Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A PGR tribute in Pickardville

A PGR tribute in Pickardville

The PGR rides again. Well, not really, again. More like, “still,” or “yet.” Only this time it was a memorial ride for a career military man from the bustling town of Pickardville. (What?! You’ve not heard of Pickardville?! I hadn’t either, and I’d ridden through the town several times. Population about 30. Smack dab between Mercer and McClusky on Highway 200.)

It all started when Sgt. Jim Avard called us up (via email) for a memorial for Lt. Col John Van Vleet. As you may know about the PGR, the group’s role is to honor the men and women who either have or are willing to lay down their lives for the freedoms we have as Americans; those are the soldiers, sailors, airmen and leathernecks who give up years of their lives for the rest of us. John Van Vleet was one of those.

I didn’t know Van Vleet, but that doesn’t matter. He didn’t know me when he chose to put his life on the line for me. However, since the memorial ride for him in July, I’ve read a bit about Van Vleet. In one eulogy, Matt Matia spoke of Van Vleet’s character:

- Patience in the presence of incredible stupidity;
- Dedication to betterment of those around us;
- Steadfast belief in never taking advantage of a situation for personal benefit.

Van Vleet sounds like a North Dakotan. He was. He graduated from McClusky High School in 1969, went off to West Point, graduating in 1974. He made a career in the military and served in both Desert Storm and in Somalia.

The PGR showed up for what was apparently, the class reunion. That would make it 40 years. Van Vleet was remembered at the reunion and the Patriot Guard Riders were called on to be a part of the memorial.

The day was perfect for a ride; sunshine, warm temps and light breezes. A group from Minot met with a group from Bismarck. Since I’m kind of between those two towns, I hooked up with the Bismarck group in Wilton. From there, we rode 40 miles north to Mercer where the Minot and Bismarck groups merged in to one.

Flag were mounted, and we prepared ourselves for the parade-like ride down Highway 200 to the one-room school house in Pickardville. That’s about all there is in Pickardville, a one-room school house, empty, well cared for, but it was once enough of a town and school system to produce a West Point graduate and career military man.

The now-quiet little school building sits above a row of trees and a small lake or pothole, or some would say pond. It’s a very rural setting, very pastoral. The outdoor bathrooms sit about 25 feet from the school house. The flag pole is right out front of the school house.

It musta been an impressive showing for those who passed by on the highway to see this group of bikers going down Highway 200 then stopping at this little school house for a full flag presentation. However, I suspect it was even more impressive for the classmates and others who stood along side and watched the ceremony. Three U.S. flags that were flown at West Point were presented to family members. A fourth was hoisted to fly at the schoolhouse.

As the first North Dakota Patriot Guard state captain, Brad Volk said of the event honoring his cousin:
“Most everyone there had never witnessed the North Dakota Patriot Guard in action and they WERE impressed - by the turn out, the respect (for someone you most likely did not know), the honor you showed with the flag presentations, and the flag raising.
For those of you that do not know, John was my cousin, my brother, and my mentor. We had been real close until he left for West Point, grew apart a bit while raising our families, and had reconnected about 10 years ago. I will miss his friendship and his quiet way of getting his point across.

“In talking with some of his peers, at the funeral in December, I discovered just what kind of soldier he was. And how much he was respected by all of those who served with him.
I wanted/needed to honor him in some way and I can not think of a better way to do that than to have the NDPG there. I have been on the "honoring" end of these rides many, many times and know that what you did that day was from the heart.”

Another eulogy said this about Van Vleet:

Our backgrounds couldn't have been more different. You brought the military mentality of discipline, loyalty, focus, getting things done, never quitting, and winning, to the workplace. Of course you also brought wearing a white shirt, tie, and suspenders every day, way too much paperwork, and a live grenade to the office as well! By the way, how many white shirts did you own? One more thing John, I don't know if the grenade in the office was really "live", but on one of those rare nights I was there later than you, I did put super glue on the pin.

That’s about all I know about Van Vleet, but I’m thankful he is one of those millions of proud military people who have decided to live their lives to defend America.

I’m also thankful that the Patriot Guard Riders were there to help add their tribute in the memorial to Lt. Col John Van Vleet. That’s the Patriot Guard Riders – paying tribute to those who have paid a lot more to make America what it is – free.


  1. I can assure you I will be spending time here

  2. You'll be spending time in Pickardville?