It’s been a great month in the Chattahoochee Valley, as we’ve been able to honor some of the “Greatest Generation” by sending them to our nation’s capital to visit the World War II monument and tour other memorials to service men and women who have fought in our nation’s wars.
Living in a community such as ours, we have many opportunities to say thanks and show our respect to men and women in uniform. It’s never tiring to hear about soldiers enjoying a meal at a local restaurant only to find out that an anonymous diner has picked up their tab.
Here, it seems unimaginable that someone would not appreciate the sacrifices of our military. Worse, and nearly unfathomable, would be any group protesting at a soldier’s funeral. Sadly, it has happened.
In 2005, a group of veterans saw news coverage of a protest at the funeral of a soldier killed in the war on terror. They were so outraged, they decided to do something to never again let any family of a fallen soldier or veteran be confronted by such a display. Out of those conversations came the Patriot Guard Riders. Now numbering about 180,000 nationwide, the riders are an amalgamation of motorcycle riders who have an unwavering respect for those who risk their lives for America’s security and freedom.
Rob “Bees” Butler and Mike “Stay Low” Childree are local organizers of this all-volunteer honor guard. Some are veterans, some not. It doesn’t matter what kind of motorcycle you ride — or even if you don’t ride at all. All that is required is that you share the PGR’s respect for all those in the U.S. military.
The Patriot Guard Riders attend funerals of fallen American heroes only if invited by the family. It is not a protest or counter-protest group. Each mission has two basic objectives:
1. Show sincere respect for fallen heroes, their families, and their communities.
2. Shield the mourning family and friends from interruptions created by any protestor or group of protestors.
Butler, himself an Army veteran and son of a 32-year Air Force veteran, said riding in a caravan with American flags waving and passing through communities who line the streets to pay their respects to a soldier killed in action is a moving experience.
“If you go one time, you’ll go again,” said Butler, the Columbus Ride Captain. “It’s a life-changing experience, for sure.”
Butler and Childree, the Dixie Region captain, have two desires for the local contingent of Patriot Guard Riders. First is to grow the group of riders.
“We’re not exclusive — we welcome all riding groups,” Childree said. “We’re kind of like an auxiliary organization. We’re strictly volunteer; no dues to pay.”
Obviously, it’s unrealistic to expect every rider to be able to attend every mission. And the group has no control over the dates of missions or the weather. Missions have included escorting a soldier’s remains from the airport to the funeral home and from funeral home to cemetery. It also may include standing a flagline, both as a honor detail and as a buffer between mourners and any distractions.
Members of the Patriot Guard Riders also participate with active soldiers’ events. Recently, the local contingent did a “fly by” ride past Officer Candidate School soldiers from Delta, Alpha, and Charlie Companies of the 3rd Battalion, 11th Infantry Regiment from Fort Benning to Andersonville National Prisoner of War Museum and Historic Park and stood a flagline as the soldiers approached the POW memorial.
“There’s something about every (mission) that you remember,” Childree said. “You don’t do it for that reason, but it’s a surprising benefit.”
Patches worn by Patriot Guard Riders say: “Standing for those who stood for us.”
Childree and Butler are quick to remind that the PGR attends funerals only at the request of families. Which brings up the second goal for the local riders.
“We rarely miss a KIA mission,” Childree said of soldiers killed in action. “But we miss way too many veterans missions.”
Fort Benning contacts the Patriot Guard Riders when a soldier killed in action is being returned to this area. Members also watch websites and the newspaper for obituaries of veterans. They’ll spread the word and start making plans, but won’t put things in motion until a family or the funeral home calls and asks for their presence. There is no charge to the families for the escort and mission. Each Patriot Guard Rider pays his or her own way.
Like the U.S. military, ready to answer the call to duty, the Patriot Guard Riders are ready to answer the call to make sure families and communities know that service and sacrifice are appreciated and worthy of honor and respect.
Butler said families have only to ask. “My motto is: No American soldier should have to ask ‘Who’ll stand for me?’”
Jerry Morehouse, 706-320-4422