OTTUMWA — Wednesday morning was hotter than that day 12 years ago, but you could see echoes in the bright blue sky over southeast Iowa. At least you could until the clouds moved in.
The clouds didn't worry Joe Meola, vice president of the area Blue Knights chapter. So long as they stayed ahead of any rain they'd be just fine on their ride to Coralville.
At a glance, the Blue Knights don't look all that different from most motorcycle clubs. Black leather is more or less standard. The patches and rockers follow the same patterns; anyone with basic familiarity can read them with ease. Many of the members are as heavily tattooed as any biker on the roads. Several of the license plates had variations on “sixer,” a reference to the chapter's number.
But the Blue Knights have a different purpose. It's a combination of motorcycle club, business social and public service organization. Members are sworn law enforcement officers and, on this day, they were riding in remembrance of one of the worst days in American history.
The plan was to ride to the state's firefighters' memorial. Jeff Box, an Ottumwa firefighter and a reserve deputy for Wapello County, had an Ottumwa firefighters patch to deliver. Meola said next year they'll visit the police memorial — if they can get more police officers than firefighters on the rides.
Current duty in law enforcement matters less for the Knights than whether you've served. Retirement doesn't mean a cop quits being a cop. It just means you aren't putting on the uniform every morning.
“It's strictly law enforcement. We have retired state troopers, reserve officers, deputies, reserve deputies, police officers,” Meola said. “With our jobs, it can be hard to get out and enjoy everything.”