Hundreds of bikers roared across Northeast Tennessee Sunday, the 10th anniversary of 9/11, while following a hearse carrying a flag-draped coffin representing the nearly 3,000 people who died that day.
The 9/11 memorial Freedom Ride was arranged in part by Tetrick Funeral Services and involved the local chapter of Rolling Thunder, Johnson City firefighters, Johnson City police, Washington County emergency responders and Washington County sheriff’s deputies.
“When we started arranging this we thought we’d be successful if we had 50 riders,” said Richard Tetrick as he watched probably between 300 and 400 bikers pull out of the 3001 Peoples St. location.
The ride was bound for Erwin, Elizabethton, Bristol and back to Washington County Memorial Gardens for a concluding ceremony with a bagpipe player from the Limestone Volunteer Fire Department.
“We just want to keep the memory alive of those people” who died on 9/11, said Rolling Thunder board member Joe Cunningham.
The ride began shortly after 1 p.m. following speeches by Tetrick, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe and Fountain of Life Bible Church pastor Vic Young. Participants began arriving around 11:30 a.m. Sunday to form up, sign a guest book and enjoy a hot dog lunch. The guest book will be delivered to New York City Fire Department Station 10. Tetrick said this station was closest to the World Trade Center.
“They probably lost more firemen than any other station in New York on 9/11,” Tetrick said.
Tetrick told the crowd the funeral home staff came up with the idea for a freedom ride in honor of the victims of 9/11 in January while discussing ways to reach out to the whole region.
Roe went to three church services Sunday morning, he said, before coming to speak at the start of the freedom ride.
He recalled the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, saying he had just finished operating on a patient when he looked at the television and saw the second plane hit the World Trade Center.
“I then realized what had happened to our country,” he said. “The assault we were under.”
Roe said it was important to remember 9/11 and what it did to America. He pointed to young children in the crowd who were born after the attacks, saying they needed to know the history of that day so it is never forgotten.
“We need to teach these children what that meant to our nation,” Roe said.
Roe said attending events like the Freedom Ride was proof the terrorists who attacked New York and the Pentagon 10 years ago Sunday did not succeed.
“You can knock our building down,” Roe told the crowd. “You cannot knock our principals down. They tried to kill as many of our citizens as they possible could and they did.
“They killed a lot of people. But they did not kill the spirit of this nation, because I see it here right now today.”
Other 9/11 memorial events in the area Sunday included an observance of the attacks at the Jonesborough Visitors Center. David Purkey, assistant commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Homeland Security was the keynot speaker. The Johnson City Symphony Orchestra also performed “A Symphonic Salute” as part of the Lakeside Concert Series Sunday evening.
Observances continue Monday with a blood drive at Indian Trail Middle School and a program sponsored by Carver Recreation Center recognizing all 9/11 first responders at 6:30 p.m. at Memory Gardens.