Have you ever seen protesters at a military or first responder’s funeral? For normal, God-fearing, patriots, this is unimaginable. But it happens all over the country, all the time. There are groups of people who think the way to combat the calamities in the world is to protest the funerals of those who protect us—everyone, even loons who won’t recognize it.
The video above is taken from an interview I conducted in 2011 with the two members of the north Alabama Patriot Guard Riders who were in charge of Mark’s funeral. Dave and his wife Cheryl are selfless Americans who voluntarily attend funerals all over the state for fallen military and first responders. This is a big job. Not only do they show up to various events, such as viewings, Angel Flights, funerals, memorials, etc, they also have to organize with others to attend. They normally meet with local law enforcement too.
In chapter 5 of My Brother in Arms, I share that when planning Mark’s funeral, we knew the possibility that protesters would show up. Initially we thought, “they wouldn’t be stupid enough to show up to a small town in the south”. The reality is they are stupid enough. They apply for permits and are normally granted them.
Planning the funeral for a loved one is hard enough logistically and emotionally. Throw in potential for loud, crude, insensitive and spineless protesters, it can really complicate the planning and wear on the emotions an extreme amount. The day before the funeral I asked, “how can they do something like this?” The chief of Mark’s squadron said “We fight for their rights too.”
I don’t know everything that went on behind the scenes, but I know the city was prepared for any adversity. The mayor said that legally he had to give them a permit, but he decided where they were allowed to protest. I think their spot was behind the football stadium with nothing but woods between them and the school where the funeral was to take place.
My role in this was simple: I called the PGR and asked them to come. One way they show respect is by only showing up if the family requests them. Once I gave the word, they started mobilizing. They attended Mark’s Angel Flight, viewing, and funeral. There were over 200 bikes in Haleyville to support Mark and our family.
Some of our family members–uncle and cousins–were filled with anger at the thought of protesters. When a particular group posted they would be in Haleyville for Mark’s funeral, word got around the community fast, even in neighboring towns. I vividly remember my uncle Will with tears in his eyes because his anger was kindled sufficiently. He said he wouldn’t allow it to happen. He and other family members were prepared to get physical. I can’t blame them for feeling that way. We appreciated the support, but never expected anyone to do anything like that (although it would be warranted if it did happen). We just expect humans to honor and respect our fallen heroes, not make a mockery.
I encourage you to look up videos of the PGR to see them in action. Watch them silent protesters, not by violence, but by the roar of their bikes. Watch them protect the families from even seeing them by acting as barriers between the hostile group and the family, while holding beautiful American flags.
And for the record, no unwelcomed zealots showed up. After all, maybe they used some common sense and realized making an appearance in Haleyville, AL isn’t a smart idea.
We are forever grateful to the PGR and many volunteers who joined them temporarily, for being present for three days plus. One family friend, Steve, was gathered with the PGR before the funeral and when I saw him I said “Steve, I didn’t know you were part of the Patriot Guard”. He said, “I just joined.” He was one of the many bikers leading Mark’s body from the funeral home to the school for the funeral.
“Standing for those who stood for us”. This is the PGR’s motto.
Here is a short video of the PGR in action just before Mark’s funeral: