Bikers 'Rattle the Runway' to Honor 9/11 Victims
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 11, 2005 Nearly 800 motorcycles "rattled the runway" at Washington Dulles International Airport this morning as riders met there and rode to the Pentagon to honor the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and servicemen and women who have died since.
Ride organizer Rex Fowke and his grandson, Joshua, 7, pose in front of the long line of motorcycles preparing to ride from Washington Dulles International Airport to the Pentagon in the "Rattle the Runway Ride" Sept. 11. Photo by Kathleen T. Rhem
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The ride started at the airport, about 25 miles from the Defense Department headquarters, to honor those who died on American Airlines Flight 77, which took off from Dulles and then was hijacked by terrorists over the Midwest and then flown back to the Washington area and into the Pentagon, killing 184 people.
"We're not here today to mourn the loss of so many on Sept. 11, 2001. We are here to celebrate their lives and remember them as heroes, for they truly are the heroes," Rex Howke, the ride's primary organizer, said. "We want every parent, every spouse, every child, every relative and every friend of those heroes to know that their loss has not been forgotten."
Martyn Clarke, an operations duty manager at Dulles and an organizer of the "Rattle the Runway Ride," said he has a personal reason for working on this project: He and others at Dulles knew many people who died aboard that flight.
Sept. 11 "touched everybody," Clarke said. "It touched every one of us personally."
The Rattle the Runway Ride is in its third year, and organizers hope it will keep growing. The previous two years' rides actually rode on the runway -- One-Right -- that Flight 77 took off from. But a higher load of air traffic lead the airport's manager to not allow this year's ride on the runway.
Clarke said the group isn't giving up hope for future years, because Dulles is breaking ground this year on a fourth runway, which might allow the facility to accommodate such events in the future. "We're not going to give up hope of someday being back out on the runway," he said.
Proceeds from the sale of patches while the riders were assembling will be donated to the Pentagon Memorial Fund, which is raising money to build a permanent memorial to those killed at the Pentagon on Sept. 11.
The ride was supported by the Fairfax, Va., chapter of the Harley Owners Group, but Howke was quick to point out it wasn't restricted to Harley Davidson motorcycles. "It's not about what you ride," he said. "It's about the company you keep -- good people doing a good thing for a good cause."
The long line of motorcycles began assembling on an airport taxiway on the airport's outskirts shortly after dawn. After a short ceremony and prayer at about 10:30, the procession rode under a large American flag hung from the extended ladders of two fire trucks.
The bikes then circled around past the airport's main terminal. Airport employees in their uniforms lined the sidewalk, some jumping up and down and clapping when the riders passed.
The group then drove to the Pentagon. Police from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Virginia State Police and Arlington County escorted the riders and blocked major intersections along the route.
At the Pentagon, the procession rode beneath another flag held aloft by ladder trucks from the Arlington County Fire Department. The trucks here today responded to the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, Howke said.
Sgt. James Cox, of the Special Operations Unit of the airport authority Police Department, said close coordination was necessary to ensure public safety during several Sept. 11 commemorative events going on in the Washington area today.
Cox, also an Army Reservist, said events such as this are important despite the amount of coordination that goes into them. "Remembering 9/11 is important to the citizens of the country and the people of the airport that knew people that were on the plane that left here," said Cox, who added that he knew one of Flight 77's attendants.
Still, good has come out of the tragedy, Howke said. "What happened on this country on 9/11 has and will continue to change our lives daily," he said. "The loss of so many is guiding us in making the world a safer place every day."
John Kinkle, who rode from Ohio in a group of 150 motorcycles, described a "hero bracelet," with the name of Marine Lance Cpl. Brian Montgomery engraved on it, that he wears.
Montgomery, of Willoughby, Ohio, died in Iraq Aug. 1. His father, his wife, and his 1-year-old son joined Kinkle and his group in a ceremony before they departed Ohio for the Washington area Sept. 8. "That's what this ride's all about for all of you and all of us," Kinkle said.
Before coming here, Kinkle's group, rode to Shanksville, Pa., where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in a field as passengers and crew struggled to take the plane back from hijackers. The group is credited with preventing the terrorists from flying the plane into the U.S. Capitol or the White House.
"The most important thing is that we don't forget what happened on Sept. 11. Three thousand people died that day," Kinkle said. "We're doing this for all those families and those men and women that died on Sept. 11 right up to Brian Montgomery, who died on Aug. 1, and we'll continue to do this forever and ever as long as we can show our support."
Another common theme of the day was support for America's troops. Kinkle praised all current and former servicemembers. "Sacrifice comes in many forms," he said.
At the Pentagon after the ride, most participants stayed for a solemn ceremony. Bill Stetson, of the Kings Park Concert Band, from Springfield, Va., played "Taps" on his bugle after volunteers read a somber roll call of Sept. 11 losses:
- "One-hundred twenty-four heroes (who died at the Pentagon);
- "Flight 77: 64 heroes;
- "World Trade Center: 2,792 heroes;
- "Flight 11: 92 heroes;
- "Flight 175: 65 heroes;
- "Flight 93: 45 heroes;
- "Seventy-five of New York City's finest, police officers, heroes."
Howke, himself a retired firefighter, read the last item on the list as his voice cracked with emotion: "Last but not least," he said:
- "343 of New York city's bravest firefighters."