They stand a line in honor of a person that they have never met and will never will. That is what the Patriot Guard Riders do, “Standing for those that stood for us”.
In August 2005, Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church made plans to protest at the funeral of Sgt. John Doles in Chelsea, OK. The American Legion Riders, chapter 136 from Kansas, heard about it and were outraged. They decided that something had to be done. At one of their meetings a committee was appointed to come up with a battle plan to counter Fred Phelps and the WBC. They were very successful in gathering riders to stand in honor of Sgt Doles and protecting the family from Fred Phelps and the WBC. Later, they established a mission statement and agreed that the goal was to get Veterans and motorcycle groups to handle each of their own states.
Over time the membership has grown by leaps and bounds. Today there are over 175000 members is all 50 states. They don’t care what you ride, or if you ride. They don’t care where you stand of the political battlefield or where you are from. The only requirement for membership is RESPECT! The mission is a simple, legal, non-violent one:
- Show our sincere respect for our fallen heroes, their families, and their communities.
- Shield the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by any protestor or group of protestors.
For me, personally, my membership started in late 2005 while I was still in Kuwait working as a civilian contractor. Over time, I also recruited my Dad and my brother in 2006, my oldest son in 2007, and many friends as members.
Just recently, after having been a member and attending many missions with the Patriot Guard Riders for the last 3 ½ years since my return home, I was honored to ride my first KIA mission. Being a truck driver, it seemed that I was always on the road when the state of Mississippi had a KIA. Every time I look in my inbox and see a new email from Ed Baker, our state captain, my heart sinks into the pit of my stomach and I get a catch in my throat. The subject line always has the name of our Fallen Hero and this one read, “PGR Statewide – LA – PFC Matthew E. Wildes, 18, Hammond, LA, 01, 03 SEP 09”. PFC Mathew E, Wildes was killed in Afghanistan, August 27, 2009, when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device. I received this email from our state captain just a few short days before PFC Wildes’ body was to return home.
Included in the email were staging points for different areas of Mississippi and Louisiana. Along the Gulf Coast, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida Patriot Guard Rider groups will many times, ride over to the other state to render honors. So when I saw that this would be in Hammond, LA., all I needed to know was when and where I needed to be. Then it hit me how old he was, 18, such a young age to die. Not even having had the chance to live life, fall in love, get married, or have children, this young man had given his life in service to our Country. Still recovering from shattering both my wrists last November, this long of a ride was going to be painful, but it was one mission, that no matter what, I was going to attend.
The Patriot Guard Riders escorted his body from the air port to the funeral home on September 1, 2009. As much as I wanted to be a part of this escort duty, because of the weather and my wrists, I thought it best that I wait till the services and stand the line for him.
The morning of September 3, 2009, I met several MS Patriot Guard members in Gulfport. We met more MS PGR on I12 before riding on to Hammond. In total there were 17 bikes and 2 cages (4-wheelers), from Mississippi and about 9 bikes and several cages from Louisiana at the funeral home.
As always, before any family shows up, a meeting was held, a prayer said, and we picked our team to swap out with. Each member stands the flag line for 15 minuets and then is relieved by another member. We worked in sets of 3, so that on such a hot day, we would have time to drink water and relax for 30 minuets between our turn to stand the line.
As I waited for my first duty on the flag line, I popped another pain pill and visited with the other members. I can not tell you how many times we have all said that we love seeing each other, but hate the reason that brings us together. Several of the members are Iraq or Afghanistan Veterans and Vietnam Veterans, but many of us are not. Many are family members of the military and some just have in their heart to show their respect and love for our troops.
When it came my turn to stand the flag line, I somberly walked to the front of the funeral home and found the person I was to take over for. I quietly walked behind him and took the American Flag from his had. Standing at parade rest, eyes forward and silent, I did my best to keep the tears from rolling down my face as the family and friends made their way into the funeral home.
After my first 15 minuets was up, I was relieved by another member and started to make my way back to the back parking lot. I was stopped and asked if I had seen the billboard sign on the corner across from the funeral home. I had not, so I went to take a look.
The billboard was an electronic one that rotated different advertisements. Two of these were dedicated to PFC Matthew Wildes. As I stood there and watched them rotate through, my heart was heavy and filled with sadness, but yet also with pride. I know that may sound a bit crazy, but to see a community come together and show their love and respect for this Fallen Hero is such a manner was overwhelming.
I can not tell you how many times I stood my 15 minuets in the rotation. Whereas it was OUR honor to stand the line for PFC Wildes, every time I held that flag, someone would thank us for being there. And out of all those that thanked us, none hit me as hard as when PFC Wildes brother came out and thanked us. I can not tell you what he said because I could not hear it all. But the emotion on his face, to know that his brother was loved and respected by people that didn’t even know him, was great! I could no longer hold back my tears. Even though many of us wear our sun glasses to hide our watery eyes, they made no difference this time. The tears rolled down my face in a steady stream, and as I looked around, I saw many a tear stained face.
The time came for us to line up for the escort to the church. Those that had them unfurled their big 3×5 flags and got in line. We escorted PFC Wildes’ body and family for the 2 miles from the funeral home to the church. As we rode you could see people standing on the side of the road with signs and American flags in hand. Many put their hands over their hearts as others saluted. Some people even stopped, got out of their cars and rendered their honor as we passed. Do you know how hard it is to ride a motorcycle with your eyes full of tears? It isn’t easy, but I can’t help but get teary eyed to see so many people standing in the middle or on the side of the road to honor this young hero.
PFC Matthew Wildes was given full Military Honors at the church as we all stood the flag line one more time as a full group in his honor. The flag from the coffin was folded and given to his mother. Then, as with all KIA missions, the Patriot Guard gave the family a plaque, the first line on it reads, “On Behalf of a Grateful Nation…” Then came the 21 Gun Salute.
We stood our ground in silence, as tears rolled down my face again. It wasn’t just the sadness of a Nation’s loss of a Hero, but of a mother’s loss of a son. I am one of the lucky mothers, my son came home from Iraq. And though he has problems with PTSD, I can still talk to and hug him, for that I am very grateful.
I have done my best in these few words to pass along the love and respect that every Patriot Guard Rider member has for our Troops. But the written word will never give justice to the feelings we have in being honored to stand the line for these brave men and women.
For more information please visit http://www.patriotguard.org/