The Patriot Guard
Leather Jacket, Riding boots.
Stars and stripes held in their hands.
From near and far they rode today
Riders came to make a stand
Between the villains and the grieving
Fury masked with stoic face
Sorrow leaking from their eyes
This should be a hallowed place
Leather Vest, tattooed arms
Patches and the pins display
The different heart of every Rider
Standing here this mournful day
Blue and yellow are the colors
Of the riders far from home
Watching silent from a distance
Standing guard but not alone
Honor guard with shoulders proud
Fire farewell into the sky
Mournful cry of Taps to follow
Anguished hearts say goodbye
Leather Jacket, Riding boots
They break and go their separate ways
Down the highways to their homes
To wait until another day.
I was bolting the three by five foot flag to the stand on my bike. We had just finished a funeral escort ride to the VA Cemetery in Bushnell, Florida. The forty bikes that made the ride were parked in rows of two on the left side of a curving road that ran next to the gravesite. I was relieved that the protestors had not bothered themselves with this funeral. We made the ride to pay our respects to the soldier and to stay between the protestors and the family if needed. I personally cannot understand the twisted mind of a human being that would protest against gays at a soldierís funeral. Or the evil logic that would justify the death of this young man because they say the soldiers were killed because they fought for a country that condones homosexuality.
My flag was flapping in the breeze and trying to wrap itself around my shoulders while I was securing it. I had just finished tightening down the bolt that holds it in place when I heard a manís voice speaking to the rider behind me say ďThank you for being here, itís an honor to have you.Ē Followed by a deep voice strained with sudden emotion that replied that it was his honor to be there.
I turned to see who it was and looked into the deep dark watery eyes of an emotionally tortured mother. Her face bore signs of the intense grief that she was enduring. My heart ached in my chest and tears jumped into my eyes as she gripped my hand. She seemed to look all the way into my naked soul. The slender hand, slightly damp with tears, shook a little but she held my hand firmly. The man standing next to her in a blue Air Force uniform was holding her steady. The words that I had just heard a moment ago were repeated to me. I wanted to hug her but I wasnít sure if it was appropriate. A huge lump had lodged itself in my throat and I could not speak. I was frozen to the spot that I was standing on and was only able to bow a little and nod my head. It was truly an honor to be there.
The day had started early for me. I was staying with a friend in Orlando who also guided me to the rally point. She decided that we should leave for the Church a few minutes early just in case the morning traffic was bad. I followed her car on the bike through heavy morning rush hour traffic and I was really happy to have a wonderful guide through unfamiliar streets.
We rolled into the parking lot of the Church and saw several Riders at the entrance. One of them waved me on and pointed to the assembly area. The Florida State Captain was standing by his bike putting his flag together. I parked the V-Rod next to his bike and introduced myself. Clayton is a tall man with short silvery white hair and a medium build. He has a firm handshake and a friendly smile.
A hearse and limousines carrying the fallen soldier and his family pulled into the parking lot about ten minutes before the start of the Church service We had lined up and were standing on both sides of the lane that the vehicles would travel through. We held our flags high, they were flapping softly in the breeze. The Army honor guard was standing by to take the casket into the church.
Once the service started, we lined our bikes up two by two behind the hearse and the limos. We left some space between the first bike and the funeral home vehicles so that several cars bearing friends of the family could get in front of us. Some of the Riders went to the funeral service. I waited outside and took a few pictures. My friend Gail decided to ride in the chase truck and go with us to the Bushnell service.
We rode eighty-three miles down interstate highways, turnpikes, and two-lane county highways to get to the VA cemetery. For the most part, the traffic was respectful of the procession, but there were several cars and trucks that cut through the middle of our lines. We had several close calls on the way.
The toll booths on the turnpikes were tricky. We all decided to go through them rather than stopping and getting separated. Once we left the interstate and started down Highway 50. A few of the Riders started blocking at the intersections of the small towns that we rode through. It was an intricate ballet expertly performed to get us through without stopping or getting separated. We did not have a police escort although some of the local police and deputies helped out at some of the intersections. Now that we were off of the main highway there were no more intrusions into our lines. Several cars and trucks pulled off to the side of the highway and stopped.
The burial site was the Central Florida VA cemetery in Bushnell. It is very well tended, not one blade of grass out of place. The cemetery service was held across the street from the grave site in a large circular pavilion with a water feature in the middle. We parked our bikes behind the limousines two by two along the side of the road.
The honor guard in their perfect uniforms and practiced movements took the casket to the pavilion where the military service was held. Young men with rifles performed the twenty one-gun salute with crisp snapping motions and skillful expertise. The sound of Taps cried out as the echoes of the gunshots faded into silence. The wind rustled the leaves in the trees and our flags swayed back and forth. The mournful sound caused the lump in my throat to return and the tears to well up in my eyes. The Riders stood at attention saluting the flag that was flying at half mast behind the pavillion. I noticed a tear sneak out from under the dark glasses of one of the riders standing at attention. It was such a powerful moment that I forgot that I had a camera in my hands and missed the shot.
The person performing the final graveside service was late getting there. We stood across the street with our flags flapping in the breeze waiting. When he finally arrived, the last service was short. We waited until the last words were spoken and the family members returned to their cars. One of the friends stopped and told us that he was going to have to get a motorcycle and join our group.
The eighty-three mile ride home was a very quiet one.
The Picture Guy