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Carpentersville parents bring fourth-grader on 9/11 bike pilgrimage to NYC

Hannah father Greg mother Jennifer Natenberg Carpentersville. | Mark Konkol~Sun-Times

Hannah, father Greg and mother Jennifer Natenberg of Carpentersville. | Mark Konkol~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 22, 2011 11:12AM

ARLINGTON, VA — My glasses fogged up, darts of rain battered my face and a car with Virginia plates, that jerk, cut me off as our caravan of 200 bikers pushed ahead to the Pentagon straight through the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee.

On Interstate 270, driving sheets of rain battered riders who struggled with poor visibility and at one point powered through a foot of standing water in the right hand lane.

So went Day 3 of the cross-country pilgrimage to Ground Zero led by Chicago Fire Lt. Tom Maloney and his American Firefighters Motorcycle Club.

“You got all this rain and all these lanes of traffic merging and a milelong line of bikes. Guys are afraid to get over. It’s dark. Visibility sucks. There’s so many things going on at one time,” Chicago Firefighter Joe Catanzaro said. “I had to lift my face shield to see and I was getting pounded. It felt like little needles stabbing you in the face.”

The only person who did not get whipped by the weather was the littlest passenger — 9-year-old Hannah Natenberg of Carpentersville, who rode in the covered, purple sidecar attached to her father’s Honda Goldwing.

Hannah was born on Halloween 2001, weeks after the terrorist attacks.

The Sleepy Hollow School fourth-grader skipped a week of lessons to join her parents, Greg and Jennifer Natenberg, on the memorial ride marking the 10th Anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“When I started fourth grade my teacher told us about 9/11. It was scary,” Hannah said. “It made me feel sad for all the people and the firefighters who died. Kids in our class asked why did this person do this and why did he hate how we lived our lives. Osama bin Laden.”

Hannah’s parents wanted her to get to learn more about the tragedy that changed America forever. They wanted her to meet some of the men who rushed to the World Trade Center ruins — guys like Maloney and Chicago firefighter Stan Salata — as first responders.

“I wanted her to talk to people who were there and get firsthand knowledge of what happened. It’s a good experience for her to learn that,” Jennifer Natenberg said. “Hannah needs to know about the past and how times changed. Her generation will never know what it was like when I was a kid and all we worried about was whom we were going to play with the next day. We never heard the word terrorism. It’s just a scarier world she was born into. I feel sad about it.”

Hannah writes in her diary on the highway, keeping track of mileage at rest stops and what she’s learned along the way. At the Flight 93 memorial she shot video of the crash site. And when she returns to school she will report the story of her journey to classmates.

“I want to show everybody what I’m learning about 9/11.”

When she grows up, Hannah wants to be either a veterinarian or a firefighter.

“I want to be a firefighter because I wanted to help all the people who were in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon after I learned about them.”

Hannah got soaked while her mom and dad showed her around the Pentagon memorial site. Standing in a steady rain, the group gathered as firefighters from Washington, D.C., laid a wreath and U.K. firefighters placed a ceremonial poppy at the memorial.

Hannah said she learned something about her parents during the trip.

“They really love me,” she said. “And they really want me to learn about what happened 10 years ago and about the terrorists and stuff.”

Editor’s note: Mark Konkol has been riding his 2007 Harley Ultra Classic alongside firefighter Tom Maloney on the journey to Ground Zero. Look for updates on Twitter @KonkolsKorner.

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