The bright orange ball was fighting its way through the early morning mist as I twisted the throttle and climbed out of the low valley. Although I appreciated the beauty, I didn’t ignore the warning that it promised; yet another scorching day in Texas.
I figured I would catch up on a couple of hours of work before I rode to Ft. Worth to meet up with the Patriot Guard Riders and attend a memorial service for yet another of our fallen heroes. Not at all a pleasant way to spend a Saturday morning, but it does in its own way provide a healing for those of us who have seen war and lived through it, and an opportunity to protect and honor a fallen brother and provide them the respect that was denied to so many thousands of veterans of previous wars. It has been said that for every dark cloud there is a silver lining. Being a skeptic, I have never thought much of that, but today would definitely show me how that worked.
Some of us waited for the ride briefing in the parking lot of a restaurant that was across the street from the chapel and cemetery. Others waited inside, eating breakfast or getting a cup of coffee. Since I am generally writing about something, I carry a camera with me almost everywhere I go. This fact was not missed by the Texas State Captain of the Patriot Guard, David A. “Double D” David. He approached and asked if I minded coming inside and taking some pictures. David got the attention of the riders present and they formed a loose circle around him and his Assistant State Captain, E.R. “Wingman” Stroud. These two in turn brought in their wives Chris “Lady D” David and Glennys “Wafflemaker” Angell-Stroud. With everyone in place they put a young lady named Haley Berry beside them in the circle.
Eighteen-year-old Haley is a bright, cheerful young lady who suffers from tuberous sclerosis, also called tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) 1, a rare, multisystem genetic disease that causes benign tumors to grow in the brain and on other vital organs. Haley and her mother Karen have been coming to missions with the Guard to help protect the families of our soldiers. With Haley in the middle, the leaders of the Texas Patriot Guard presented Haley with a leather vest. (They told her they would make a biker out of her yet.) The vest was complete with Patriot Guard patches and pins, a large round back patch with “Always Fighting for Freedom” “Real American Super Heroes” surrounding a picture of a soldier charging out of the patch. There was also a patch with Haley’s road name “Olympic Girl” sewn on the left shoulder. To complete the package, E.R. replaced her cap with one of the blue Patriot Guard member hats. I am not sure I have ever seen anyone so excited.
I sat beside Karen, who was also a co-ride captain for this mission, while taking the pictures and could feel the pride she had for her daughter. But, the day was far from over. Shortly after the presentation, the ride briefing was given, a prayer spoken and we mounted up to ride the short distance to the chapel. Haley (with much glee) rode on the back of E.R’s beautiful blue Goldwing Trike. E.R. also promised to take her on a longer ride in the future.
The memorial service was to honor Sgt. Rhonald E. Meeks, U.S. Army, who gave his all on the first of June 2006. Sgt. Meeks, from Weatherford, Texas would later have a graveside service with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. The soldier died in rural Colquitt County when his MH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed and broke apart during a routine training flight. Sgt. Meeks was a member of the 3rd Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, an elite unit known as the Night Stalkers that uses MH-47 Chinooks to fly Special Forces commandos behind enemy lines under cover of night. The battalion is stationed at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Georgia.
With a wall of U.S. flags, we formed a corridor, which the family passed through as they entered, and later departed the chapel. Dozens of complete strangers standing shoulder to shoulder to honor someone we didn’t know. It is terribly impressive and has brought more than one hardened biker/vet to tears.
In the heat of the day, with the emotions soaring, Karen passed out bottled water to the Guard and family members, cautioning all to stay out of the sun as much as possible. After the service, as the family members were departing, the Colonel and Command Sergeant Major of the deceased soldier’s Honor Guard came over to thank us for attending, and the Guard thanked all of the active duty soldiers for their service to our country. And, as usual, the bikes were started, and we departed the cemetery in ones and twos, with the occasional larger group splitting off to head wherever the road leads. There are no after service gatherings, just each rider in his or her private reflections of the days events.
I spoke with Karen Berry a day or so later and we talked about the day and about Haley. It seems this young lady had also survived giant-cell astrocytoma, a type of tumor that can grow and block the flow of fluids within the brain. The tumor somehow spontaneously resolved—a miracle to say the least. Haley is extremely active, especially with the Special Olympics. She participates in track, basketball, softball, baseball and volleyball. I also found out that Haley’s brother, Sgt. Ryan Berry has been in Baghdad with the 101st Airborne Division since last November, and that Karen’s husband Craig is a veteran also, serving in Vietnam 1970-71 with the 5th Special Forces (Green Beret).
With all said and done, at the end of the day, this is one very special family. I am richer for meeting Haley and Karen and proud to ride with them and share the responsibility of “Riding with Respect” for our nations heroes. God Bless.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. All NINDS-prepared information is in the public domain and may be freely copied: www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/tuberous_sclerosis/detail_tuberous_sclerosis.htm.
Story and photos by Michael Lousha