Niagara Gazette

June 6, 2014

EVENT: Local VFW post to honor Patriot Guard Riders.

Michele DeLuca
michele.deluca@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette —

Although their intent is always to honor others, the local Patriot Guard Riders are being honored themselves today. 

The local VFW Post 917 will be giving plaques to a contingent of Patriot Guard Riders, members of an organization of volunteers that stand guard at events honoring American soldiers.

"We're going to honor the Patriot Guard Riders and thank them for their contribution," said Les Carpenter, bar steward, at VFW 917. "We are the first VFW ever to do this."

The post, located at 2435 Seneca Ave. off Hyde Park Boulevard, will offer live music by the CRS Band and provide food for the riders. Activities begin at 1 p.m. today and include a presentation. There will also be food available for sale to the public, including hot dogs, hamburgers and corn on the cob. The live music starts at 3 p.m. 

About 40 Patriot Guard members are expected to attend today, according to a representative of the group, which has about 400 members in the New York region from Jamestown to Rochester. Members will also be present at a veteran's ceremony in Hamburg today and stand in formation again tonight at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport when elderly veterans return from an Honor Flight trip to see the WWII Veteran's Memorial in Washington.

A representative for the riders, many of whom ride motorcyles in formation to the events, say the VFW's tribute is unusual for the group, whose motto is, "Standing for those who stood For Us."

"Our motive is to honor our veterans. It's not about us," noted Bill Brainard, senior ride captain in the region.

"Usually we don't do this," added Kirby Johnson, a ride captain from Niagara Falls. "We are kind of a humble bunch."

There are about 400 Patriot Guard riders in the Western New York Region, Johnson said, part of a national organization now 200,000 strong. 

The riders formed in 2005 to shelter and protect family members during the funeral of an American soldier due to harrassment by members or the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas who claimed that the war deaths were divine retribution for American tolerance of homosexuality.

Since then, around the country, the riders gather whenever there is a funeral or ceremony to honor American soldiers.  

The riders also take seriously the notion of "no man left behind," and work to locate the unclaimed remains of American soldiers left at funeral homes, to give them a proper burial.

"We do a veteran recovery program, going to the funeral homes and recovering the remains of fallen shoulders left behind," he said. "We gather them up and take them up to Bath, New York for a proper ceremony."   

During the ride to a military cemetery in Bath, the riders are often greeted in small town and villages by residents and school children, waving American flags as they pass by. "It really makes you proud to be an American," he said.

Johnson said that some may not know that members of the riders don't have to have to be a veteran or ride a motorcycle. "All we ask is that you stand with us and hold a flag."

Niagara Falls resident Wayne Bridgeman joined the riders seven years ago when he heard about the funeral of a local soldier.

Bridgeman, a Vietnam veteran, said he went to pay his respects to the soldier and saw the Patriot Guard standing in a flag line outside. Altough he does not own a motorcycle, he asked them if he could join them, "and I've been standing ever since."

He carries 12 American flags and PVC pipe in the trunk of his car so he can display the the flags outside funeral parlors when services are held for U.S. soldiers. "I couldn't do that if I had a bike," he said. "I'm just as happy with my four wheels."

There will be a table set up at the VFW post today to provide information about joining the Patriot Guard Riders. For more information, visit online at www.pgrny.org.