You may have heard of a church in the Midwest whose members protest at many events. But when they began picketing at funerals of soldiers who were killed in action, many decided they should be stopped.
The courts of our country ruled the protesters were protected by their right of free speech.
As a result, a new organization was born — the Patriot Guard Riders. Their numbers grew quickly and soon the organization became nationwide. In the eyes of many, including me, they became heroes.
I had read and heard about them for some time, but I did not realize so many of the riders live in our area. Wanting to learn more, I talked with Joe Dowda at Darby Funeral Home. He told me to call Waleska’s Richard Kearley, a Patriot Guard Rider.
Richard suggested I talk with Ball Ground resident George Westbrook, senior chief petty officer in the Navy (Ret.). When I did, George invited me to meet the riders who would be serving a few days later at a funeral at the Georgia Veterans Cemetery.
Many of the Patriot Guard Riders are veterans of the war in Vietnam. Regretfully, they did not get the respect they deserved when they came home from war. Now, their main mission is to insure others do get that respect.
On their business cards are phrases like “Riding with Respect,” “All Gave Some ++ Some Gave All,” and “Standing for those that stood for us.”
You may have seen Patriot Guard Riders in a funeral procession. Wearing black vests, they are riding on motorcycles with American flags proudly flying. Whatever the weather is does not matter to them. They answer when they are called.
The funeral where I met some of the riders was for a veteran who had served in Vietnam. A cousin of the fallen soldier said the soldier had come in contact with Agent Orange.
As had happened many times before, a message had gone out on the Patriot Guard Riders website. As one Patriot Guard Rider poetically wrote, “Urgent mission request: A hero is down. Kick stands up!”
The message meant someone had contacted the Patriot Guard Riders to ask them to be a part of a memorial service for a veteran. They only ride when they are invited.
Plans had been made for a staging area. The Riders gathered there. Some had come from other parts of the state. Like rider Leslie Brackett, some lived only a few miles from the cemetery. The ride was led by Larry “Sir Bear” Sanderson, the North Georgia Ride Captain.
Probably none of them knew the soldier. They were simply showing their respect for him.
Ball Ground resident Christopher “Books” Dove drove a van loaded with large American flags to be used for the flag line. With him were his son, Gabriel, and daughter, Gracie.
The Patriot Guard Riders may have been requested to form a flag line at the funeral home, escort the family to a church, escort the funeral procession to the cemetery or form a flag line there. They do whatever the family asks them to do.
I asked Larry “Laru” Klein, assistant state captain/ride captain, what the criteria is for being a member of the Patriot Guard Riders. He answered with one word, “Respect.”
There is no class distinction. Members are of all ages and come from all walks of life. Riding a motorcycle is not required. Neither is being a veteran. Their common bonds are patriotism and showing respect.
Following the funeral that day, I went with some of the Riders to a local restaurant. They like to meet after the mission to wind down. Some had participated in three funerals that day.
“Sir Bear” — most of the riders have nicknames — can remember only one time when he was concerned about the number of riders who would answer the call. It was for Christmas Day. There was no reason for him to be worried. He got somewhat emotional when he remembered the many who left their families on Christmas Day to show their respect.
Yes, there are heroes all around us and local citizens and Patriot Guard Riders John Madden, Jr., Tom Doner, Skip Smith, Lee Prettyman and Mike Ahern are just a few more of them.
They have all earned admiration for the way they show respect that “All Gave Some ++ Some Gave All.”
Marguerite Cline is the former mayor of Waleska.