Saturday, I had the opportunity to go and play with the Patriot Guard Riders (PGR). For those of you who do not know, most of these people are bikers. They are very patriotic, and they accompany fallen soldiers to their final resting places. Sometimes, they are asked to come and be a welcome home party for our soldiers who have been deployed. They do what they call ‘Flag Lines’ and such a ‘line’ was on the agenda on Saturday.
My husband does not ride a bike, but he is very patriotic, and he has been asked from time to time to ride with the PGR and honor the fallen. On the first such invitation, Hubby met at the airport to welcome home the soldier. When he arrived at the staging locale, he was amazed at the sheer number of bikers who were standing there, waiting for the body to be delivered. In fact, at this time, the bikers were so many that the organizers had to move to a bigger space to accommodate them all. My husband, not having a bike, had a pick-up truck. The organizers of the ride asked him to ride at the end of the column of bikes to the burial-place in Livingston, Texas.
As the convoy of bikers rode into East Texas, cars would pull to the side of the road, drivers would exit their vehicles, and stand at attention as the riders ushered their precious cargo to the church. In fact, the streets of Livingston were shut down. The Boy Scouts were lining Main Street, each tiny uniformed male waving his own personal Old Glory. You can imagine the emotion of anyone looking at this procession.
This first ride was the entrée into my husband’s passion to ride with the PGR. For a few years, he just accompanied them when he had a personal invitation. This led to his asking for admittance to this group, sans bike.
Fast forward to this past Saturday: There were 350 or so Marines who were returning home to Ellington Air Force Base from Afghanistan. When we arrived at the staging area, we could see signs touting ‘event parking’, which I thought a little crass. Anyway, we were able to see the staging area populated by a preponderance of very loud hogs. As I mentioned, we do not ride bikes. However, if you could see our truck, you would see that we do not lack in patriotism. My husband has had his very large Dooley truck ‘wrapped’ in all manner of patriotic symbols: The American Flag, The seals from each branch of the military, The PGR triangle; The Firemen’s cross, and of course, the Dallas Cowboy’s star, (they are, after all, AMERICA’S team) As such, we are very easily recognized when we roll up next to the Harleys.
This was my first foray into the PGR adventure. I thought we were going to ‘ride’ with the bikers, honoring the fallen. Somehow it had escaped my attention that we were welcoming home live soldiers. I had dressed for a ride. I was very patriotic in my blouse which was red-white-and-blue, denim jeans, red designer sneakers. What I had not counted on was the windswept airstrip.
To the right of our staging area was the anticipated arrival space of the huge aircraft. To the left of us, were all the friends and family that were gathered to welcome their forces. We were in the middle, waiting on the arrival of the craft. While we were there, we talked, told stories, scanned the horizon for the military plane. We heard from the leaders that the plane had been delayed. We were supposed to be in position for an 11:15 arrival. The plane was delayed, and we were waiting. As I was waiting (not something I do well) I pondered the people we were there to honor.
- They had spent countless hours waiting for their orders
- They had spent countless hours in climates far less hospitable than where we were
- They had endured countless hours in harm’s way.
As I thought about their service to our country, I thought about all the blessings that I take for granted: We continued to wait. At some point, far past the appointed time, we do see the aircraft coming into view. We hear the cheers of the family members as they catch their first glimpse. All of the PGR folks start getting ready for action. We are told to get our flags, and stand ready to move onto the tarmac of the airstrip. I anticipate that we are minutes away from welcoming them home. I think about the family and friends who are yards away from the landing site.
We wait. The plane lands and we can see the brown uniforms. We hear the cheers from the left. I imagine that we are minutes away from happy reunions. The atmosphere has changed. Everything is a flurry of activity. Any moment now, we are going to be asked to assume our positions on the landing strip.
We wait. The crowd to the left is getting restless. The Marines to the right are standing in formation next to the most enormous airplane I have ever seen. We see truck after truck loaded with luggage move from the plane, around our area, and over to the left.
We wait. We see police officers, municipal dignitaries, and other VIPs arrive in our area and proceed to the right. Finally, after many minutes of waiting, we are finally allowed to enter the airstrip. We are told to take our flags and stand in our position. Hubby and I move with the group of PGR riders to our designated spot. I am hopeful that the tension which is palpable in the air, will soon be resolved in happy homecoming huddles.
We wait. We see the Marines standing, just standing beside their winged chariot. We see the sea of hopeful family faces, willing that column of men to move their direction. I think about the family and friends. They are so, so close, but yet…. So far, far away. Who knows how long it has been since they have stood face to face with their warrior? And now, they are on the same piece of land, yet divided by military discipline, waiting for just the right time. What is taking so long? I don’t have a vested interest in seeing these men, but I am anxious, ready to see them reunited with their family. As my husband says: There is time, and then there is military time.
We wait. As we stand there, lining the landing strip, we are buzzed. A bright orange Coast Guard chopper swoops down over the line, right in front of the Marines in sort of salute. I hold on to the hat I have borrowed to keep my tresses tame in the gale force wind that is common to wide open spaces, and I stare into the gears of that craft. He was close… too close. As we continue to wait, we are again buzzed, but this time by dragonflies. I am thankful I wore my sneakers, but I am concerned that as we line the asphalt, there might be ants or other critters wanting to annoy me for standing on their turf.
We wait. As we stand there, craning our necks to see if there is any movement at all down the strip, we do see some cammo-clad individuals making their way down each side of the line. We have Marines who come and shake each hand, and thank us for our time. Seriously???? We are just standing there. We are here to honor THE MEN IN THE UNIFORMS who have done their duty for our nation. We wait. Throughout the next thirty minutes, we stand under a brilliant blue sky, flags waving, in no-man’s between the Marines and their family. During that time, I consider the interminable wait. Not for myself, but for the family members to my left. Here they are… waiting… As I contemplate again the sacrifice that these forces have endured, I am thankful. I am thankful that the cold front has blown through and the weather is perfect. I am thankful that I have two perfectly good legs to stand on, to wait, and wait, and wait some more to honor these gentlemen. (if there were women in the group, I could not tell). As we continue waiting, I hear the rapid-fire rifle-shot pops of each of the near 150 flags that line the blacktop. I imagine that it might be somewhat similar (yet far less dangerous) to what these brave men heard during their tour of duty.
Finally… the tension in the atmosphere shifts. I am drawn away from my reverie by the cheers coming from my left. As I look to my right, I see that the forces are getting into position. I hold my breath, and wait. Something ‘official’ is going on down there, and there is a decisiveness to their movements. It can’t be too long now.
Finally, through the air comes the shouts of triumph. The Marines are on the march, and they are moving in my direction. In the staging area we were given the instruction that when the Marines finally came our way, we were to shout and cheer them as they made their way through the Honor Guard of PGR riders toward their families. We shouted. We cheered. We cried. We are grateful!
Of course, the Marines were stoic, they did not break rank and run. No, of course they wouldn’t; they are the Marines. We had to stand there and watch their determined movements toward the familiar faces there to meet them. My heart agonized for all the Moms, Sisters, Aunts, and Grannies (not to mention the children and others) who were aching to hold their men. And yet, as I studied the faces that passed before me, I saw thankfulness in their eyes. I saw tears. I saw video cameras peeking out of cammo gear to record the reception of the Honor Guard. They pass toward my left, toward their family members. We fall into position behind them. As we reach the family area, we are told to file out, and return to the staging area. We lose our Marines in the hugs and kisses of their reunions.
What a privilege! What an awesome privilege to stand and wait for those who have given so much for our freedom. It was a Saturday that I will not soon forget.
Until next time.