On a recent Monday, about 75 Patriot Guard Riders from around South Carolina escorted the remains of a World War II Marine to Florence National Cemetery. Sgt. John Holladay was killed by a sniper on July 20, 1943 on New Georgia in the British Solomon Islands.
Earlier, riders from the Myrtle Beach area and Charleston escorted the remains from Charleston International Airport to a Florence funeral home. Sgt. Holladay was from Florence. Ride captain Ed Courtney of Murrells Inlet recalls that the first escort was on a rainy day. The Myrtle Beach riders met the Charleston group at Turbeville, and both motorcycle escort groups continued to Florence.
On the same day as the dedication of the new Merchant Marine Memorial in Warbird Park, Myrtle Beach, PGR provided a flag line for the Wellford burial of the remains of another WWII veteran, U.S. Army Air Forces flight officer Dewey Gossett, killed in Italy in 1943. PGR also provides flag lines for Welcome Home and other ceremonies and at funerals of first responders and honorably discharged veterans.
Typically, Patriot Guard Riders “stand the flag line” at the place of services and at the cemetery, according to the wishes of the family. Attending “funeral services of fallen American heroes as invited guests of the family” is the main mission of Patriot Guard Riders.
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When a family makes a request for Patriot Guard Riders, a ride captain (Courtney is one of three in the North Coastal PGR) “scouts out the location and writes up a mission.” It’s published online. Through the national website, volunteers register and know of missions in their areas. Patriot Guard Riders are from a variety of veteran-motorcycle groups, although one need not be a motorcyclist nor a military veteran to participate. “Everybody’s welcome,” Courtney says.
“We’ll meet at the funeral home or church and set a flag line until the time of the service. Then we’ll go to the cemetery. We park out of the way, out of sight. We also do escorts from the funeral home to the cemetery.” It all depends on the wishes of the family. The flags for the line are transported to the location in an SUV and handed out to the motorcycle riders.
Patriot Guard Riders started in 2005 when members of American Legion Riders Chapter 136, in Kansas, were appalled by the actions of members of the Westboro Baptist Church who were protesting at military funerals and greatly upsetting families and friends of the fallen military person. Members of ALR Chapter 136 set “a battle plan to combat Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church.” The ALR set up a mission to limit WBC intrusion at the funeral of Sgt. John Doles in Chelsea, Okla. They received permission of the family and contacted Oklahoma law enforcement and motorcycle groups.
By mid-October 2005, and additional missions in Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma, Jeff “Twister” Brown, Broken Arrow, Okla., formed Patriot Guard Riders and started a nationwide campaign. In two weeks, “the PGR website had received almost 566,000 hits,” according to www.patriotguard.org Members came from organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Rolling Thunder, Combat Vets Motorcycle Association as well as hundreds of individuals.
“We’re not looking for publicity,” Courtney says, being modestly careful about taking personal credit. Thanked for his PGR service, he says: “It’s an honor.”
Ensuring dignity and respect at memorial services
Our Mission | The Patriot Guard Riders is a 100 percent volunteer, federally registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization which ensures dignity and respect at memorial services honoring fallen military heroes, first responders and honorably discharged veterans.
Our Vision | Our main mission is to attend the funeral services of fallen American heroes as invited guests of the family. Each mission we undertake has two basic objectives:
1. Show our sincere respect for our fallen heroes, their families, and their communities.
2. Shield the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by any protestor or group of protestors. We accomplish the latter through strictly legal and non-violent means. – Patriot Guard Riders Mission and Vision
Website | For information about Patriot Guard Riders, visit www.patriotguard.org