Riding guard Local chapter of the Patriot Guard rides at soldiers' funerals

Sunday, May 25, 2008

At most funerals, the procession is just a few cars, the hearse and maybe a police car or two to get the group through traffic. However, during a funeral in Jackson on Sept. 17, 2006, nearly 200 motorcycles joined in on the ride that took Cpl. Jeremy Shank of Jackson to his final resting place at Russell Heights Cemetery.

The motorcyclists were from The Patriot Guard Riders, a national organization of motorcyclists that formed initially to guard against war protesters at funerals of American soldiers who died in Iraq. The national organization has more than 200,000 members.

For local rider and ride captain Randy Dunn, it's all about honoring the fallen soldier and keeping the protesters as far away as possible.

"They're sophomoric and childish," Dunn said. He went on to say that the protesters take patriotic songs, change the lyrics to "fit their agenda," but are "all bark and no bite."

The Patriot Guard Riders was started by a group of American Legion Riders from Kansas in 2005 after a group of "religious zealots" showed up to protest at a soldier's funeral. After the riders in Kansas worked at a few of the local military funerals, they set up a Web site to bring in riders from all across the United States.

Sometimes the funeral home will contact the group. Sometimes they read about the death on the Department of Defense's Web site, and contact the funeral home to see if the family would like them to be involved, Dunn said. The group does nothing if the family declines their offer of involvement.

Typically, the riders first meet and escort the soldier's body from the airport to the funeral home. The Southeast Missouri chapter usually travels to Lambert International Airport in St. Louis, where the riders, local police and the Missouri State Highway Patrol all help bring the casket home.

After that, the riders usually attend the viewing, both to pay respect to the family and to guard the family and the casket as visitors come and go. They then escort the body to the funeral and the cemetery.

"It's whatever the family wants," Dunn said.

Out of the 126 local members, 20 are veterans. Larry Glick, who was stationed in Germany from 1971 to 1973, was recruited by Dunn, his friend and co-worker.

Glick's first funeral detail was for Sgt. David Herrera's funeral in Clarksville, Tenn.

"I didn't realize it'd be 27 degrees," he said. "We were just freezing."

But it was all worth it, Glick said. At the end of the service, the soldier's grandmother walked across the cemetery and gave Glick a hug and thanked him for being there for her family. After that, he was hooked.

Some of the riders who participate across the country include some Hells Angels, members of the Iron Indian Riders Association and the New York City FireRiders.

For more information, go to www.patriotguard.org.

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