Michael McLaughlin Jr., his mother, Debra, and 7-year-old sister, BreAnn, did something on Sept. 11 they will not soon forget.
The Johnstown family joined with motorcyclists from around the country to participate in “Two Million Bikers to D.C.”
The biker rally in Washington was to honor all those impacted by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
McLaughlin, who serves with the military police at the Army National Guard on Walters Avenue, spotted news of the rally on Facebook.
“They wanted to get people to honor the fallen, the victims and family members, and military, firefighters and police officers,” said McLaughlin, 21.
“It was just overwhelming.”
With Debra riding a Kawasaki Ninja and Michael on board a Suzuki Katana, the family set out the day before the rally.
The trio would not have been complete without BreAnn, McLaughlin said.
“Her birthday was in June,” he said. “Instead of a doll, she wanted a helmet so she could ride with us.”
Although organizers didn’t reach their goal of attracting 2 million riders, many thousands snarled traffic on the Beltway to pay tribute on the 12th anniversary of the terror attacks in Washington, New York and Shanksville.
On its Facebook page the group said it will stand by the Constitution and Bill of Rights, adding that it is “against any fundamental transformation of America.”
“We will not stand down. We will stand up if need be for our liberties,” the post said.
McLaughlin, a 2010 graduate of Penn Cambria High School, said he is set to be deployed overseas in April. Following in the footsteps of many who have served overseas, McLaughlin has honed deep respect for his fellows in uniform.
“I have friends that are deployed and I wanted to show support for them,” he said. “Being a patriotic American and standing together with a million other bikers gave me chills.”
Some of the victims’ family members spoke at the emotional rally with many veterans in attendance.
“It was for 9/11, but it was more than that,” McLaughlin said. “I can’t even put it into words.”
The event was organized in part to protest a pro-Muslim rally held the same day.
Organizers of both events pledged to return to D.C. next year.
Patrick Buchnowski is a reporter with The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/PatBuchnowskiTD.