LTD Ride, A-Games pay tribute to regional troops killed during Iraq deployment
Two soldiers were injured when the Humvee in which Army Sgt. Jesse Lhotka was riding left a roadway and overturned in Baghdad, Iraq, on Feb. 21, 2005.
Lhotka, 1st Lt. Jason Timmerman and Sgt. David Day were carrying the second injured soldier on a stretcher to a helicopter when an improvised explosive device detonated. All were killed. Army Sgt. First Class Chad Turner was on the scene that day as part of the same convoy, serving alongside the other Minnesota National Guardsmen in the 1st Battalion, 151st Field Artillery, 34th Infantry Division.
"All the people said to make sure they were not forgotten,'' Turner said of his comrades who died.
Turner and hundreds of people from the fallen soldiers' hometowns in western Minnesota are doing their part to keep their memories alive.
As many as 800 people are expected to join the fourth annual LTD Motorcycle Memorial Tour on Saturday. Beginning in the morning at the Middle School in Montevideo, a 4½- to 5-mile procession of motorcycles will complete a nearly 200-mile route before reaching Appleton in the late afternoon.
In between, they will ride through Timmerman's hometown of Marshall, where a 21-gun salute will be fired. Hundreds of people are expected to line the streets in memory of the soldiers and to honor the soldiers of the 151st now preparing to return to Iraq.
Similar crowds are expected to line the streets in Morris as well. It's Day's hometown and the location of a memorial to the three fallen soldiers.
The reception will be every bit as emotional when the motorcycles reach Lhotka's hometown of Appleton. The motorcyclists will be led into town by the surviving family members of the three soldiers.
The idea for the memorial ride took hold in a supply room in Iraq, as Turner and a small group of other soldiers from the 151st prepared for their return home in 2005. Turner said he and others had been talking about buying Harley-Davidson motorcycles when they got home. It led to the idea of a memorial ride and before they left the supply room, they had already named a board of directors for it.
Turner said the organizers were pleased to see 176 people take part in the first ride. He never expected to see 630 people show up the next year, or as many again last year.
Among those who showed up to keep the memory of three western Minnesota soldiers -- and will again this year -- is Kortney Clemons. He was the medic seriously hurt by the blast that killed the three.
Clemons, of Mississippi, lost his right leg in the explosion but not his competitive drive. He became the first Iraqi veteran to qualify for the U.S. Paralympics and is the 2006 Games' 100-meter sprint champion.
Turner said the return of Clemons and the participation of hundreds of people from throughout western Minnesota means a great deal to the families of the fallen soldiers. "It's good to see everybody still cares,'' he said.
The memorial ride is being held this year in conjunction with the fourth annual A-Games Supercross Racing event at the Swift County Fairgrounds in Appleton. Tim Dittes, race organizer, said Clemons will lead a lap around the race course in memory of the three.
Those participating in the memorial ride will be joining on the fairgrounds after the ride for a dinner and an evening of rock 'n roll with the band Pandora.
Dittes said they can also join a crowd of 700 or more expected to watch as 140 riders compete for $20,000 in prize money in the A-Games.