MOREHEAD CITY — A record number of motorcyclists and Jeep and car enthusiasts joined together Saturday to honor the fallen of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the 13 soldiers recently killed in Afghanistan during the Morehead City Elks Lodge 9/11 Memorial Ride.
The group joined to pay tribute during a ceremony at the Elks Lodge, followed by a ride through Newport, Morehead City, Atlantic Beach, Emerald Isle and Cape Carteret. Several motorcycles and vehicles flew 9/11 memorial flags and American flags.
With it being the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Kent Neal, cofounder of the ride, said this year’s event drew a record number of riders. There were 216 motorcyclists and 77 vehicles.
“We will continue to do this every year so people never forget what happened on 9/11,” Mr. Neal said during the ceremony before the ride. “We want to keep the awareness high of what happened on 9/11. Our motto is ‘never forget.’ We want to keep that motto alive.”
In addition, Mr. Neal said the annual event raises funds for the Elks Lodge, which donates the money to Wounded Warriors projects and first responders. Plus, this year the club donated $1,000 to the Special Forces Parachute Team from Fort Bragg, which presented a patriotic parachute jump to open the ceremony.
Mr. Neal further said it was important to honor not only those who died that fateful day 20 years ago, but the 13 service members who were recently killed while helping Americans and allies get out of Afghanistan during the U.S. troop withdrawal.
“We felt it was totally appropriate to honor them during this ceremony,” he said.
Thirteen flags were set out to memorialize each of the 13 fallen soldiers. There was also a table set up inside the lodge with a place setting and name tag for each of the soldiers.
The ceremony included a special forces parachute jump, the presentation of the colors by the West Carteret High School NJROTC, a small cannon firing, speeches and an opening prayer.
Each year the Morehead Elks Lodge No. 1710, the Pet Adoption and Welfare Society of Carteret and the Military Order of the Purple Heart host the event, which culminates with the ride that includes bikers and vehicles. Afterwards, participants enjoy a meal, music and silent auction.
Many of those who participated, such as Roy Bennett, 75, of Newport, said they will never forget the events of that tragic day on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I’m a Vietnam veteran and a former firefighter and EMT,” he said. “I remember where I was when everything happened 20 years ago. I remember being shocked to my very soul. I never thought I would see the day America was attacked.”
The Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four airplanes and carried out suicide attacks on the U.S. Two of the planes flew into the World Trade Center in New York City, taking down the Twin Towers. A third plane was flown into The Pentagon in Washington, D.C., while the fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania after the passengers wrestled back control from the hijackers.
Almost 3,000 people died in the attacks, leading the United States into the military conflict in Afghanistan, where troops remained for 20 years until the U.S. withdrawal as of Aug. 31. The 13 service members killed by a suicide bomber Aug. 26 were providing security at the Kabul Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Among those killed were 11 Marines, a Navy hospital corpsman and a U.S. Army staff sergeant. One of those killed, U.S. Marine Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23, of Sacramento, Calif., was based at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville.
In addition to the memorial ride on Saturday, the Home Owners Association of Magens Bay in Cedar Point sponsored a 9/11 silent parade and The Market in Cedar Point sponsored special events throughout the day. Plus, Carteret Community College and St. Egbert Catholic School in Morehead City sponsored 9/11 ceremonies on Friday.
Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.