An eventful year for the Patriot Guard Riders

Guest Column

Each year I write something about the area veterans, the Patriot Guard Riders and happenings through the year.

This year has been particularly eventful for our group, in that we lost one of our own; Cpl James T. (Bill) Roberts, whom we had the distinct honor of escorting as Grand Marshal of the parade last year.

He stood with us to honor many fallen veterans through the years and gave a certain air of distinction to our flag lines, wherever we went.

And yes, when the time came, we honored him as well.

It was a tough day for all of us but groups of PGR and many other groups who had met him through the years came from near and far to say their farewells.

We will miss him.

Our group has also had the honor of participating in escorting home a young woman from Kentucky who perished in a military helicopter crash earlier this year.

The route the family picked was much longer than the shorter one Google Maps offered but into the trip, it was obvious why they had picked that route.

Almost every small Kentucky town they passed through after getting off the Interstate had some sort of tribute for her; huge flags from firetrucks, police cars, businesses emptying to stand and salute as the procession passed; very heartwarming sights.

And not one person complained about the journey taking the entire day.

I need to say a word here about homeless veterans.

First of all, and I’ve said this many times before, these are two words that should NEVER have to be used together.

I don’t know what the solution is but we’ve got to find one, you’all. The circumstances that lead veterans to become homeless and without families are wide and varied, but one fact remains; they served our country and we owe them better than that.

Our group participates in these services from time to time, where we don’t just escort and stand flaglines, but we BECOME the family as well, so there’s SOMEONE there to say Goodbye.

Recently, our group had the honor of standing for seven homeless veterans as they were laid to rest en mass at the East Tennessee Veterans Cemetery on John Sevier Highway.

The Knoxville area funeral home in charge COULD HAVVE loaded the cremains of all seven up in a single hearse and transported them to the cemetery but they didn’t. These heroes went on their final ride in style. EACH OF THE seven were transported in their own hearse to the cemetery and arrived driving through a double flag line to greet them.

This year, we are planning to ride again in the parade, but we are down a man — a good man.

Even though our ranks are smaller by one, we’ll still be there — with our bikes — with our flags — and with our hearts.

Our mission lives on.

Come ride with us; or wave a flag.