A journey of tribute
At 1 a.m. Tuesday, Brainerd firefighter Charlie Dunemann will be climbing aboard his Yamaha motorcycle and starting an emotional trip to pay tribute to firefighters who lost their lives in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Dunemann, a full-time fire equipment operator with the Brainerd Fire Department, will be joining thousands of other motorcyclists from across the country for the 9/11 Tribute Ride that will culminate Sept. 11 at the Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial in New York City.
Dunemann, a member of the International Association of Fire Fighters motorcycle group, said he wouldn’t have missed the trip. He’s had his room booked since February and will be using all of his vacation for the ride.
“I can’t think of anybody that was in fire service that wasn’t itching to go out and help on 9/11,” Dunemann said. “To be able to go out there now and represent our guys, our city and all Minnesota firefighters, this is, ‘Wow.’”
For Dunemann, the ride itself, called Heroes Across America, will start with a 500-mile trek to just south of Chicago, where he will meet up with IAFF members from Wisconsin. From there the riders will go to Youngstown, Ohio, to spend the night.
On Sept. 7, riders coming from the northern part of the U.S. will stop at the Flight 93 National Memorial and Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. Riders coming from the southern part of the U.S. will stop at the Pentagon.
On Sept. 8, all riders joining the tribute ride will converge on Newburgh, N.Y., for the 2011 Fire Fighters 9/11 Always Remember & Never Forget Tribute Rally, hosted by IAFF and Orange County Choppers. Orange County Choppers, featured in the television series “American Chopper,” will be unveiling a tribute motorcycle for the ride into New York City.
On Sept. 11, the motorcyclists, about 7,000, Dunemann estimated, will be led by the New York State Mounted Patrol, Rolling Thunder and others from Newburgh to Ground Zero, where riders will take part in memorial services and tour fire stations in the city.
Dunemann, who will be one of about five motorcyclists from Minnesota joining the ride and rally, said it will be an emotional day in New York City.
“They lost 343 firefighters in 9/11,” Dunemann said. “Now the tower is going up bigger, stronger and they’ll look at the thousands of firefighters that are coming back.”
Brainerd Fire Chief Kevin Stunek said he gets goose bumps talking about it.
“Of all the firefighters in Minnesota, to be one of those five, that’s pretty cool. It’s one of those things that as you get older you won’t forget. Like 9/11, you don’t forget that and where you were that day,” Stunek said. “For the city of Brainerd, for myself as fire chief, for the Brainerd Fire Department, what a cool way to use your vacation, your days off, to represent our area.”
Dunemann has outfitted motorcycle with an old leather New York firefighter helmet on which is mounted a shield that states “Never Forget” and “9-11-01.” The shield was donated by Municipal Emergency Services. Steve White, sales representative with MES, said he didn’t hesitate in offering his services when contacted by Dunemann.
“Absolutely. To be a part of this is a great honor,” White said.
When he arrives in Pennsylvania Dunemann will be joined by his son, Chase Dunemann, and son-in-law, Tim O’Leary, both Brainerd natives in the Navy stationed at Norfolk, Va., Naval Base with their families. Dunemann said he will be spending time in Virginia with his grandchildren before joining another group of motorcyclists for a ride home.
Dunemann has to be back on shift with the Brainerd Fire Department on Sept. 21.
“I haven’t done anything all summer waiting for this and I’ll probably end up in the neighborhood of having 6,000 miles on, but it’s worth it,” Dunemann said.