Saturday, October 07, 2006
One Journalist Who 'Gets It'Patriot Guard Riders honor fallen soldiers
Turning out for funerals across the country, mourners support families
Written by Mike Taibbi
NEW YORK - At the funeral of Marine Nick Whyte of Brooklyn, his family was in agony.
More than 40 other mourners shared their grief, and provided a motorcycle escort for the funeral procession. Mourners like veteran Bill Connelly, who didn't know Nick Whyte in life, but who asked the family's permission to be here.
"I didn't know the soldier, but I'm a Marine, and it's my brother who dies there today," says Connelly.
They are the Patriot Guard Riders — perhaps 40,000 nationwide — organized originally to shield grieving families from a fringe church group that was picketing soldiers' funerals to promote the group's extremist views.
But now, they simply support those soldiers and the loved ones they leave behind.
They're mostly blue-collar, and mostly veterans, some Vietnam war vets who in this sympathetic role have found a way to finally talk about their own unpopular war.
"To bring it out and pour out a lot of emotion that's been deep inside for a very long time," Connelly says.
Other riders like George Meyer aren't veterans but are parents of soldiers, and say the funerals connect them to the gallantry and fearfulness of their own children's' service.
"It's so important to try and understand as best you can what they're experiencing," Meyer says. "They can't always tell you."
Carlos Gonzalez joined because after his son was killed in Iraq, instead of a funeral with a handful of mourners, there was a hero's goodbye.
"It was an honor that they were there, paying their respects to my son," Gonzalez said.
That's the simple theme.
"I know you guys understand the sacrifice," says Nick Whyte's father, Andre, to the Patriots. "I tried to thank you as I was passing the flags you were holding up. I hope you saw me."
In this war, when only the friends and family of those who serve have to care about it, the family is bigger because these volunteer mourners make it so.