Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cyclists Ride for Flight 93 Memorial

Cyclists Ride for Flight 93 Memorial
Thursday, September 17, 2009
By Rocky Marks
Bill Wade/Post-Gazette
A sign with part of Psalm 91 near the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93 in Somerset County.
As a motorcyclist, I've always been asked to participate in charity rides, fundraisers and poker runs. As long as my schedule permits, I'm along for the ride. If it doesn't, then I'll usually try to make a donation or help promote the cause in some fashion.

In general, I knew many charities embraced motorcyclists and looked to men and women riders to champion a cause and help raise funds, but I didn't realize to what degree until I got a phone call in mid-August.

Jim Lauteri, a representative for the Flight 93 Memorial Capital Campaign, called me on behalf of Rocky Bleier. He asked if Mr. Bleier could be on my weekly radio show on WEAE 1250 AM to talk about some of the events surrounding this year's fundraising efforts.

I told Jim that I would love to have Rocky Bleier on the show, but I wasn't sure what the tie-in to the motorcycle community would be considering that Rocky doesn't ride. Jim asked me if I have ever been to the Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville. I replied that I had been there many times. In fact, I told him, I always stop by if I am in the area on my bike.

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That's when it hit me. One of the largest groups that visit the memorial are motorcyclists, second only to our country's veterans. We exchanged contact information and the Bleier interview was set. I was really excited about this opportunity. I spent a few hours preparing questions about everything from the memorial to his amazing catch that sealed the victory for Super Bowl XIII.

A few days later, I found myself in my studio sitting across from the former Steeler, discussing the golf outing, the dinner and all the events that took place in support of the Flight 93 memorial.

Before he left, he gave me the name of another person who he thought I may be interested in talking with -- Kenny Nacke. He is the brother of Joey Nacke, one of the passengers who was aboard Flight 93.

I gave Kenny a call and it was the most sobering interview I've had. I've been in radio for 15 years, but never have I had an interview that left me in tears like the one with Kenny.

We talked about what it was like for him on Sept. 11, 2001. He is a K-9 police officer in Baltimore and was put to work right after the second plane hit the World Trade Center. A bomb threat was called in to one of the buildings in his jurisdiction and he had to respond.

While he was in the building, he had to turn his cell phone off as a safety precaution in the event there was a bomb. After a few hours searching and not finding anything, he retreated to his police car and found that he had more than a dozen frantic voicemail messages from his wife.

It was at that time he learned about the third hijacked plane and that there was a possibility that his brother Joey was on board. Although he had what he described as a "weird feeling" in his stomach, he held out hope until his parents received a phone call around 6 that night.

Every three months, Kenny makes the trip to visit the makeshift memorial in Shanksville, usually riding his motorcycle. He told me that it is somber, yet comforting. The landscape is beautiful and he even saw two bear cubs playing in the field right over the spot where the plane crashed. He said that it made him chuckle and he would like to think that Joey had something to do with that.

Kenny is proud of the memorial because, in his words, "This is where the first battle was won against terrorism." He went on to say that there is no such thing as closure, but having a memorial keeps his brother's name alive.

Kenny decided to do something to raise money for the Flight 93 memorial. He put together The Ride with the Forty, which had five core riders who took eight days to honor 40 heroes -- the passengers and crew of Flight 93. They traveled the country as close as they could along the intended flight path of Flight 93. They left from the gate that Flight 93 pulled out from at Newark Airport on Sept. 3 and arrived in San Francisco at the airport to complete the path of US Airways Flight 93 at 11 a.m. Sept. 11.

This year marked the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks. The groundbreaking for the permanent memorial is set for November. Even if you aren't in a position to donate to the fund, please consider taking a ride through the beautiful mountains of Western Pennsylvania to visit the Flight 93 memorial and remember the passengers and crew who "won the first battle against terrorism."

Rocky Marks is the operations manager for Hot Metal Harley-Davidson in West Mifflin and host of the weekly radio show "On the Road With Rocky" on WEAE 1250 AM.

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