Meeting 9/11 victims first hand was emotional for Habeggers
It is difficult these days for Berne's Dwight and Bev Habegger to try to describe what they felt visiting 9/11 sites without tears flowing. The Habeggers were part of America's 9/11 Ride that started on Aug. 16 in Somerset, PA. and finished at the World Trade Center site in New York on Aug. 18.
All money raised by one of the country's most heralded bike rides goes to benefit America's 9/11 Foundation College Scholarship Program that assists children of active responders.
In addition to the Habeggers, close friends John and Judy Bunner, of Willshire, also rode on the tour.
"We left Mercer Truck Stop at 4:30 a.m. and arrived in Somerset at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday," said Habegger. "There we met close friend, Joe Costa, of Boston, who teamed up with us for the rest of the trip."
The thing that immediately caught the tourists' attention at the Flight 93 Memorial was the personal connection they felt with the names of those who had perished on the flight.
"Each person's name is etched on a panel of a wall that formulates the direction line of the flight path as it zig zags across the field," said Habegger. "The plane ran into the ground at over 500 miles per hour and dug down over 40 feet. They didn't find anything.
"As the park ranger told the story of how things unfolded, you could have heard a pin drop," continued Habegger. "It made it so personal to all of us. We felt so deeply for them."
Bev Habegger said that she was amazed at how quickly tourists bonded in the face of their common grief over what had happened.
"It's amazing how Americans can be thrown together in the grand scheme of things and bond so quickly," said Bev. "It didn't take long for all of us to feel so touched together by the heroism of the people. You just felt like you could reach out and touch their lives."
Friday morning, the group left early from Somerset to drive to Washington, D.C. and the Pentagon. At that point, the Habeggers were amazed how the group was being escorted across the country, with police blockades set up at every entrance to keep cars and trucks off of interstates in the area of the bike tour.
Habegger noted that police departments from several states had come to the area to assist with the tour, states such as Texas, Ohio, Maine and other states.
"There was a 100 police motorcycle escort," said Habegger. "There we were, over 600 motorcycles riding down the interstate and no cars or vehicles around.
"At the Pentagon it was 96 degrees," Habegger said.
The trip from Somerset to Washington was 178 miles, Habegger said, with quick stops at Rocky Gap State Park, Hagerstown, Maryland and Arlington.
At the Pentagon, the couple was impressed by the fact each individual who had died in 911 had their own bench and fountain as a memorial. All names were
respectfully written in granite.
"To look at the site at the Pentagon, you would never know that anything happened, other than different colored stone," said Bev. "It was all so quiet and moving."
Saturday morning, the group stood in reverence as a member of the United States Army Band sang the National Anthem. The trip through New Jersey included a drive through Heightstown, N.J., the hometown of Flight 93 hero, Todd Beamer. But perhaps one of the most touching aspects of the entire trip was the outpouring of those lining the streets, interstate bridges and thoroughfares traveled by the bike tour.
"The outpouring of people along the streets, their salutes with flags, their well-wishes, was just unbelievable," said Habegger. "Everywhere we went there were large flags draping over the highways. People thanked us along the way as we passed by. It was so moving; tears came over as we saw the beauty of the American spirit. This is what America is still all about."
The group arrived in New York City around 7 p.m. and spent the evening touring Time Square, enjoying the city and partaking of a relaxing meal at a Manhattan restaurant.
Even with Saturday's outpouring from residents along the way, Habegger could have never prepared for the reception in New York City. From the time that the Holland Tunnel had been vacated to greet the tour group into the city, to every police escort to Ground Zero, the atmosphere was festive and warm.
A special time had been set aside for bike tourists early Sunday morning. The designs, the fountains, the total correlation of the exhibit was indescribable, Habegger said.
"The security at Ground Zero was unbelievable," said Habegger. "You felt like you were entering an airplane. It was obvious that they didn't want anything to happen there."
"The person who organized the 9/11 Foundation was there," said Bev. "He was on the 50th floor of Tower Two and was a first responder. He spoke to our group before we walked through the area. He walked us through his entire day that day. His three closest friends went to another level of Tower Two to run communication. He said that ironically, the people that took the stairs didn't make it out and the people that took the elevator did make it out.
"To actually have first hand stories and stand side by side at the Memorial with first responders was very emotional for us," Bev continued. "To hear them tell what happened that day was very moving."
"Every intersection in New York was amazing," observed Dwight. "All of those people were standing there with their hands over their hearts in respect to what we were doing. We will never forget a local lady in a red dress. She walked out to within five feet of Bev and I and mouthed, 'thank you' to us. It was all very emotional for us."
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