I joined the Patriot Guard Riders some time ago. A couple of weeks ago, I did my first mission in Columbus, Ohio. I wrote the following shortly after.
Last night, I set my alarm for 5:30 this morning after deciding that I was going to make the Columbus, OH Patriot Guard Mission. When I awoke, I was a bit of mixed feelings about going since I had somehow slept for 20 extra minutes… and the weather was not the best for riding. But, I figured that the soldier made a sacrifice, and some cold and rain and time wasn’t as big a sacrifice. “I have a three hour ride…. so, let’s get moving,” I thought. I left after donning my rain suit. I didn’t have much time to think about what to expect when I got there. With being late, the wet roads, and needing to make up time, I was concentrating on getting there alive. With the lost time, I had to travel the last hour at 80 mph indicated in order to make it on time. By that time, it was daylight and dry, so it was possible to increase my speed.
When I arrived, it was about 20 minutes before “flags up”. I met a couple of people and asked about any special instructions. I didn’t have a large flag, but brought little ones for the bike. I helped hold an outstretched flag with two others. Then afterward, a couple of gentleman helped me figure out how to get them on my bike and even gave me some zip ties.
The police were in full force and very professional and cooperative. There were approximately 30-50 bikes there. As we stood outside the church, more than one person offered an emotional “Thank You” to us for being there.
There were many emotions and thoughts running through my head. This was my first mission and it left some long term impressions on me. There were a few times — even riding the escort — that tears would well up in my eyes and I would get a lump in my throat. I had to force myself to stop thinking about these emotional moments so that I could ride safely.
Three or four images are forever with me. When we were escorting the hearse, the roads were largely closed off; and one thing that struck me was the people who stood outside their cars and saluted or stood at attention. There was a middle aged black woman who was standing at perfect attention, saluting as we rode by. She had stopped her car in traffic and was standing in the middle of the road. Not 100 feet from her, the traffic was stopped on a side road and a middle aged, blonde, white woman was standing with her hand over her heart. Just down the road, a group of boyscouts was at attention and saluting. (Even now, recalling it…. my eyes are welling up.)
Another image is of the young men in uniform, their effort in trying to maintain composure and professionalism visibly evident. At one point, after the ceremony at the cemetary, one young man I had seen many times during the day was walking about in an almost lost manner. You could see the sorrow in his face. I saw him thank a patriot guard member for being there. Another young marine came by afterward and shook my hand and thanked me. I can still see his face and the sincerity in it. I can still feel the texture of his white glove meeting my hand. “He’s thanking me,” I thought. “We should be thanking him.” All I could say was, “Thank you,” and still maintain composure.
When we were waiting to leave, the father of the fallen soldier came over to our group. “May I have your attention please?” So, we all turned to him. “I just want to thank you and invite you all to come back to the church to eat. We have plenty of food and you are more than welcome. I want to thank you for…..” and he had to turn away because he was about to lose his composure. “There is a man who is experiencing great grief,” I thought, “and I hope he is gaining some comfort from our presence.” If so, then what we did today is good and proper.
When all is said and done, I won’t make a great mark on the world. But, I think I/We made a difference to someone today on at least a small scale. And that feels right.
I did another mission this past Monday. It was in New Brighton, PA. Will post pics soon.