Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Patriot Guard Riders

First Mission

We’re rolling. The “hurry up and wait” completed, the line of bikes begins to move. It’s chilly and the sky has erratically thrown down raindrops on us all morning, as if to remind us that this is a day of tears.

I’m alone in the line, hidden in the uniformity of our appearance: Black leather, two wheels, chrome, and loud, angry sounding pipes. I’m grateful for the pipes: They aren’t melodic like the bagpiper’s instrument will be, but they growl, and their sound echoes in the canyon of the street we glide along. The growl reminds me of anger: Anger that another patriot, another hero has fallen.

I don’t know him, and barely can recall his name and rank, yet in the uniformity of his place and our former places, he is my – our brother.

And we ride to honor him. We’re not fair weather bikers; we’re motivated Patriots who remember. Like the patch on the back of the biker in front of me proclaims, “Vets Don’t Forget.”

Ahead, one by one, rippling from the front backward, left arms jut upwards, bent at the elbow, signaling a right turn: A turn that will take us onto hallowed ground that will surround us, envelope us in this City of the Dead.

We approach the chapel and park our machines and flags are distributed. Flags, just like the flags that hang in front of homes perhaps on your block, and down at the courthouse, and at the baseball field; flags that are velcroed to the shoulders of so many young men and women who are now arriving to honor and to remember their Brother in Arms.

A fire truck rolls into the arena, slowly extending its 105 foot long ladder, the whine of the electric motor mournful in the late morning overcast. And then another flag is unfurled, this one immense compared with our little flags. It is attached to the Fire truck’s ladder and lifted up, high above our little assemblage as if in protection. The wind whips our flags and the huge flag and as I look up to see that the large flag reminds me of an eagle’s protective wing. Something wet traces down my cheek. It’s not raining, and I’m momentarily confused. Then I understand – I can’t put it in words, but I know what the wet is. More directly, I know where it came from.

We stand “at ease” with our flags, forming a cordon meant both to honor and to enfold the arriving funeral party.

We stand mute as the cars pass by, their interiors filled with soldiers, family members, friends.

And the time slowly ticks by. Some of us are old vets, bearing scars that hint at other, distant battlefields. Arthritis, old injuries, aching joints all complain as we stand an hour and then two.

Ride Captains circulate among us, checking on our welfare as a Platoon sergeant would visit his men in their fighting holes in the hours before a battle.

Near the entrance to the chapel, a lone woman stands holding a much smaller flag than ours. She does not enter the chapel, and remains through the service, looking up at the flag waving over us. I hear a Patriot Guard member ask who she is. Someone answers, “Just a local citizen. She’s not family, she just came to honor this man.” She’s a Patriot, too. She doesn’t look like the biker type, she isn’t loud or obvious, she’s just silently there, holding her little flag in the windy chill as if to say “we remember, we honor, and we will not forget.”

And then we are moving again. We reassemble, turn our motors and slowly move towards the open grave. The flag line is re-formed, and the funeral party, led by the gleaming, white funeral coach, flanked by our motorcycles appears.

The service at the grave is brief, but the mourning is not. The fallen trooper’s mother slowly rises from her seat and approaches her son’s casket. Within that aluminum house lie the remains of her little boy, her fallen hero. She lays her hand so gently upon the cold metal case, as she had a hundred times, maybe more on her baby’s brow as he grew from infancy to childhood and into manhood.

Her son, like so many sons and daughters of our great nation had volunteered to serve that nation. He had volunteered not only to serve his nation, but to protect her; and if necessary, to lay down his life for her.

Surrounding the family is a sea of green. Young men, mostly, in the uniform of their brother who lay still and silent before them. On their chests are the superficial marks of war: The Combat Infantryman’s Badge, patches from the First Infantry Division, the Fourth Infantry, and others. Among them are Airborne Tabs and Ranger scrolls and brightly colored ribbons that speak of honor and achievement and sacrifice.

The men look on, faces masked to hide the emotion. Surrounding the sea of green, a line of flags, each held by a Patriot, standing quietly, reverently, giving honor to a brother none ever knew or will know.

And then it is over. Flags are furled, helmets are donned, engines bark to life and the Patriots, these men and women who gave up their Monday to ride and stand in rain and wind and cold, for nothing more than love and appreciation, turn their bikes towards home, and to be prepared to do it all over again when the next call comes – to Ride with Honor and Respect for those who Stood for Us.

By Greg"Alamo"Austin

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