Saturday, July 18, 2009

Patriot Guard Rally –a red, white and blue day.

ND Patriot Guard state rally

When the Patriot Guard Riders rallied the other day, flags, veterans and bikers were stirred together in a large batch of patriotic spirit -- stirred to the point of tears. When is the last time you saw a burly biker, a seasoned veteran, or a weathered cowboy drop a tear of appreciation? That kind of normally-hidden emotion was revealed as America and its fighting men and women were honored at the rally.

Neither politics nor partisanship were part of the day, just a deep sense of appreciation for America and the men and women who have stood to fight and even die for America. The rally honored three fallen soldiers, PFC Sheldon Hawk Eagle, Major Allan Johnson and Sgt Thomas Sweet II. Recognition and respect extended to with all the veterans who have died, and also those veterans in the room.

One of the more touching moments came when the soldiers from America’s last major conflict, Viet Nam were asked to stand. They were the ones who were not so well received when they returned home from serving America many decades ago. As they stood, the rest of us were encouraged to go to them and merely shake their hands and say, “Welcome home.” Not that simple. There were hugs, and yes, tears as these forgotten warriors were thanked for their sacrifices – some 40 years late.

(It’s at this point in this writing that I perhaps need to explain a bit about the Patriot Guard Riders. If you are already a member, or know about the PGR, then you can skip these next couple of paragraphs.

Of all the groups to which I currently belong, or have in the past, the Patriot Guard Riders is the one of which I’m most proud. It’s an eclectic group. “Eclectic” meaning “assorted, diverse and free” which pretty well describes the PGR. The members of the PGR are for the most part, blue collar, hardworking men and women. They range in age from their young 20’s to 70-some. Firemen, policemen, carpenters, day-care providers, mechanics, and others like them belong to the PGR. Maybe you have seen them at airports. They are the ones who take off time from their labors to

stand shoulder to shoulder, silently holding large flags to welcome home

returning soldiers, to say good bye to deployed soldiers or to provide funeral escort to those who have died.

Funerals – that’s where PGR has it roots. No, it’s not macabre – it’s amazing. You see, there was an evil, malicious group of people who were traveling about the country cheering for the deaths of soldiers who had died in Iraq and Afghanistan. They would equate the deaths of these men and women with God’s punishment of America. Without a hint of mercy, grace or compassion, these protesters added to the grief and pain of families with their behavior.

With the same constitutional right to assemble as the protesters' right to free speech, PGR members would line up, shoulder to shoulder, backs to the protesters, facing the funeral party. Silent. Bearing flags. Shielding the mourners from the protesters. They were there, only by invitation, responding to a family’s request for protection from the ugliness of the protesters. There were no confrontations, just a silent human shield, protecting mourners while at the same time showing silent patriotic respect to the fallen. Protesters would only see the back patches of the bikers and the mourners would only see the quiet respect and flags of this protective barrier of black leather patriots.)

These patriots from across the state rallied in Dickinson, North Dakota. Usually it is these people who are showing appreciation and respect for the men and women in uniform. However, at the rally, it was the PGR who received the appreciation. North Dakota National Guard Major General David Spryznczynatyk wandered through the crowd shaking hands and thanking the PGR. From the stage, he was joined by North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem honoring the veterans, active duty personnel and the citizen members of the North Dakota Patriot Guard Riders.

After the program, riders cranked up the 100+ bikes in the parking lot with a ride through southwest North Dakota. This time, they were on the receiving end of patriotic displays. In Belfield, a flag line of the American Legion welcomed riders coming in on Highway 83. In Regent, flags and signs lined the streets to welcome the PGR.

The Patriot Guard Riders is that patch of blue sky on a rainy overcast day.

The Patriot Guard Riders is a whiff of morning’s fresh air.

The Patriot Guard Riders is that soft pillow after a hard day.

The Patriot Guard Riders is an unapologetic expression of appreciation and love for America and the men and women who protect our freedoms.

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  1. Awesome writing Mike. Thank you for the interesting explaination of the PGR. What a great group of people.

  2. My dad is Jim Avard, one of the ride captains in ND. I am so proud of him & all the PGR members for their love of our country & the servicemen & women who uphold its ideals. I love you Daddy! ~Brigitte

  3. It is truly a blessing to live in "The Great State of North Dakota" where patriotism shines everywhere! I am honored to be a part of a group of people who go above and beyond to demonstrate we are "Proud Americans" that will not forget who keeps our country safe and free, the men and women that serve our country in the U.S. Military and those who have served. Thank you all, and thanks Michael for the very kind words!

    David K. Pagel
    State Captain
    North Dakota Patriot Guard

  4. You have truly described the Patriot Guard Riders - American patriots - caring - giving - grateful to our military - loyal to our country. We proudly carry our nation's flag to honor those and their families who gave so much. I am proud and blessed to be a PGR member. Thank you for your accounting of that day.