Robert Glisson rides with the ““Patriot Guard Riders.” I do not identify with the military mission, but who can fault the humanity of the effort?
For The Love of A Brother-In-Arms, And ‘Big Brother’ Be Damned
BY ROBERT GLISSON
The late October morning sky over northern Oklahoma is overcast as you follow the bikes in staggered formation, onto the Air Guard base. They make a circle and line up on each side of the exit concourse behind the guard shack that splits the exit from the entrance. The rumble of Harleys in neutral is heard, as the heavy bikes are backed to the curb, nose pointed toward the exit at a forty-five degree angle. Silence returns as one by one the kickstands drop and the riders unhorse.
Ride Captains in maroon caps begin passing US Flags on eight foot PVC shafts to the riders quietly. Two lines of scruffy men and women dressed in black leather or dark waterproof raingear line themselves ten feet apart smoothly, quietly on each side of the street, forming a corridor of red-white-and blue a hundred and twenty feet long. Hardly a word is spoken, as the flags begin gently waving in the cool damp fall breeze.
Two Senior Ride Captains begin an inspection walk inside the corridor of proud, straight figures. Many of the men and women have lost the battle with gravity and the razor; but, the grip on the staff is steady, the eyes focused on a point a thousand yards away. Satisfied that the formation is ready, the SRCs walk back slowly to the line’s tail, stopping at each flag to personally thank the rider holding the flag for his or her time.
The backs of vests and jackets of the riders carry multiple Colors, insignia and rockers; American Veterans MC; American Legion; The Priesthood; Christian Motorcycle Association; Faith Riders; Mongols Vandals; Outlaws; Forgotten Few. Some are loners- no colors, no rockers, nothing to show any association or organization or location; but, all are part of the Patriot Guard Riders at this time. Patriot Guard Riders in Oklahoma do not wear colors and have no identification insignia. PGR in other states do wear colors; for states membership is free; 264 K members at this time, not all attend missions.
It begins to rain lightly, fingers get colder and stiffer, but the line holds steady. An Air Force lieutenant exits the Administration building, speaks briefly to the captains and returns to his warm office. “The Angel Flight (Plane carrying the soldier’s body) was delayed in its take-off from Dover AFB. They will be at least fifteen minutes late.” The line of men and women holds. Twenty minutes later, “The flight is delayed due to the heavy cloud cover over the country. It will be another fifteen minutes.”
The line holds quietly, no one complains.
The PGR line remains still and quiet in the drizzle as the Airmen jostle into position to form another honor line. A sergeant with the Air Guard News appears with his camera. The PGR has stood for approximately an hour so far. “The plane is now on the runway, the Military Honor Guard is transferring the coffin to the coach. They should be here in fifteen-twenty minutes. Ten minutes later the rain slacks off and riders can now hold their head fully upright without having to blink away the rain.
The procession stops just pass the line and before the exit unto the city street. Young Airmen quickly come, take the flags from the riders. Bikers now freed, hasten to the waiting wet bikes, brush off the seats and mount up, denim against wet leather. The air is filled with the sound of motorcycles forced into a hasty warm-up by their owners. The V-Twins respond eagerly. Within moments the line of flag-carrying motorcycles is moving up past the coach into lead position. The law enforcement vehicles will take a position at least five hundred feet ahead to protect, but stay apart from the procession. Without a word, the bikes roll out onto the wet pavement, wet flags attached to the rear, trying to wave in the dismal, damp air as they begin a forty mile highway escort, taking a fallen warrior home.
Another day, servicemen and women exit an aircraft and walk through a double line of flag-bearing PGR to welcome them home or, if leaving, walk through the same line to board a plane to their duty station. Older PGR Captains, assume the position of fathers to reassure the serviceman’s wife that the separation is only temporary and that their husband will return, just as they did long ago.
This is the Patriot Guard Riders, a volunteer group of citizens, mostly ex-military and motorcyclist but not necessarily either one. The PGR is formed to support veterans. Originally formed to shield the family of soldiers killed in action from protestors at funerals, it has grown to honor and respect all veterans and servicemen. Non-political, it contains men and women of all political, religious, and opinion stripes. Ex-service salute, civilians place their hands over their hearts, all show respect.
It is said that the US is the only country to have barn raisings. I can’t say that for sure. But I can say that the volunteer spirit in the United States is second to none. Most of this country was built by individuals working with other individuals long before governments were formed. Some feared that without the draft, there would be no military. They missed the spirit of the people who love their country and countrymen. The Patriot Guard Riders is only one organization among many. Habitat for Humanity is a ‘barn raising’ group of volunteers that now covers the world. The Red Cross, Salvation Army, and the Southern Baptist Disaster Crews: These are but a few organizations that reflect the ‘Spirit of America. There Civil War Enactors, Single Action Pistol associations, the clubs, Masons, Rotary, Lions, Moose, Eagles, Knights of Columbus, etc. It is that American spirit that says “Get up, make a difference.”
It is the true spirit of this country.
Robert Glisson is a retired Oklahoma Probation and Parole Officer, fiction writer, vineyard worker (you don’t own it, it owns you), amateur wine maker (you have to drink your mistakes, whoopee), and biker by choice. He is also a longtime reader of Barely A Blog. Robert served in the US Navy between 1960-1964, inactive reserve 65-66- 66-68.