Living in the greater San Diego area one cannot get away from the military. San Diego is a significant Navy town. The U.S. Marine Corp has a large footprint as well, with MCRD (Marie Corps Recruit Depot) and Camp Pendleton serving our nation with an active presence. Living in a town with military significance is nothing new to me, as I was born and raised in Vallejo, CA, home of the former Mare Island Naval Shipyard. So, I suppose, one could say that military influence and patriotism is in my blood.
I love the military. Though I never served (one of my life regrets) I try to serve now by honoring our military as I ride my motorcycle. A few years ago a friend told me about Patriot Guard Riders. I quickly realized that their mission was a good fit for me.
“The Patriot Guard Riders is a diverse amalgamation of riders from across the nation. We have one thing in common besides motorcycles. We have an unwavering respect for those who risk their very lives for America’s freedom and security including Fallen Military Heroes, First Responders and honorably discharged Veterans. If you share this respect, please join us…
“…Our main mission is to attend the funeral services of fallen American heroes as invited guests of the family. Each mission we undertake has two basic objectives:
1. Show our sincere respect for our fallen heroes, their families, and their communities.
2. Shield the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by any protester or group of protesters.” [taken from patriotguard.org]
Patriot Guard Riders is a nationwide organization, and all members are volunteers. Some regions of the country see a lot of activity, while others participate in a few missions a year. Living in Southern California, however, we participate in over 600 missions each year; 50 per month, which includes the counties of Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Diego. Due to my pastoral responsibilities, I’m only able to participate on my days off, but what a privilege to do so; about three missions per month.
At the invitation of the family, one objective is to provide escort services from the mortuary, or family home, to one of our National Cemeteries where full-military honors await the fallen. Those who are Killed in Action are often met at the airport where they are escorted from their plane to the mortuary. For example, most recently, Patriot Guard Riders met the plane of two sailors who died July 2017 in the tragic accident aboard the USS Fitzgerald in Japan; their respective funerals followed a week later. The most memorable for me were missions that took place this year where PGR participated in the services for two of our fallen. One, a POW from the Korean War era, whose remains were located and identified then returned home after over 60 years missing, and most recently where the remains of a Naval Aviator shot-down over Vietnam were recovered and returned home.
Why do we do these things? Many of our members are veterans of Vietnam. We join with them in saying, “Never again will returning warriors, living or dead, be disrespected. Never will their bravery, their wounds, or their deaths be ignored.”
As you might imagine, it is truly an honor to serve in this way. Dignity, honor, and respect is the goal for each mission. Flag-lines are a common scene at each mission. Standing at attention, and saluting with a raised flag is our way of honoring the fallen. Further, providing a barrier of protection between a protesting public and the grieving family is why we are there. Patriotism is put in motion and given a voice through the low rumble of our motorcycle exhaust.
Someone once said of us that the Patriot Guard is like the morning mist. If you look for us right now, nothing’s there. But, when a tragedy befalls a member of America’s armed forces; we appear in force from the four corners. We pay our respects, we ride, we hold our flags and we shed our tears. And then, like the mist, the Patriot Guard is gone until needed again. Should a freedom fighter be lost from your hometown, or a veteran of previous conflicts, or a young man or young woman is killed in the service of this free America, Listen for the Rumble. The Patriot Guard is coming.