"Rod has a huge spot in his heart for veterans," Griffith said from the field on Tuesday.

Other military appreciation-themed Chip offerings are planned for Thursday. One of them, a veteran's charity auction, will benefit two sponsoring veterans' groups: America's Mighty Warriors and the Warrior Dog Foundation. Items to be auctioned include a custom 1990 motorcycle, a new firearm, and motorcycle gear. The event is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.

A modified trike motorcycle will be given away to an airman with an amputation during a main stage Chip presentation on Thursday as well. A service dog giveaway and an award ceremony for distinguished service members are also planned.

Because so many veterans attend both the Chip and the Sturgis motorcycle rally, America's Mighty Warrior's CEO Debbie Lee told the Rapid City Journal that it's important for them to be acknowledged. Her son, Marc Alan Lee, was the first Navy Seal to die in Iraq.

"This is an amazing, patriotic event for Americans. But we especially want to let our veterans know that we love and appreciate them," Lee said.

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— Contact Matthew Guerry at matthew.guerry@rapidcityjournal.com

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