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RICHMOND, Va. -- Dr. Bruce Heilman's life reads like a novel. He grew up dirt poor on a farm in Kentucky and later fought with the Marines in the South Pacific during World War II.

"We had suicide planes coming in," Heilman said. "I figured some of us will be killed. Others won’t be killed. I never worried too much about it."

Dr. Bruce Heilman

Dr. Bruce Heilman

After the war, Heilman went on to lead one of top universities in the nation.

Just days away from his 90th birthday, you may think Dr. Heilman would be content on looking back. But the Chancellor of University of Richmond is always moving ahead in high gear.

His most interesting chapter unfolds on the open roads. While most men his age choose a golf cart or scooter, Dr. Heilman prefers a helmet and hog.

Dr. Bruce Heilman

Dr. Bruce Heilman

"It is like a bird flying through the air," Heilman said. "I like to do it. Not everyone rides a motorcycle. If everyone did I wouldn’t want to. I want always to be on the cutting edge of something not passively letting life go by."

It's quite a site seeing a soon-to-be 90-year-old man straddling his Harley. And we're not talking short rides through the neighborhood. Heilman goes big. As in cross-country. Dr. Heilman is wrapping up a month-long coast to coast adventure. By himself.

"Life has purpose or it has nothing," Heilman said.

This was no pleasure cruise.

Heilman's goal was to spread the word about WWII Veteran’s group The Spirit of ’45.

Dr. Bruce Heilman

Dr. Bruce Heilman

"It meant something that will be a life time memory of an exceptional experience," Heilman said.

He also shed tears with Gold Star families who lost so much along his journey.

"We all forget if we are not reminded, so I did my ride as a reminder," Heilman said.

Last week, the graying veteran returned home to a hero’s welcome at the Virginia War Memorial. Friends and fellow Marines wanted to witness history.

Dr. Bruce Heilman

Dr. Bruce Heilman

"He has such great knowledge and energy and experience that no one can surpass," friend David Sun, who flew in from California for the event, said.

Heilman serves as an inspiration to the old and young.

Dr. Bruce Heilman

Dr. Bruce Heilman

"It sends a message that these values are important and should not be taken for granted people die for us," Bryttani Wooten, a junior at Clover Hill High School, said.

Heilman's two-wheeled trip isn’t his swan song. Not by a long shot. He said the next chapter of his autobiography just might be his most memorable.

"It is satisfying? Surely. It is fulfilling? Surely," Heilman said. "It says I can do this at 90. Why am I worried about 95 and 100? I may get there yet."

Who is the hero in your life? Nominate them for Heroes Among Us

Greg McQuade features local heroes in a weekly “Heroes Among Us” segment. Watch Greg’s reports Thursdays on CBS News at 6 or here on WTVR.com. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured on “Heroes Among Us,” click here to email heroes@wtvr.com.

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