Saturday, November 14, 2009

Thank you, sirs, for your service to our nation

The antigay Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., routinely disrupts military funerals, holding bright-colored signs that read "God Hates Fags" and "God Hates America."

The presence of the Patriot Guard, however, seems to deter such intrusions. At the funeral of Merced, Calif., Army Pfc. Lukas Hopper last Saturday, the Patriot Guard Riders were there at the Hopper family's request — and the protesters were nowhere to be seen.

In solemn silence, the slightly grisly veterans stood in rigid formation bearing American and Army flags. They joined the 45-minute procession from Merced to Catheys Valley Cemetery.

Their flags, their bikes and most of all their daunting presence was the first thing a passerby may have noticed. By mourners, they were probably hardly noticed at all.

Born out of protests that threatened to disrupt the 2005 funeral of 19-year-old Carrie French, and later that summer, the funeral of Edward Myers, both killed in Iraq, the Patriot Guard Riders banded together to ensure that fallen heroes are honored with respect and dignity.

Since its formation, the Patriot Guard Riders has grown into a national organization with a membership of more than 170,000, including members in Merced and Mariposa counties.

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