RANDOLPH — Thousands of motorcyclists from New Hampshire and surrounding states took to the roads Saturday to honor and remember seven riders, five of them Marines, who died in a horrific crash on June 21 in Randolph.
The Ride for the Fallen 7 began Saturday in the sunshine in The Weirs and ended in a muddy field off Route 2 here.
In the teeth of a violent thunderstorm, participants remembered the seven members and supporters of the Jarheads Motorcycle Club who died on that first evening of summer.
Steve Allison of Manchester, one of the organizers, said the event was more than a memorial ride-in. “It was a statement,” he said.
The ride was “definitely a highlight of my life,” Allison said. “My eyes are burning because I was crying all the time on the road.”
It has become the most American of rituals: Flowers, flags, trinkets and prayers left at the scene of a roadside tragedy. And the tragedy that killed five Marines and two women who loved them has generated a deep emotional response across New Hampshire and the nation.
A memorial sprang up at the crash site, which is within the Randolph Town Forest. White crosses bear the names of those who died: Desma Oakes of Concord; Aaron Perry of Farmington; Michael Ferazzi of Contoocook; Albert Mazza of Lee; Joanne and Edward Corr, of Lakeville, Mass.; and Daniel Pereira, of Riverside, R.I. A sea of American flags paid tribute to their military service.
And what started out as an idea for a small memorial ride-in quickly went viral on social media.
The Ride for the Fallen 7 left the Broken Spoke Saloon in Laconia around noon and the first of about 3,000 riders arrived in Randolph two hours later. Don Surrette of Haverhill, Mass., said he and some friends were “bringing up the tail end” of the ride. “What a sight,” he said.
A Vietnam War combat veteran, Surrette said he did not know any of the Jarheads who were killed or injured, but knew he had to be here. “I’m just a Marine who felt he had to come out,” he said.
“The ride up was awesome,” he said, with people lining the route to show their support.
Richard Borghi, a chaplain for the New Hampshire chapter of Rolling Thunder, based at American Legion Post 51 in Epping, said he had planned about five minutes’ worth of remarks. Also a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War, Borghi said he wanted to point out that the Fallen 7 “are in a much better place.”
Given the heavy rain, however, which sometimes mixed with thunder and lightning, Borghi went with a much shorter speech, ending with a request for God’s guidance “when we go home.”
A member of the Jarheads expressed his gratitude to the other riders. “Thank you doesn’t begin to cut it,” he said. “But thank you.”
What happened two weeks ago, Allison said, was unprecedented. And in response, he said, he wanted “an unprecedented memorial.”
“This was so horrific,” he said. “Let’s counter it with something equally as loving, caring and respectful.”
“The main thing is to honor these seven fallen souls and show an outpouring of love,” he said.
Allison said bikers and veterans are some of the most charitable people in America. “If there’s a chance to do something good, bikers and veterans and veteran bikers are the first ones to answer the call,” he said
And that’s what members of the Jarheads Motorcycle Club, a group for Marines and Navy corpsmen, were doing when they were killed two weeks ago. Gathered in the North Country for their annual regional meeting, they were on their way to a charity event at an American Legion post in Gorham when a truck pulling a flatbed trailer crossed the yellow line and then swerved back, sending the trailer into a fatal collision with the motorcyclists.
The truck driver has been charged with seven counts of negligent homicide.
Ride participants on Saturday were still struggling to make sense of the tragedy. “People go out for a ride, doing a wonderful thing to help others, and they don’t come back,” said Simon LeComte of Bedford. “It’s wrong.”
Jay Cadieux of Nashua, who rides an Indian Scout, said he’s seen a lot more camaraderie among riders since the crash, regardless of which bikes they ride. “We’re all giving a wave to each other,” he said. “We all seem to be bonding together.”
Motorcycle groups as far away as California were planning their own rides Saturday in solidarity with the New Hampshire event. Allison said he’s even heard from people in other countries who wanted to support the families of those lost. For veterans and bikers alike, he said, “It’s like part of your family’s gone.”
Saturday morning, Allison spoke briefly to about 125 people who gathered in Manchester for the first leg of the ride to Laconia.
“This has been the biggest honor of my life — to put this together,” he said. “You are my brothers and sisters. I love every one of you.”