You may have seen the video on Friday about the Patriot Guard Riders. It inspired me and compelled me to find out more.
According to the PGR website, the organization is only two years old. “It all started back in early August of 2005 with the American Legion Riders chapter 136 from Kansas. They were appalled to hear that a fallen heroâ€™s memory was being tarnished by misguided religious zealots who were protesting at funerals. They decided to do something about it. At the ALR 136 August meeting, Director: Chuck ” Pappy ” Barshney appointed members, Terry â€œDarkhorseâ€ Houck, Cregg â€œBronco 6â€ Hansen, Steve â€œMcDaddyâ€ McDonald, and Bill â€Wild Billâ€ Logan to form a committee to strategize and form a battle plan to combat Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church.”
It’s mission statement is simple:
1. Show our sincere respect for our fallen heroes, their families, and their communities.
2. Shield the mourning family and friends from interruptions created by any protestor or group of protestors.
The group hastens to add that “We accomplish the latter through strictly legal and non-violent means.”
Simply put, once they are invited by the family of a fallen hero, the Patriot Guard Riders stand by at a respectful distance from the memorial service, and ensure that the ceremony is allowed to proceed with dignity and respect. If you want to know the impact they have, look at this article from my hometown, Emporia, Kansas written just a few days ago, when 300 PGR members showed up as a local hero was laid to rest.
Since its creation, the organization has seen phonomenal growth, and has partnered with other motorcycle and veteran organizations like the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, Rolling Thunder, Wounded Warriors, the VFW and over a hundred other motorcycle groups.
Colleen is the mother of Jack Valentine, a Sailor who was lost nearly a year ago when a steam pipe ruptured aboard USS FRANK CABLE (AS 40). Jack stayed behind to secure the boiler, sacrificing his life to save the lives of his shipmates. She wrote this note.
“The Patriot Guard Riders stood tall outside my sonâ€™s wake and funeral in December 2006. I will never forget how they led the procession from Zion, IL, to Ft. Sheridan, about 20 miles. It was December in northern Illinois. There was snow on the ground. And the PGR stood outside the church Sunday evening and again on Monday morning. More than 10 of them rode their motorcycles from the church to the cemetery. Did I mention that it was December in northern Illinois and there was snow on the ground?
People coming into the church to offer their condolences couldnâ€™t stop saying how moved they were by the PGRâ€™s committment.
When my husband and I asked them in, they thanked us for allowing them to come in and pay their respects. At the same time, we thanked them for providing their dedicated service. If the reason they were there hadnâ€™t been so dreadful, it would have been funny: we were going back and forth thanking each other, each thinking the other had done more to deserve thanks.
I think of the PGR often and pray for their safety as they provide care and comfort for grieving families. Donâ€™t let the tough exteriors of these leather-and-denim-clad men and women fool you into missing the tears in their eyes and the compassion in their hearts.”
Colleen hit the point exactly. Their exteriors are tough, weathered and intimidating. Inside each of them, however, is character. Their mission is to protect a family’s dignity, but in the process they become the manifestation of the very word dignity. A military member or law enforcement official who gave his or her life for the rest of us deserves our respect, and the Patriot Guard Riders provide it on scene, where the grieving family can see it. Through these patriots, the mourners know that they are not alone, that their loved one died for a purpose, and that we – as Americans – appreciate what they did. The Patriot Guard Riders and those who ride with them are our heroes of the week.
If you want to find out more about the Patriot Guard Riders or are interested in donating to the organization, you can do so on their website (click here).