SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. (WMTV) -- For Scott Kruchten, the open road near Sun Prairie opens his mind. About riding his Harley, Kruchten said, "The best way to describe it is wind therapy. When you're out there on the road, have the handlebars, the wind in your face, nothing matters but that moment. It's easy to lose all of your fears, your anxieties...and just enjoy the ride."
(L to R) Amy & Scott Kruchten; Hogs for Heroes Founders Audra, Kevin, Michelle, & Craig Thompson
Kruchten added, "It is freedom. You hear the wind going by you, and see how it affects the trees...and see how it moves that little blade of grass by the side of the road."
The roads of rural Sun Prairie are 15 years and a world away from the road where he nearly lost his life on November 8, 2004. Scott and four other Marines were on patrol in a Humvee in Iraq when, "Somebody pulled the trigger on a buried IED underneath our vehicle, and the Humvee was thrown 75 to 80 feet. Everyone was ejected. My memory stops there. It doesn't come back to me, until 10 days later in Bethesda Naval Hospital."
Kruchten was the only of 5 Marines to survive. CPL Robert Warns II, LCPL Branden Ramey, and LCPL Shane O'Donnell were killed in the blast. SSGT Chad Simon ultimately died from the wounds he suffered.
Prior to enlisting in the Marines at age 28, Kruchten had been an avid Harley-Davidson motorcycle rider, but because of his physical and emotional wounds from the war, he had sold and given up riding his Harley for 12 years after Iraq.
In 2016, a new Wisconsin non-profit called Hogs for Heroes, which gives a Harley to a deserving veteran, chose Kruchten as its first recipient.
When he received the bike in 2016, Kruchten, fighting back emotion, told NBC15 News: "The guys we lost, they're never forgotten. They're always riding with me. They'll always be riding with me. They're always with me everyday. That bond can't be broken--can't be made any other way."
Brothers Kevin and Craig Thompson, and their wives, Audra and Michelle, started Hogs for Heroes as a way to thank veterans and, "make the rough road a little smoother for a returning hero."
The founding board members did not serve in the military, but on the Hogs for Heroes website say, "We are all grateful to those who have protected our freedoms, and continue to do so on our behalf."
Since 2016, Hogs for Heroes has given 11 Harleys to deserving veterans to help them heal.
Kruchten said, "Hogs for Heroes isn't just giving a veteran a motorcycle. They're giving him or her an opportunity to make solid connections again with their brothers and sisters and fellow cyclists that ride. You show up on that bike...you already have that brotherhood of military service between you. That bike is really just a way to smooth out some of those edges, and really ride yourself right into that family...and be part of something again."
Kruchten said, "The recipients, we want to thank Kevin, Audra, Craig, and Michelle for what they have done from day one with this organization. Four civilians wanting to give back to the veterans that have protected their freedoms."
To Kruchten, just saying thanks didn't seem like enough. He wanted to show it, by gathering the veterans who've received a Harley for a surprise dinner in honor of the founders of Hogs for Heroes.
As the Harley recipients waited in a special upstairs dining room at Buck and Honeys Restaurant in Sun Prairie, they exchanged hugs and shared stories.
When the unsuspecting Hogs for Heroes founders (the Thompsons) opened the door, the veterans let out a cheer. The Thompsons were stunned, and went around the room, hugging each recipient and, in some cases, wiping away tears.
Overcome with emotion at the gesture, Audra Thompson said, "I'm at a loss for words for the love I felt in this room immediately, as I looked around the room and saw these people who mean the world to us and realized that we got to come into their lives."
She added, "Every time we give a bike away, my heart grows even larger, because I know somebody's life has been changed."
Noticeably moved by the surprise, after a long, emotional embrace with one of the Harley recipients, Kevin Thompson said, "I struggle with any recognition, because this isn't about me, this is isn't about us. This is about what these guys have done FOR us. It's what all of this is about. All the love is incredible."
Kruchten, who had lead the Thompsons to the surprise dinner, stood at the back of the room with a broad smile of satisfaction on his face. The genuine emotion in the room proved what he already knew--that Hogs for Heroes is truly making a difference, "One bike...one hero at a time."
As Kruchten put it, "I'm one of the lucky ones that's been gifted that wind therapy--that love of motorcycles, and being able to get back on the bike after so many years. I will ride that bike for as long as I can. I will put as many miles on a year as I can...just loving every minute of it."
Thanks to a small non-profit doing big things, he's putting some distance between him and the past, while never forgetting those who were in it.