This article was originally written in February of 2007, which I've edited for this month's issue of Spoke to Spoke.
Saturday, I had to be up at 5:30 a.m. for a Patriot Guard mission, a funeral in Atlantic City. Those that know me know I wouldn't normally see 5:30 a.m. unless I stayed awake for it, but somehow, I didn't mind the inconvenience, which would turn out to be the first of many.
I hitched a ride on the back of a Honda Shadow--a fellow PGR member that lives nearby offered a ride whenever I wanted. Since it was to be only in the 40's, I double layered, thermal shirt, fleece shirt, pantyhose, knee socks, lined denim vest and boots....and FROZE my ass off to the first staging area, a rest stop 20 minutes out. My 'chauffeur' gave me his raingear jacket. That helped, but my face, even with a scarf and helmet shield, still froze and my legs felt like popsicles. Al, another rider in our group, said to get silk undergarments. I'm keeping that in mind.
When we arrived at the armory, we came across an incredible sight--over 200 bikes filled both lots. Later estimates were up to 300. They lined the main drag in town for at least five full blocks; I gave up trying to capture any pictures when I saw that 5th block and still no end in sight to the rows of bikes. Things got muddled with the local law enforcement, but I doubt they expected even half the number that arrived and got scared seeing so many bikers. There were so many of us, that probably half of us didn't walk the several blocks it'd have taken to get to the church. We'd been instructed at first that 40 flag holders would be allowed into the cemetery. But try telling another 160 “no.” That didn't work out and some did leave after the services; the rest of us were led in a procession to the Veteran's cemetery about 40 minutes away. What a sight that had to be! As it turned out, we weren’t allowed in the cemetery, so we lined the road leading to it with our flags. Once the funeral procession completed its journey past us into the cemetery, we gathered up our flags and readied for the long ride home.
A couple we had been speaking with asked us if we’d like to ride along going home. They would be taking the back roads and we tagged along, explaining we would probably stop to eat. The Pinelands aren’t very populated and we didn’t find any place to stop for two hours. It was getting dark and we were getting frustrated when I suddenly noticed where we were and directed Don to turn. A diner was just up ahead.
We spent probably at least six hours total on that bike that frigid February day. I felt like I was rode hard and hung out wet. My thighs froze, although, oddly enough, as soon as we slowed down, they'd feel warmer, but they ached from being separated from each other so long. We'd hit bumps, I'd bounce, my tailbone had had enough early on. It was so cold; I just wanted to sit in my nice warm car.
When we finally got to the diner, I was shaking as I warmed up. I’d never shook so hard. Even holding my fork was an effort. I was laughing at the sight it must have been to shake so hard I couldn’t get food into my mouth.
We didn't get back home until well after dark. I was in bed by 9:10, my head feeling like I still had that helmet on. I awoke early again to go to work, although my right knee was trying to tell me forget that idea. I went anyway. Oddly, the aches and pains from being so woefully out of shape seemed more of a reward than a punishment. It'd been 30 years since I did an all-day ride, after all, back when the body didn't care what was done to it. And this was for a purpose, so I didn't mind. If I can swing getting out of work Friday, I may have to do this again. Something about being part of PGR just seems so much more important than straightening towels and faking smiles to customers that don’t care. You wonder why you're there just holding flags in a long line, standing at attention. But then the mourners thank you, give you 'thumbs-up,' the military attendees thank you, which seems backwards, really. And you remember why and you don't mind the freezing, the aches, the total exhaustion.....For the mothers who have lost their child, for the fathers grief stricken and yet proud, for the wives who will raise the babies alone. So we ditch work any way we can and do it over and over, each time hoping it'd be the last....
My nephew just graduated from Marine boot camp. He said it's the best thing he could have ever decided to do and we totally expect him to be a career man. I'm not a religious person by any stretch, but I do pray that I never ever have to call upon my comrades to ride....so I will go again, hitching a ride on the back of a Honda or anything else offered. For others and for him.
Since this was written, I have attended 25 missions and events under the Patriot Guard banner. My love of riding has returned tenfold as a result.
I think what keeps me going to the funerals and welcome home missions is that, first and foremost, I am a mom. I empathize with their pain and feel it in my heart when there’s joy. Then, I am a daughter, one whose father still regales us with his Army stories 50 years after he left, and I have come to understand the camaraderie of soldiers past and present. If it is to be last, I am an American rider, albeit one who warms the pillion.
At every mission, Don unfurls a huge American flag and it flies behind us as we proceed. I love hearing it in the wind but also know that this feeling of freedom we all enjoy came with a cost. I am thankful that we haven’t been attending as many missions as we used to, but if I have to go, I will, even if it means giving up a cold Saturday. It is the least I can do for a mom.
By Louise Reeves