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Motorcycle Group Supports Military Funerals

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 28, 2010 – As the U.S. Supreme Court contemplates whether protestors outside military funerals are protected under First Amendment free-speech rights, a motorcycle group that travels the country attending those funerals as a show of support and respect rides on, undeterred by the political fray.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Patriot Guard Riders members attend a military funeral to show support for the fallen servicemember and family members. Courtesy photo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

About 200,000 members of the Patriot Guard Riders attend military funerals to honor those who died for or served their country and to support their grieving families, Bill Richart, national president of the group’s board of directors, told American Forces Press Service. They also escort the bodies of fallen servicemembers as they arrive from Dover Air Force Base, Del., for burial in their hometowns across America.

The riders take part in these events only at the family’s request, Richart said, and regardless of whether protestors are expected.

“What we do is never about the protestors,” he said. “We are not a counterprotest group. We don’t go anywhere because of them, and we don’t not go anywhere because they are not there. … It’s about being there for the families, recognizing their loss and ensuring they know that people care.”

Richart emphasized that the riders have no political agenda and take no official position on the pending Supreme Court decision.

In that case, Albert Snyder, father of Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq in 2006, sued the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., for emotional distress after church members demonstrated and carried offensive signs at his son’s funeral in Westminster, Md.

A lower court ruled in Snyder’s favor. However, the church appealed the decision, arguing to the Supreme Court earlier this month that the protests are protected speech under the First Amendment.

As the issue plays out in the courts, the Patriot Guard Riders continue their missions around the country.

On Oct. 26, about 50 Patriot Guard Riders led a procession escorting Brenda Pallares as she returned home to Ontario, Calif., after the body of her son, Army Spc. Ronnie Pallares, arrived at Dover from Afghanistan.

Pallares, who would have turned 20 yesterday, was killed Oct. 23 in Ghazni, Afghanistan, when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 27th Engineer Battalion at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Earlier this week, about 100 riders gathered in Waynesboro, Miss., for the funeral of 30-year-old Army Sgt. Eric Newman. Newman, who served with the 1st Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment, 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade at Fort Bragg, died following an Oct. 14 IED attack in Akatzai Kalay, Afghanistan.

On Oct. 23, another Patriot Guard Riders group joined friends and family of 22-year-old Marine Corps Cpl. Justin J. Cain to carry Cain’s casket from a funeral home in Manitowoc, Wis., to the local high school, where mourners bid their final goodbyes.

Cain, assigned to 1st Marine Division’s 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, at Camp Pendleton, Calif., was among four Marines killed Oct. 13 while conducting combat operations in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

The Patriot Guard Riders paid tribute last week to another Marine killed in that attack, 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Joseph Rodewald. The riders, with American flags streaming from their motorcycles, waited with friends and family members at the airport in Eugene, Oregon, as Rodewald’s body arrived home for burial.

"There must have been 50 to 100 bikers, I don't know,” John Rodewald, his father, told a reporter from ABC’s KEZI News in Eugene. “It's overwhelming for us, and it's proper for Joe.”

Observing the reception the Patriot Guard Riders, along with other veterans and community members, paid his nephew in Ontario yesterday, Ricky Pallares expressed the family’s appreciation. “Ronnie deserves all this,” he told the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. “He deserves the best."

The families of two fallen soldiers expressed their appreciation to the Patriot Guard Riders who supported their loved ones’ funerals during an Oct. 21 tribute in Reinbeck, Iowa.

Lori Laborde, wife of Army Sgt. Command Maj. John Keith Laborde, and Kandie Vaughn, stepmother of Army Spc. Travis Vaughn, hosted a lunch for the riders at the local American Legion post. Vaughn, 26, was killed in a 2007 helicopter crash in southeastern Afghanistan, and Laborde, a 53-year-old Army reservist, died of a heart attack in April after physical training in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

“We were very honored they were there,” Lori Laborde told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier of Waterloo, Iowa, of the Patriot Guard Rider’s role in her husband’s funeral. “It meant a lot to our family.”

The Laborde family announced at the luncheon that it was donating part of Laborde’s memorial fund to the Patriot Guard Riders to help defray their operational costs. When she and her children discussed the plan to make a donation in their husband’s and father’s memory, Lori told the reporter the decision was “unanimous.”

Richart, an Air Force veteran who deployed to Dharan, Saudi Arabia, during Operation Desert Storm, said he and his fellow riders feel a special connection to the grieving families they support.

“If you go out there and you give a couple hours of your time and show families that people care and share their loss, it’s very touching to them and to us,” he said.

"We want them to know their son not only meant a lot to the family, he meant a lot to the nation," Candy Rodriguez, a Vietnam veteran, said during her Inland Valley Daily Bulletin interview while escorting the Pallares family yesterday.

Ron Emrich, a retired Coast Guardsman from Mobile, Ala., said he felt honored to play a role in Newman’s funeral. “Even though I didn’t know him, he’s like a brother to me,” Emrich told a Hattiesburg American reporter. “We all experience it.”

At Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., retired airman Dominick Gezzi said he’s shared that connection since joining the Patriot Guard Riders more than five years ago.

“The Patriot Guard Riders gives me a way to show my appreciation to the other branches of the service and to the servicemen and women that have served before me,” he told Kimberly Wright of the Air University public affairs office. “It also allows me to continue to show how proud I am to have been in the military.”

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The opinions expressed in the following comments do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Defense.

11/6/2010 9:25:51 PM
this is a statement made by General George S. Patton; "Freedom has a taste, and for those who have fought for it, the taste is so sweet, the protected will never know." This is for all the troops that have given their all and for those who will be giving their all in days to come. May God Bless. Respectfully in Comradeship, SIGNED Boyd T. Herrst, Past Post Cmdr, V.F.W.
- boyd t. herrst, tecumseh, mi.

11/1/2010 1:45:49 AM
Articles like this one need to be run in all newspapers throughout this country, in every city that has offered her citizens to serve and protect this great nation of ours. I have ridden with the Patriot Guard Riders many times and cannot express the feeling it gives me as a veteran, to know that this group supported me during my deployment, and be able to give that honor and respect to those that have served before me, served with me, serving now, and those that will serve in the future. As a disabled veteran, I was in great pain standing at attention, salute in strong position, while directing a PGR procession into an interment site in the Wilkes-Barre area of Pennsylvania. However, the physical pain I endured was nothing to the strength of heart that I had to honor that fallen soldier.
- Frederick L. Packard, Lock Haven, Pa

10/31/2010 3:15:41 PM
Ms Woods, I thank you for your consideration of being a P.G.R. member. You can be by going to the Patriot Guard Riders.org web site and signing up. From there, you attend whatever you want to you dont need a motorcycle, just a 3x5' flag and pole and the American Spirit with you. I hope you follow through as there are many like you out there awaiting your arrival with open arms. Randy Stevens, what can I say brother, you know the drill, you've walked the walk, and are that extension of Our FLAG and the volumes that each and every thread of it speak about America. We ARE AMERICA..... Howard T. Wozniak P.G.R. Region#1, Buffalo, New York
- howard wozniak, buffalo, New York USA

10/31/2010 6:35:58 AM
I love what the Patriot Guard member do for the military. I am one and the reason I joined was to show my utmost appreciation for all that they do and have done for us now and in the past. These are the best of the best! Love to show how much we need them and that they are not alone. I will do this until the day I die. I may not always be able to ride two wheels, then I will go to three, via bike, or four, via my car. But I will always be there along with my Patriot comrades. Love to all the nations past and present military members! Mary and David
- Mary and David, Gladstone, MI

10/30/2010 11:49:18 AM
As a member of the Patriot Guard we feel honored to do this for our veterans current and past. No matter what the weather, or circumstances we will always be there for you. Our goal is just to support the family and others who go through such an ordeal. As I lost my father at a young age, I can only recently accept his courage to protect us at home. God Bless
- Nancy, Ontario, New York

10/30/2010 9:14:26 AM
"I think it's appropriate that those who love freedom so much are the ones who step up to honor and to thank those who defend that freedom." Well put Steam, I think about that freedom whenever I ride and how thankful I am to have our armed forces protecting us. Thank you to all serving and who have served in the past, it's an honor to ride for the fallen and their families who have give so much. God bless and watch over you all!
- Tim Shea, Stoneham, MA

10/29/2010 11:55:47 PM
As a Patriot Guard Member I can say that when we see off the troops, and to have a face to put with the situation, you understand more what is going on around the world. What we do isn't always easy or fun, but we believe in something, and that's why we do this. America still means something to some, or we wouldn't take time to do this. Thank you, to all the members of the military, now and in the past, for protecting our freedom. God Bless.
- jason ramsey, Knoxville, TN

10/29/2010 3:35:59 PM
I do and I am part of the Patriot Guard Riders. I am and I do be long to the American Legion Riders both of these groups do a great service for our service men and women. It warms my heart each and every time I ride with them.
- Floyd D Haner Jr, Pine City,NY

10/28/2010 11:09:14 PM
My late husband wanted to join the Patriots,but got too sick too soon to do so. He thought, and I agree, the Patriot Guard riders were doing a wonderful service to their deceased brothers & sisters and their families. Keep up the wonderful work, gentlemen. I've always been proud of the military and this is one example of why I'm still proud. I see you riding on the roadways with flags waving and I get goosebumps every time! God bless the Patriot Guard riders.
- Joyce Woods, Herington, KS

10/28/2010 6:24:35 PM
Thank you for your article about the Patriot Guard. Our riders have ridden thousands of miles in all sorts of weather to honor our fallen heroes. We don't need thanks for what we do. What we do IS a 'thank you' to all who serve. Why? I believe it's because nobody loves freedom like a biker. That's why we ride....to be free and in the wind, not caged up behind glass and steel. We sure don't ride because a motorcycle is so much safer than a car. So, I think it's appropriate that those who love freedom so much are the ones who step up to honor and to thank those who defend that freedom. Whether it's a funeral, a send off for deploying forces or, our favorite, a welcome home mission for troops returning home, we ride for you. To the men and women of America's armed forces.........We salute you. Stay safe and know that we thank you for every day you serve. Steam
- Randy 'Steam' Stevens, Laurens SC

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