Thunder Road

Published 11:23 pm Friday, October 3, 2008

Daytona Beach. Sturgis.


For a couple of hours Friday, Franklin resembled the aforementioned hotspots of motorcycle rallying in Florida and South Dakota, when riders with the Fall Inter-service Motorcycle Safety Ride roared into Barrett’s Landing.

About 300 motorcycles of all makes and models (but mostly Harley-Davidson) made the 100-plus mile round trip en masse from Fort Monroe.

The ride was open to registered motorcyclists from military installations in the Hampton Roads area. Participants included members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, as well as military and government civilian personnel, retirees, and Department of Defense contractors.

Riders left Fort Monroe after a safety inspection at about 9 a.m. Friday, and arrived in Franklin at about 10:30 a.m.

The event is held to raise awareness of the military’s commitment to rider safety, and to try and reduce the number of motorcycle

accidents and fatalities involving military personnel.

In 2007, “38 soldiers were killed in motorcycle accidents,” according to Delinor Vantree, director of public safety at Fort Monroe. “It’s disturbing when we lose even one great soldier, sailor, airman, marine or coast guardsman.”

Leading the charge to Barrett’s Landing aboard a Harley, chomping on a cigar, was Army Gen. Abe Turner.

“This didn’t happen by happenstance that we’re here in Franklin,” Turner said to the bikers as they rested under a tent. “We chose Franklin as the place to come because we know it’s a warm community. It’s kind of like ‘Anywhere U.S.A.’ We thought we’d like to come to a community where the people understand what you’re doing, what sacrifices you’re making each and every day you serve. I’m particularly talking about those of you in uniform.

“I just think that this is a neat place to come. The people are really welcoming us. Any chance I get an opportunity to show off a soldier, an airman, a sailor or a marine, I do just that.”

Mayor Jim Councill and Ward 5 Councilwoman Mary Hilliard were onhand to welcome the riders to the city.

“We’d like to take every opportunity that we have to either host or thank you all for what you do,” Councill said. “There’s not enough that we can do or say to say thank you for what you’ve done to keep us free and safe.

“I hope you all have a wonderful time here. For all of you who are far away from home, but come from small towns, maybe this is a little nostalgia for what home is like and what you remember. We’re just good old American people that just love our country and love what you do, and are grateful to be able to open our town and our hearts to you and say thanks for putting us on your map.”

Councill then presented Turner with a key to the city.

“It’s a fantastic event,” said Army Lt. Col. Spencer Smith. “It’s really great that the community has opened their arms and welcomed us in.”

Smith, who is based in Fort Lee and hails from Sterling, Va., rode into town on a 2007 Harley-Davidson Road King Classic. Like Turner, he chomped a big cigar while putting his helmet back on after the break. Emblazoned on the side of his dark red helmet in yellow cursive: “Big Smooth.”

Jaime and Barbara Perez of Hampton rode a 2007 Yamaha V-Star Silverado. Barbara Perez, a retired Army specialist, said “the way everyone welcomed us was very nice.” Jaime Perez, an SSG-E6 with the Army, added “it was awesome that these guys were in front of us. Everything went really smooth.”