Over the past 51 years, I’ve spent Memorial Day in a variety of manners. As a kid I attended picnics, attended family gatherings, and some years did pretty much nothing at all. I was a member of a pretty large family with a career military father who was often away, which resulted in a family budget that dictated that staying home and doing nothing was pretty mandatory. As an adult I’ve also done a number of things. During my Navy days I’ve stayed on the ship and had the duty, partied my ass off with some of my fellow sailors when we were in port long enough to get an apartment, and also pretty much done nothing at all. During the last 25 years my riding buddies and close associates of questionable character have done a number of things including having very large parties resulting in activities that led to consequences just short of multiple arrests, gone on day long multiple bar stop rides, and again, from time to time, done nothing at all. However, Memorial Day 2007 was different.
This year I got wind of a Memorial Day activity that was actually designed to follow the idea of this special day. The Defenders Motorcycle Club put on an organized ride to the Florida National Cemetery for a Memorial Day observance. The Defenders M/C is a fraternal motorcycle club for active and retired law enforcement, emergency services, and military and public safety professionals. Their goal is to promote solidarity through the sport of motorcycling and brotherhood. They are also an organization whose commitments are to each other, their families and their communities.
The ride was amazing. The info I had received had said to meet at a rest area just north of Tampa on I-75 on Monday, May 28 with kickstands up at 8:30 for the 30-or-so-mile ride up to the cemetery. With a show of timeliness that gave credit to the law enforcement and military roots of this club, the kickstands were absolutely up at 8:30. Scary to see this many bikers on time, ready, and prompt!
This impressive run was organized and led by Ron “Paladin” Rook, a retired Marine Colonel. Although I got the chance to speak to Paladin it was not for long. I can tell you, however, the manner in which this huge ride was run shone of a career Marine’s discipline and efficiency. “Shotgun,” another member of the Defenders and current member of our local law enforcement community, blocked traffic in his patrol car as the 375 bikes pulled out onto I-75. The interstate ride went well with only a few breaks in the pack maneuvered by four wheelers who were oblivious to their surroundings.
Pulling into the Florida National Cemetery located in Bushnell, Florida it had warmed up considerably and it took quite some time to park all of the bikes entering the grounds along with other attendees and family members of departed military personnel interred in this beautiful place. The hour long ceremony was a very stirring one which included the playing of all of the different branches of the military’s particular songs, the posting of colors, the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem, America the Beautiful, “God Bless the USA,” a gun salute by the Florida National Guard, Taps, and Amazing Grace played by Naomi McLain on bagpipes. God Bless America was performed by Sheriff “Bill” Farmer, Linda Burnette, and Laura Riley.
Another inspiring event was two fly-overs done by Ye Mystic Aircrew including one that demonstrated the “Missing Man” formation. You can bet your bottom dollar there was no one exercising their right to sit during the Pledge of Allegiance, or demonstrating any manner of disrespect to either the folks in attendance or the folks being remembered at THIS event. No one seemed to mind the upper 80-degree heat that has settled in by the event’s close or the fact that unless you brought your own chair this was a standing affair.
It was a day that was both inspiring and sometimes sad. I saw grown men holding back tears, others standing perfectly at attention with hats over their hearts, and fellows old enough to be my grandfather rise up out of a wheelchair to show respect to both family members and fallen comrades. It really was a morning ride different from most I participate in and absolutely inspirational. It was a credit to Paladin and all of his Defender brothers and a heartwarming display of American patriotism and support for current and former military personnel both living and deceased.
Although I’ve probably enjoyed all of my Memorial Days (at least all of them I can remember) this one will most certainly stand out for many years to come. It’ll also set a different course for me and include this event on an annual basis. As Memorial Day ‘08 gets closer, do yourself a favor and try to find a local activity that gives a little more of the true meaning to the day. You’ll thank yourself later.
Take care and ride safe. And by the way, Paladin, good job. Thank all of your brothers for me and Semper Fi!