In August of 2005, Carol Houck and her husband Terry watched as members from Fred Phelp’s Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka protested the funeral of a fallen soldier in Iraq. Both were disgusted with what they saw and heard by the protesters as they degraded the fallen soldier, the United States military and the government they serve.
“Somebody should do something,” she told her husband. “Somebody needs to find a way to counter them.” And from that conversation, the idea for the Patriot Guard Riders (PGR) was born at American Legion Post #136 in tiny Mulvane, Kansas, a small community south of Wichita. The Houcks and a few others are members of the post’s American Legion Riders. At the time, it was just one of two legion motorcycle groups in the state.
“There was a funeral of a fallen soldier taking place in Oklahoma,” Terry Houck recalled. “We decided to ride there, and park our motorcycles in front of the protesters, holding flags in front of them, to block them from the family, and to rev our engines so they couldn’t be heard.
“Since we were a rather small group, we asked if members of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, the VFW, Leathernecks Motorcycle Club, and Vietnam Vet Motorcycle Club wanted to join us. In all, I think we had 20 motorcycles.” They made a commitment to attend a soldier’s funeral if it was within 200 miles of Mulvane.
It didn’t take long for word to spread of what the Mulvane American Legion Riders had done. Families began contacting them, requesting they come to the funeral of their fallen soldiers. They were overwhelmed with inquiries from other motorcycle riders wanting to join in.
They soon came up with the name Patriot Guard Riders, and their mission statement is simple: To ride with respect for our fallen heroes, their families, and their communities; to shield the mourning family and friends from interruptions created by any protestor or group of protestors, accomplishing that through strictly legal and non-violent means.
Today, the PGR is a national organization with nearly 50,000 members and chapters in every state. Their participation in funerals is called missions.
And on August 13, at the American Legion Post #136 in Mulvane, more than 300 motorcyclists from throughout Kansas, Missouri, Colorado, Nebraska, and Oklahoma, rode into town as the one-year anniversary of the founding of the PGR was celebrated with the unveiling of a memorial stone in front of the legion building. Dignitaries, including Kansas Lt. Gov. John E. Moore, Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, and Betty J. Pulliam, national president of the American Gold Star Mothers, Inc., were there to pay homage.
Special guests included families of fallen soldiers in which the PGR has been involved in the funerals of their loved ones. The name of each fallen soldier was read. A military spokesman pronounced the solder, “Present in spirit, sir!” Family members were given a brick with their fallen soldier’s name engraved on it, and they laid it in a specially reserved spot in front of the memorial PGR stone. Then they were given an American flag.
Bryce Maugans lost his son Jaime in Afghanistan. He and his family were on hand for the unveiling of the PGR Memorial Stone. Maugans said he was “overwhelmed” by the number of motorcyclists taking part in the PGR. He said he had no idea there were so many people that would take the time to remember his son for his sacrifice and support his family. It does not cost to be a member of the PGR, nor is it exclusively for military veterans. “Anyone can join,” Terry Houck said. “They just have to remember our mission statement and why we do this.”
The PGR attends funerals upon request from families. The funerals can be for soldiers killed in current conflicts or veterans of other wars who have died. Riders pay for their own fuel, provide a barrier between the protesters and the families, and present the fallen veterans’ families with a plaque thanking them for the sacrifices their loved ones made.
Families and or funeral directors can contact the PGR by phone or email. Motorcyclists interested in joining the PGR also can go to the organization’s web site at www.patriotguard.org.
By Chuck Kurtz
EDITOR'S NOTE: Cycle Connections Online Motorcycle Magazine is a proud supporter of the Patriot Guard Riders. Please feel free to take a look at the following articles we published in previous issues in support of this great cause:
07/01/06 - The Silver Lining.
02/01/06 - Final Mission for Sergeant First Class Stephen J. White
01/01/06 - Patriot Guard Riders
11/01/05 - Kansas American Legion Riders