- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2006

The solemn escort, with American flags held high as a hearse passes: The respectful message of the Patriot Guard Riders has resonated around the nation.

The motorcycle group which has vowed to shield military families from protesters during the funerals of fallen troops has surged in the past five weeks, adding more than 15,000 riders.

“We’ve hit upon a raw patriotic nerve in Americans searching for a way to identify with those who are supporting and defending our freedoms,” said Kurt Mayer of Houston, spokesman for the group founded in October by five Kansas military veterans who were outraged that an unscrupulous few would use a funeral to further their political or social agendas.

The riding ranks now include 20,000 members — aged 14 to 84 — from all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam and Germany. Bikes polished and flags ready, they attend a service only by family invitation — sometimes arriving by the dozens, sometimes by the hundreds.

“We try to help the family. Maybe they are in a cemetery or a church, or riding in a limousine. But they will see American flags held by strangers to show their gratitude for that service member,” Mr. Mayer said. “It comes right from our hearts.”

Tomorrow, the guard’s Maine chapter will join veterans to form a “corridor of honor” outside the funeral of Army Sgt. Corey Dan, 22, of Norway, Maine, who was killed in Ramadi, Iraq, on March 13. Bikers and vets will block out the view of an out-of-state protest group, according to police reports.

In the past weeks, guard members have exchanged much information about Sgt. Dan. They know he started boot camp on September 11, 2001; that he leaves behind a four-month-old son; and was killed by a roadside bomb with another soldier, Staff Sgt. Marco Silva, 27, of Alva, Fla.

The Florida chapter will be there for Sgt. Silva’s memorial service tomorrow as well, and the guard will attend funerals for two other fallen soldiers in Michigan and Missouri. Families have appreciated their presence.

“Thank you for honoring our Soldier Girl — PFC Amy Duerksen — with roaring bikes and saluting hands. Thank you for honoring our family with kind words and outstretched arms. Thank you for honoring God with bowed heads and prayers in His name. Thank you for honoring our country with pure hearts, good deeds, and American flags,” said a letter to the guard from the family of Army Pfc. Amy A. Duerksen, 19, of Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, who died in Baghdad earlier this month.

In mid-March, Rep. Jerry Moran, Kansas Republican, introduced legislation to officially commend the Patriot Guard for shielding the families. Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican, also drafted legislation that would ban protests at national cemeteries. A dozen states, including Maryland, are now considering restricting demonstrations at military funerals.

“Patriotism has resurfaced,” said Frank Baranyai of the guard’s Virginia chapter. “You don’t have to ride to be part of our group. You just need respect for our troops.”

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