By Jake Hughes
Motorcyclists from the group Patriot Guard Riders were on hand at Arlington National Cemetery August 9 to pay respect to Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Xavier A. Martin, one of seven sailors killed June 17 when their ship, USS Fitzgerald, collided with a civilian cargo vessel off Japan. As Martin was laid to rest in the hallowed grounds, 20 of the volunteer bikers stood by their bikes — an honor guard on the road leading to Martin’s gravesite.
“These guys all feel the need to make sure that we honor our vets,” said ride captain Michael Buck, “and that’s why we’re here.”
The Patriot Guard Riders are a non-profit organization dedicated to honoring fallen military heroes, first responders and honorably discharged veterans. The group began in 2005 when members of American Legion Post 136 in Kansas heard that a small group of religious activists were protesting the funerals of some fallen service members. Rallying members of several motorcycle clubs in the area, when protestors showed up at another funeral, so did the Patriot Riders — holding U.S. flags to block the protestors’ view, and revving their engines to drown out the protestors’ shouts.
What started as a one-off mission quickly grew into a nationwide group. The Patriot Riders boast membership in every U. S. state, and the groups service now extends beyond providing honors at funerals. They also take part in ceremonies welcoming home deployed service members and do volunteer work for a variety of veteran organizations.
When the family of a fallen veteran or service member requests their presence, the group spreads word to its riders statewide. Sometimes they form a simple line to pay respect to the fallen. On other occasions, they escort the deceased to the cemetery.
Some of the riders are military vets themselves, but not all. The group says it welcomes participation by anyone “with a deep respect for those who serve our country,” even if they don’t own a bike. And many who take part are not These days, you don’t have to ride an iron horse or be a veteran yourself to join the Patriot Guard.
Buck never served in the military, but says it’s a duty he can’t ignore.
“In Vietnam, a lot of the guys got crapped on coming home. I was too young to understand it back then, but now I realize how important it is that we take care of these heroes.”
More about the Patriot Guard Riders can be found here.
The video below shows Patriot Guard Riders helping pay respect to Xavier Martin: