A group of motorcyclists, escorted by Elk Grove police vehicles, made their way to Lark Street in Old Elk Grove on Oct. 30 as part of the Tribute to Fallen Soldiers Memorial Torch Motorcycle Ride.
The 11-day ride, which began in Eugene, Oregon two days earlier, was organized in memory of American fallen service members.
According to the ride’s organizers, the ride represents an extension of the “heartfelt gratitude to our Gold Star families and the families of every fallen service member across the United States, to remind them their fallen hero will never be forgotten.”
Organized by the nonprofit corporation, Tribute to Fallen Soldiers Northwest, the event in Elk Grove represented one of many stops in the participants’ procession, which continued to the Riverside County city of Indio.
The Elk Grove ceremony was attended by about 60 people, including Elk Grove City Council Member Kevin Spease, an honorably discharged combat veteran, and City Council Member Darren Suen. About 25 of those attendees signed a large American flag.
Earlier in the day, the riders attended the opening ceremony of the California portion of the ride at Sacramento Elks Lodge No. 6 building in south Sacramento.
Among those honored through this ride were the 13 U.S. service members who died in the suicide bombing attack in Afghanistan last August.
Fallen service members recognized at local ceremonies included Army Spc. Etienne Murphy, who died in a vehicle rollover in Syria; Army Spc. Taylor Hannah, who died of a rare blood disorder from vaccines he received to go to Korea; and Marine Sgt. Nicole Gee and Marine Cpl. Hunter Lopez, who were both killed in Afghanistan.
Another significant part of the ride was the escorting of the Fallen Soldiers Memorial Torch, which was lit in Eugene on Thursday morning, Oct. 28 and remained lit for 11 days.
Warren Williamson, executive director of Tribute to Fallen Soldiers Northwest, spoke about that symbolic feature of the ride.
“It represents the life, the service and the sacrifice of all of our fallen service members,” he said.
“(The) riders hereby promise and provide our solemn promise to honor, to protect the Fallen Soldiers Memorial (Torch) flame during the next eight days, until it reaches its final destination of Indio, California, where it will be ceremoniously extinguished on Sunday, Nov. 7, in memory of all fallen service members and their families left behind.
“It is because of their service and sacrifice that we now ride to honor their service and what they gave up for their country.”
As part of the Elk Grove event, 13 large American flags lined the front of the John and Betty Hall’s Lark Street home, in honor of the 13 soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan last summer.
Also present was the Honor and Remember flag, which serves as a reminder to remember and appreciate all Americans who lost their lives while preserving the nation’s freedom.
Betty Hall, who hosted the Elk Grove stop of the ride at her home with her husband, told the Citizen that she was grateful that the organization honored her late son, Army Staff Sgt. Bryan Hall, at the event.
Bryan, who was an Elk Grove High School graduate, was one of five U.S. soldiers killed in a suicide bombing in Iraq on April 10, 2009.
Following Hall’s death, the Bryan E. Hall Memorial Scholarship Fund was established, and money was raised for that fund for 10 years through the annual Elk Grove 5K event, Walk to Remember.
Betty described how she has coped with losing her son.
“The one thing I always say, always, is that Bryan was not killed in Iraq; Bryan died doing what he loved,” she said. “He always, as a child, wanted to be a soldier, and he saw the good that was being done in Iraq at that time.
“That’s what has given me comfort all these years: Not thinking about him being killed, but that he died doing what he loved.”
Betty added that she was emotionally touched by the ceremony in her neighborhood that honored many other U.S. service members who lost their lives while serving their country.
“There was so much honor and pomp-and-circumstance to it and respect and love,” she said. “It’s hard to describe, because it was so well done. It was just amazing.
“The people who came were so respectful. You know, when you see these big, old motorcycle guys crying and shedding tears, it just shows you that they really believe in what they’re doing and that they respect the people that they’re honoring.”