JOHNSON CITY, Tn. - The Tennessee Rolling Thunder chapter did something special for a grieving mother on Sunday: a celebration and memorial ride for her son, an airman killed in Afghanistan.
"Ben [White] was deployed in Afghanistan as a member of the 41st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron. The helicopter that the team was in was hit by hostile fire. Three others also on board were killed instantly," a friend of Ben's mother said.
Benjamin White of Johnson City was one of the rescuers who died on June 9, four years ago on Monday, trying to save a wounded British soldier.
"He was...he was my baby. My youngest. And he loved being the baby. He would call and leave me messages saying, 'Hey momma, it's your baby boy Benjamin,'" his mother Brenda Shelton-Metcalf said.
Brenda, his mother, hosted the "Angelversary" Celebration and Memorial Ride with Rolling Thunder and special guests on Sunday to honor Ben and the others who died.
After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, Ben knew what he wanted to do. So, he joined the Air Force.
"I said, 'Do we have a plan B?'" his mother said at the event. "He said, 'No, we're going to do this.'"
The pararescue program only graduates 1 or 2 percent, but he knew what he loved. "I wish he could have done what he loved longer," Brenda says.
Ben was in the Middle East for just six weeks before his helicopter was shot down in southern Afghanistan.
Even after four years, Brenda still struggles with the pain. "You think it gets easier and you think you're doing okay, and then the bottom falls out. Something reminds you...you know...a picture sometimes you've seen a thousand times and it just distracts you and you just fall apart."
But holding the celebration and being a member of Rolling Thunder helps her honor and remember her son, who may be gone, but is not forgotten.
Brenda says Ben loved the Roan Mountain State Park, so after the celebration, there was a 55-mile memorial ride to Carver's Gap and back.
Special guests included Gold Star Mothers of the Knoxville Gold Star Mothers Chapter, members of the Knoxville area AMVETS, American Legion Riders and Patriot Guard Riders.