Patriotic Corvette Lovers Gather at Pentagon
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 3, 2002 "The American eagle is sleek, fast and powerful," a top Pentagon official said here today. "So is the American-made Corvette."
Ralph Newton, Pentagon deputy director of real estate and facilities, holds a cased U.S. flag high and says "Stars and Stripes forever," at a Pentagon ceremony with members of the Stars and Stripes Corvettes Across America caravan July 3, 2002. Newton presented the group the flag, which had flown over the Pentagon; the group gave him a flag they'd carried across the country. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Ralph Newton, the Pentagon's deputy director for real estate and facilities, spoke to about 100 Corvette owners gathered on the grassy knoll overlooking the site of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon.
"Just as the Pentagon and Washington, D.C., are symbols of our nation's freedoms, so, too, is the Corvette in its own way," he said to the audience. The Corvette fans had driven their vintage and new sports cars, bearing American flags, from throughout the nation.
The Stars and Stripes Corvettes Across America caravan came to Washington to pay tribute to those who lost their lives at the Pentagon, in Pennsylvania and at New York's World Trade Center. The group came to show their patriotism and support for the nation's military and the war on terrorism.
"I'm sure people out in the hinterlands and through the cities that (the caravan traveled) were inspired and moved by this showing of patriotism," Newton said.
Since the attack, he noted, American citizens have demonstrated their tremendous support in many ways. "It truly helps the people here in this building to heal emotionally to know that so many people really support and believe in the work that we do here," he said.
From the Pentagon, the Corvettes headed for New York, carrying an American flag from the Pentagon to the World Trade Center. Another 200 Corvettes were slated to join the caravan along the way to take part in a July 4 parade across the Brooklyn Bridge.
The patriotic caravan was Rudy Regelin's idea. The manufacturing engineer from South Chicago had driven his 1972 red Corvette in a hometown parade a few weeks after the terrorist attacks. When the parade was over, he and his wife went for a 200-mile ride still bearing a large American flag on their Corvette.
"Everywhere we went, we got applause and salutes and cheers and thumbs up signs," Regelin recalled. "It was quite emotional for us." Afterward, he said, "a thought started to germinate. What if we did something like this coast to coast?"
He put his idea out to the 35,000 members of an online Corvette chat group, corvetteforum.com, in December. "People just jumped on it leaps and bounds and said, 'Yes, let's do this.' It just grew from there."
The Corvette caravan began June 20 at the Peace Arch in Blayne, Wash., on the U.S.-Canadian border. The route went down the Pacific Coast to San Francisco and then cut across the country on a southern route. The caravan grew and shrank throughout the trip.
"People would travel with us for two hours, from one stop to another or from one overnight to another as work and time permitted," Regelin said. "There have been over 2,500 active participants en route. I imagine, when all is said and done, we'll have in excess of 3,000 participants."
The group also decided to raise donations, so they created a Web site and took suggestions on how the money should be used. People wrote in that they didn't want to "sink the money into a black hole that has huge administrative costs and where we're not sure that the money will ever really be useful," he said. They wanted to do "something tangible."
The Corvette enthusiasts chose from among donating the money for a rescue vehicle, to the firemen's children's education fund and for rescue dogs. "In the final tally," he said, "the majority voted for rescue dogs." To date, the group has raised about $12,000.
Regelin pointed out that the cross-country caravan and fundraising are purely grass roots efforts. "We're a cross section of the country tied together by the Corvette bond," he said. "What we did was come together to say that we respect our military, we respect our government.
"We don't have any professional management in this event," he said. "There's no large corporate sponsorship. There's no real political backing of any kind. We're just everyday kind of people and we're using the Corvette network as a venue to display our patriotism and our respect for the military and pay homage and honor to those that passed on 9-11."
Valecia Parker, known as "Chee Chee," was one of those who pulled into the Pentagon south parking lot in her brand new, electron metallic blue Corvette. Parker's a civilian employee in Army personnel management, the offices that were the epicenter of the Pentagon attack.
"I lost a lot of friends, including three members of my church," she said. "I was helping one of the young women -- she was an Army specialist -- plan her wedding. That's real hard."
At the time of the attack, Parker recalled, she had about 30 miniature Corvettes lined up on her desk. They were all lost in the inferno. When she returned to work, coworkers had placed new ones on her desk to welcome her back. Deciding it was time for the real thing, she picked up her new car on June 30.
Parker, who now works a part-time schedule, said her love for Corvettes drew her to the rally. "I'm here for my coworkers who didn't make it and for those of us who did make it," she said. "We're striving every day just to make it day by day in the building.
"It is really hard," she added. "There are times when we walk through the building and we see people that we worked with – we know it's not them, but we see people who look just like them and it's so hard. I wanted to support my comrades as well as hopefully, my new family, the 'vette family."
After parading their cars past the Pentagon, the drivers and passengers gathered for a flag exchange ceremony. Regelin presented Newton with a U.S. flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol in April and then was carried cross- country by the Corvette drivers.
"Escorting this flag gives us an opportunity to tell the world, we've healed but we've not forgotten," retired Air Force Lt. Col. Doug Webster, a local Corvette owner, said in an address to the group.
"This flag represents the common bond those in the Pentagon share with the World Trade Center in New York City," he noted. "In a larger sense, this flag is also a symbol of a much broader bond shared by all Americans. Sept. 11 affected the citizens of this country more deeply and more broadly than perhaps any other single event in our lifetimes."
The terrorist attacks were a "stark reminder that maintaining our way of life does not come without cost," Webster said. "As we celebrate our freedom tomorrow, we shall also be remembering how much we owe to all of you in the Department of Defense."
On behalf of the Defense Department, Newton presented Webster a U.S. flag that flew over the Pentagon. The Corvette caravan drivers will escort the flag to New York City and present it to the mayor.
The Pentagon's exterior has been rebuilt and work continues on the interior, Newton said, but the nation's emotional scars will only be healed when the American public knows the terrorists that perpetrated these acts have been brought to justice.
"We realize that all Americans were affected by these acts," he said. "Your bringing these wonderful vehicles and this gift to the Department of Defense today is a great tribute to your patriotism and your support for the defense of our freedoms."
As the Pentagon official prepared to present the flag, everyone cheered when he held it over his head and said, "Stars and Stripes forever!"