Memorial Day is a day for us to honor the fallen men and women who have given their lives for what they believe in. This is a story of what I witnessed as true American spirit.

I am honored to call myself a member of the Patriot Guard. It is a privilege to stand shoulder to shoulder with people from all walks of life, all backgrounds, with one thing in common: the capacity to care deeply about others.

I joined over five years ago after attending the military funeral of a relative of a member of the American Legion post I belong to. I was so touched by what I saw, that I searched out who they were and joined immediately. Little did I know it would lead me down a path to an instance that would truly become a lasting memory to me.

I have been on a number of “missions”, but this one in particular helped change some of the cynicism I had for the way returning veterans were viewed by the general public.

It was a number of years ago, about a week before Thanksgiving. My son had shared with me that one of his childhood friends had tragically lost his life. This young man was on active duty, had done two tours in Iraq. My son knew a little about my involvement in the Patriot Guard, and I took the opportunity to tell him more about it, and to have him ask this young man’s family if they would consider the involvement of the Patriot Guard upon the return of his remains. They agreed.

Now typically, involvement of the Patriot Guard would mean a procession of motorcycles and cars, escorting the family and soldier for the duration of the funeral, through to his/her final resting place. This situation was somewhat different. First, there had been a number of soldiers from our area killed in action in the same time frame, and resources were strained, meaning that there weren’t people available at the time the soldier was returning home. Second, I knew the family personally. Because of that, I offered to be their escort to the airport and back, they accepted. I had also offered to make arrangements with our local police department to have a motorcycle escort meet up with us at the city limits, and escort us back to their home (they had his remains cremated). They accepted.

What transpired after all this brings tears to my eyes still. I drove them to the airport in my vehicle, where we were met at the terminal by their CAO (casualty assistance officer, assigned by the military to the family to see to it that whatever needs they may have are taken care of, in whatever time frame they may need it in), and airport police, who parked their motorcycles around our cars while they sat, waiting for our return.

We were escorted by airport police through the terminal, and to an American Airlines club lounge, where we were given a private sitting room while we waited for the flight to come in. An officer also waited outside the room, ready to escort us at the correct time. There was awkward silence mixed with nervous chatter while we waited. When the plane was landing, we were taken to the gate. It must have been quite a sight. Two airport police officers in front of us, leading the way, two military escorts behind, and us in the middle, with me carrying a large American flag.

Upon arrival at the gate, the family sat while we waited. Looking around, I observed the people waiting for this plane to take them on to their own destination. As they observed us, many smiled, probably expecting that this was a joyous return of a soldier home, many were in conversations on their cell phones. The door to the gateway opened, and the CAO was escorted to the plane by an airline representative. At that point, the family stood, anxiously waiting for the return of their precious son.

In a few moments, the CAO walked out first, followed by the military escort that traveled home with the remains. He was carrying a ceremonial box containing the soldiers remains, made out of wood, with a large Army logo on the front, and a plaque with their son’s name on it. He approached the family, saluted them, and spoke briefly with them. What happened next absolutely blew me away. Everyone in the gate area stopped what they were doing, stood up, stopped mid conversation and put their cell phones down. They realized what this was all about. Some cried. They remained standing and silent until we left the gate area. We were provided a golf cart to take us back to the entry point where our car was. As we were driven through the terminal, men and women in uniform stopped what they were doing, stood at attention and saluted. Other travelers stopped and put their hands over their hearts, others stopped and bowed their heads.

We got back in our car. The military escorts, with the soldiers remains, were in a car behind us (the escort was duty bound to escort him home). The airport police provided us escort until we reached the outside of the airport. We then drove a short distance, until we came upon the city limits of where we live. Seemingly out of nowhere, a police car came in front of us, and four motorcycle police surrounded us, providing us escort and “protection” through traffic, to their home.

It was an emotional day, one in which my spirits were buoyed by the reactions of those around us. I was proud, not only of being a Patriot Guard member, but of being an American.

God bless our troops, may He provide peace to all those families who have given the ultimate sacrifice in the loss of a loved one, and may God bless America.

If you would like to learn more about the Patriot Guard, perhaps get involved yourself, click on the words “Patriot Guard” highlighted earlier in this story – it’s a link to their website. You don’t have to be a veteran, you don’t have to have a motorcycle, all is required is the desire to show your respect.

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