Long Beach Firefighter Gary Biggerstaff says he knew he had to do something in the memory of his fellow firefighters, who lost their lives when New York’s World Trade Center buildings collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001.
It was Biggerstaff’s efforts to remember the firefighters lost in the wreckage, which led to a larger ceremony celebration known as Remember 9/11 The Ride.
Biggerstaff and Rich Brandt, a Fire Department captain and president of the Long Beach Firefighters Association, visited the site of the World Trade Center six months after it was attacked, and said it was viewing the active dig site, known as Ground Zero, that led him to want to do something back home in Long Beach.
“In March 2002, I went with about 30 other firefighters to march in a memorial parade,” he said. “I was granted special access, and I was exposed to many of the sights and sounds of the dig site. It was a moving experience.”
After brainstorming ways to show his support, Biggerstaff decided to construct — by hand — 343 white crosses with the names of each fallen firefighter to be displayed on his front lawn.
“It looks something like Arlington Cemetery,” he said. “It was started as a quiet memorial for people to see.”
His front-yard memorial drew thousands of spectators looking to pay their respects to the victims and their families, growing from year to year.
“It drew so much attention, that we added a ceremony,” he said. “We had 2,500 people come to see it last year.”
In 2004, it evolved into a 42-mile memorial motorcycle ride from Cook’s Corner in Orange County to Biggerstaff’s home in Belmont Heights. Biggerstaff said that the entire route is like a parade in itself, with the riders being accompanied by law enforcement and emergency vehicles, and community members waving to the riders throughout the ride.
Over the years, the ride grew from 50 riders to more than 1,500, he said. This year, more than 3,000 motorcyclists are expected to participate.
With this year marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Biggerstaff teamed up with ACCORD Community First — a nonprofit that helps train people to go back to work — to find sponsors and charities for a memorial event.
“This is the first year this has been taken to the next level with a commemorative event to raise money for the Remember 9/11 The Ride fund,” said David Zanatta, ACCORD board member and Remember 9/11 organizer. “As an organization (ACCORD Community First), we have taken Gary and Rich’s original ceremony to the next level. It is a pretty exciting and emotional thing.”
The motorcyclists will leave Cooks Corner at 2:15 p.m., and arrive at McKenna’s On The Bay Restaurant in Alamitos Bay Landing before the ceremony begins at 4:30 p.m.
The patriotic ceremony will convene in McKenna’s parking lot, and features speakers connected to the 9/11 attacks, performances by choirs and singers, and an unveiling of an I-beam from the World Trade Center by New York Firefighter Chris Howard, whose father was killed in the collapse of the second tower.
The tribute concert will follow the ceremony, with performances by The Wilsons and L.A.vation — a U2 tribute band. When the sun sets, around 7:45 p.m., a commemorative fireworks show will ignite the sky over Alamitos Bay.
“This is the first time we’ve had fireworks over the bay,” said John Morris, general manager of McKenna’s. “It will be a great finale and we have some great music planned specifically for this firework show.”
Morris added that views of the fireworks show could also be seen in Belmont Shore, along Bayshore Avenue.
The ceremony and fireworks show are free to the public, but donations will be accepted in the parking lot of McKenna’s. Donations also can be made online at www.remember911ride.com.
As for the 343 white crosses, Biggerstaff said they would be uprooted on the morning of Sept. 11, and taken on two flatbed trucks to be displayed at McKenna’s. Until then, they can be viewed at his house, at 257 Bennett Ave.