Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11 'Ride with the Forty' Honours Heroes of Flight 93 at SFO

'Sobering, that's the word I'd use, and also fulfilling, to honour the Heroes of Flight 93,' said Maryland police sergeant Kenny Nacke at San Francisco airport at lunchtime today.

He was one of the organizers of a troop of hardy riders who'd arrived under police escort at the airport just after 11 am after a nine-day marathon of a motorbike ride from Newark's Liberty International airport that tracked the flight path of the 9/11 flight that crashed in Pennsylvania -see previous blog

The riders left at 8.42 am at what had been the scheduled departure time of the flight, though on September 3, and drew up at the airport at approximately 11.15 am at the time the flight had been due to arrive.

The bikers were welcomed in an open-air parking lot opposite the United Airways cargo facility, a short distance away from the airport terminals. Two hours later, about 20 riders and supporters went into the Reflection Room in the international terminal for a few moments of private contemplation.

The 'Ride with the Forty' was a tribute to honour and remember the 33 passengers and seven crew members on board the United Airways flight bound for San Francisco who bravely mustered a counter-attack against the terrorists. In doing so, they risked their lives, and as the plane plunged to the ground they are considered to have saved either the White House or the Capitol from destruction.

Among the sombre welcome party was Carol, sister of the pilot of the Boeing 757, Jason Dahl. Other people there had no personal connection to those who died but, like Tom and Faye, were there to pay their respects.

Carol and Jason grew up in San Jose, 'so this was home', she said of the airport and its environs as she stood outside the Reflection Room.

'I'm sure this was Jason's inspiration to becoming a pilot.'

Jason left behind his wife, Sandie, and son, Jason Matthew Dahl Junior who is now 23-years-old. Carol has kept in close touch with Matt and was thrilled that all her children took part in his wedding this summer.

'We will never forget Jason and we live with all the grand times we celebrated together,' she said.

Of Kenny and his cousin, Pat White, who coorganized the trip, she said, 'They did a great job.'

Kenny Nacke and his brother, Dale, were from a family of five boys who lost their brother, 'Joey' - Louis Joseph Nacke II. With cousins Pat and Dave, it was a family event on behalf of all the other families.

'It was miles of anticipation that left behind miles of great memories of good riders and great friends across 11 states,' said Pat.

'Some of it was a test of endurance, some was a test of driving prowess,' he said. Pat was the 'lead sled dog', driving a truck and towing a trailer, with Kenny's wife, Marci in the passenger seat. He was one of two truck drivers.

Driving trucks towing trailers 'required skill to stay together in formation, which by the time we hit urban traffic at Sacramento was very necessary,' he said.

Emotionally, it was 'bitter-sweet' from beginning to the ending but a ride that he was sure each one would remember.

Over the nine days, five riders travelled the entire journey, joined by many others in part along the way. With Kenny and Dale were Pat's brother, Dave, Frank Szczech, Erich Bay and Detroit Hank.

Pat is a tremendous example of the change that 9/11 has brought to people's lives. Everyday he works as a volunteer on the Flight 93 National Memorial putting in hours of work that if he was paid would run into 'hundreds of thousands of dollars.' Part of the ride today is to raise funds.

He is the man responsible for working with the National Park Service to finally purchase the land where the plane crashed. A sale only just completed.

A rider who accompanied them on the journey from Walnut Creek and to the Reflection Room was Gordon from the Patriot Guard Riders. The Patriots are a group of 90 per cent ex-military personnel who parade at the funerals of military comrades.

Gordon, now a federal police officer with the public Veterans Affairs, was a dog handler with the military police in the US Air Force.

'It's a duty to keep the memory alive,' he said, and a moving experience to watch today's group enter the Reflection Room 'knowing that you'd do the same thing if you were there,' ie on Flight 93.

After the reflection time, the group went down to a car park next to the terminal to keep their next appointment for another memorial event in Union City. Riders strapped on their helmets once more and mounted their bikes, drivers climbed into their trucks.

'It was beautiful. It was joyous, it was sad, it was difficult at times. It was everything I had expected and more,' said Dale. 'It's hard to imagine it's over now.'

And then they were off again with their police escort.

What would Joey have said if he was peeking over the parapet of heaven? I had asked Pat.

'You shouldn't have done it, but I'm glad you did. I'm proud of each of you and I'll love you forever.

'Thank you from "all of us" - knowing he was speaking of the forty,' said Pat.

pics show: the group entering the Reflection Room with Carol leading the way; the bikers preparing to leave the airport with Kenny Nacke on the far left, and Pat's truck behind; Tom, Faye, Erich, Pat; Gordon; Dale

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