Old Glory ringed the grave site. Men and women saluted while standing at attention. Dutifully, Taps was played and its mournful notes hung heavy in the air. The flag carriers were not dressed in the traditional garb of a military funeral. Instead, they paired jeans with worn leather vests and shaggy beards with motorcycle caps. The emblem proudly stitched onto each vest spoke as loudly as the insignia reflecting military branch, rank and theaters served: Patriot Guard Riders.
The Kiwanis Club was honored by the presence of Captain Andy McConnell as its guest speaker at the April 15 meeting. Recalling the tragic events surrounding the death of his USMC son in 2011, Andy reflected on the support system he had in helping deal with this life-changing event and the funeral escort his son received. Although he hadn’t ridden a motorcycle in 40 years, he joined the ranks of the Patriot Guard Riders, North Texas. Andy, a Robson Ranch resident, served his country as a Navy pilot and anti-submarine mission commander. He loves the military, loves the service men and women and loves this country. Becoming a member of the guard was a natural extension of who he was and what he stood for.
The Patriot Guard Riders all started back in early August 2005 with the American Legion Post 136 from Kansas. They were appalled to hear a fallen soldier’s memory was being tarnished by a misguided, unaffiliated church protesting at military funerals. They decided to do something about it and successfully rallied together veterans and motorcycle riders to form a physical shield around the mourners by holding American flags, thereby limiting the intrusion of the protestors. The protestors’ chants were drowned out by singing patriotic songs or revving motorcycle engines.
The non-profit organization, staffed entirely by volunteers, now spans the nation. Every state has its own captain and riders. There is no membership list, no monthly meetings and no membership dues. Participants simply sign up online and check the thread for local events dubbed “honor missions.” In addition to active duty members or veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, the missions expanded to include the funerals of law enforcement, fire department personnel and all first responders.
Service at funerals goes beyond serving as protective shields, and the guard is now frequently called upon to form an honor guard and set up flag lines at military burials, escort the deceased and family members in the funeral procession, fill out the ranks at burials of indigent and homeless veterans and serve as pall bearers. And these days the Patriot Guard Riders also attend homecomings, send-offs and other military-themed events.
The guard has one thing in common besides motorcycles. They all have an unwavering respect for those who risked their very lives for America’s freedom and security. The men and women who wore the uniform deserve honor, and that has become the role of the Patriot Guard Riders.