Transcontinental Bike Ride Honoring 9/11 Airline Crews Ends at Pentagon
By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 9, 2006 Thirty-three days after pedaling out of Los Angeles, a group of cyclists arrived at the Pentagon today as part of the Airline Ride Across America to honor the 33 airline crewmembers who died during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
A group of cyclists arrives at the Pentagon May 9 as part of the Airline Ride Across America to honor the 33 airline crewmembers who died during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The riders left Los Angeles on April 2. Along the way they raised about $100,000 for 9/11 memorials in New York, Shanksville, Pa., and at the Pentagon. Photo by Steven Donald Smith
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"What a glorious day. Here we are, just having completed the 33rd day of the Airline Ride Across America," said cyclist and ride organizer Thomas Heidenberger, a pilot for US Airways and the husband of Michele Heidenberger, a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon. "It's been a wonderful journey. It's been a journey to remember the 33. It's been a journey about 3,000 people (who died on 9/11) and their families."
The Airline Ride Across America riders left Los Angeles on April 2. Along the way they raised about $100,000 for 9/11 memorials in New York, Shanksville, Pa., and at the Pentagon.
Heidenberger described the ride as "a very, very humbling experience."
He spoke to a gathered crowd in front of the future home of the Pentagon Memorial, which is in its initial site preparation phase with plans for completion in the fall of 2008. The Pentagon Memorial will be dedicated to the 184 people who died at Pentagon, including airline passengers, crew and Pentagon employees. The memorial will be open to the public.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England were on hand to thank the cyclists for honoring 9/11 victims and for raising memorial money.
The riders' "extraordinary stamina, hard work, and personal determination are fitting tributes to the courageous men and women ... they set out to honor," England said. "Nothing in the world can replace the family members, friends and colleagues that we lost, and nothing can bring them back. But every step taken to honor them keeps their memory alive."
Rumsfeld thanked the riders for bringing attention to the memorials.
"Thank you for calling attention to Sept. 11, to the memorials in New York, Shanksville and here at the Pentagon," he said. "We appreciate that a great deal."
Rumsfeld said it was important to stop terrorists from attacking the U.S. homeland again, and pointed to current military operations as a way to do just that.
"The pressure that is being put on (terrorists) by a worldwide coalition of some 80 countries, makes it harder for them to communicate, harder for them to move between countries, harder for them to raise money, and harder for them to purchase weapons," he said. "That pressure is what it will take for free people to continue to do what all of you are blessed and able to do."
Some of the other principal organizers and riders were US Airways pilot Tony Asterita, American Airlines pilots Paul Guttenberg and Mark Clark, United Airlines pilot Rob Zettel, and US Airways employee Robert McGee. Sheri Burlingame, an American Airlines flight attendant, drove a support vehicle.
Other cyclists joined the ride at various parts of the journey. One of these riders was Bill Gerrish of Chevy Chase, Md., who rode from Shanksville to New York City.
Gerrish is a family friend of Heidenberger, and said he rode because he felt "it's important to preserve the memory of those who lost their lives on 9/11. And I really wanted to do something for Tom."