MARSHALL - While the route for the 7th annual LTD Motorcycle Memorial Tour has been slightly altered this year, the mission remains the same - to honor fallen heroes.
Thousands of people have come together in past years to pay tribute to Sgt. Jesse Lhotka, First Lt. Jason Timmerman and Staff Sgt. David Day, who died on Feb. 21, 2005, in Baghdad, Iraq, while serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The goal of the ride, organizers said, is to ensure that the memory of those brave National Guardsmen from Minnesota never be forgotten and to continue acknowledging the ultimate sacrifice that they gave.
"It's a different event every year," organization president Chad Turner said. "There's a lot of planning, which is fun, but stressful. But come the day of the ride, when you see the looks on the faces of the family members, everything comes together and makes it worthwhile."
New in 2012 is a scheduled stop at the Marshall Armory, estimated to be from 11:30 a.m. to noon.
"We had never stopped on Timmerman Drive before, but all the bikers wanted a little change in the ride," Turner said. "Logistically, it made sense, too."
After departing from the Swift County Fairground in Appleton at 10 a.m. on Saturday, the ride will continue through Milan, Watson, Montevideo and Clarkfield before stopping in Marshall.
"It'll give everybody a chance to stretch, get off their bikes and get something to drink," Turner said. "It's supposed to be between 92 and 97 degrees, so we want to make sure people are staying hydrated."
Riders will come in on U.S. Highway 59 North and will head to the Armory from Main Street. After stopping, they will leave from the Western Printing parking lot and head to Highway 19 and Channel Parkway and then to Minnesota Highway 68 toward Taunton, where they'll veer off toward Dawson.
"We normally go into Canby, but not this year because of the road construction," Turner said. "We'll take a right at Taunton and go up to Dawson. Highway 40 will take us all the way up to Madison. We plan to be in Madison at 1:15 p.m."
After lunch in Madison, riders will continue on toward Ortonville, Clinton, Graceville and Morris.
"We'll stop and view the monument at the armory in Morris," Turner said. " There's a big purple heart there and a big granite memorial with the three guys' faces in it."
A second meal will be served at 5:30 p.m. at the Swift County Fairgrounds. National recording artist Rockie Lynn will perform from 6:30-8 p.m., followed by a raffle drawing for the motorcycles. The Jacob Martin Band will play from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.
The cost for the ride is $25 per person. Pre-registration is from 7-11 p.m. today at the Swift County Fairgrounds in Appleton, where there will also be a DJ and food served. Registration continues from 7:30 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. Saturday.
"The last couple of years, we've kind of stayed at about 450 bikes," Turner said. "But it also rained in the morning the last few years. We're hoping that this year, if it stays nice, we'll be in the 500- to 600-bike range. It's a lot of fun."
Organizers of the event encourage everyone to come out and line the streets to see the bikes, bring their flags and wave them as they go by in honor of the fallen soldiers.