Wednesday, February 16, 2011

When is a Funeral an Event?

PGR picture from wikipedia

When the deceased is an Air Force veteran of three wars and his son and son-in-law are both retired Austin police officers who both ride in the Patriot Guard Riders.

I wish I’d brought my camera. The picture I found at wikipedia will have to do.

About 50 motorcycles with large flags streaming behind each one, accompanied the hearse for a distance of twenty miles from the funeral home to the cemetery. 38 of the motorcycles were Patriot Guard, the rest Austin PD. They blocked traffic at the side intersections, leapfrogging each other to do so, some lagging back and some zooming ahead.

The cycles rode two abreast just behind the first police cycles, then the hearse and family’s car. We were pretty close to the front and could see them streaming out before us when we were heading into a dip. The entire procession was about a mile long. Almost every motorist pulled over as we met them and waited until the whole bunch of us passed by.

When we got to the cemetery, the Patriot Guard surrounded the tent with the family and friends, standing at attention with tall flags at their sides. They stood there until the last of the family left. The man also received full military honors with six uniformed pall bearers who had taps on their shoes. The sidewalk to the graveside was cement so you could hear the clicks of their precision marching. Two of them performed the flag folding ceremony, where they removed the flag that was draped over the coffin, folded it into a triangle, and one of them knelt to present it to the widow with some quiet words of thanks for her husband’s service to his country. This was followed by taps and a twenty-one gun salute.

If you don’t know about the PGR (and I didn’t know much about them before this), they are mostly military vets, but not all. They are motorcyclists who make it their mission to honor fallen soldiers. The group was formed in 2005 in reaction to an annoying bunch of people that were making it their habit to disrupt families trying to bury their dead soldier relatives. They apparently believed that the soldiers had died because our country is too tolerant of homosexuals. How they reached that conclusion is a mystery, but they were causing anguish at burials. This group decided to physically put themselves between these noisy, screaming people (members of a Kansas church called Westboro Baptist, but not affiliated with the mainstream Baptist Church). The PGR made it their mission to shield the families and let them mourn in peace.

Since then, the Patriot Guard’s activities have spread to other parts of the country. I was awed by the sight and hope you have a chance to see these men (and a few women) in action someday.


Ricky Bush said...

Good for you for posting this!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. I'm glad to know about this group. They're performing a great service.