Patriot Guard Riders in this area use those words over and over when describing why they are involved with the national organization that has attracted 56,000 members in its first year.
When Army Pfc. Tony Seig, 19, Sunman, was killed Sept. 9 in Baghdad, Iraq, his mother, Linda, wanted him to be remembered as a patriot.
Patriot Guard Riders gave her a way to do that.
Upon hearing the tragic news, member Tim Kieffer approached Rob Seig, Linda’s nephew, offering to assist with the funeral.
Rob contacted the grieving mother, who had already heard about a similar group’s reputation. A casualty assistance officer advised her, “You'll want their assistance. They're a good group to have around.”
Local Patriot Guard Riders invited the Seigs to a recent gathering in Batesville. When she arrived, Linda Seig demonstrated how much their actions before her son’s Sept. 17 funeral meant to the family.
One by one, she hugged Kieffer, Doug Graham, Tim Macyauski, Brian Greiwe, Ron Decker and Bob Narwold, Batesville; former neighbor Randy Zimmer, Lawrenceburg; and John Klimczewski, Dillsboro.
“Tim (Kieffer) and Doug did an awesome job getting things together” so PGR could accompany the soldier’s body from the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport to the Sunman American Legion Hall, according to Decker.
Rob Seig was comforted when he arrived at the airport. “It was kind of neat to see those familiar faces (of the Patriot Guard Riders) ... to see all the support that everybody was willing to give.”
About a dozen cyclists, organized by Kieffer, brought up the end of the procession. “It was an honor” to be a part of that motorcade, Macyauski recalls. “Sept. 9 meant something to me. That was my birthday. That whole day (of the funeral) standing around talking to everybody, you don't think of anything else. It was all relative to Tony. You see cars pulled off along the interstate, flags draped over bridges. I teared up several times .... It was the most impressive thing I've ever been associated with.”
Decker confesses, “I don't think I've ever cried that much.”
“It's probably one of the most awesome things I've ever done,” Narwold says.
Linda Seig told Macyauski, “‘Please come see me, but not on the 18th (which would have been her son’s 20th birthday).’” The rider remembers, “I broke down. I've got a son, 23, and two daughters, 21 and 14. I could feel her pain.”
Zimmer asked fellow members, “Do you remember on 275 that whole family saluting?” Greiwe reports, “It was amazing – complete strangers stopping and getting out of their cars on a major interstate.”
The mother explains, “If they were in uniform, they would salute. If they weren't, they put their hands over their hearts. It was the most touching thing I've ever witnessed.”
Another 90 riders from the Tristate area met Graham at Cross County Plaza, then rode to the hall, where they stood on both sides of the drive, holding American flags as the fleet of Army jeeps, police cars, hearse and family vehicles arrived.
“It's indescribable to pass through something like that,” says Linda Seig,
Graham observes, “When you go for a fallen member, everyone says, ‘We hope we don't ever have to do this again.’”
One of the reasons PGR was founded was to stop outbursts at funerals. According to her, “It's just abhorrent to think there are human beings out there who feel they have the right to protest at a funeral. It's just absolutely inappropriate. These guys step up and put an end to that ... just with their presence. They're warm, wonderful, loving people as well.” Kieffer reports they have never observed any protests on their missions.
The men still check in on Seig. Graham and Kieffer rode over to her Sunman home about a week after the funeral, started a fire in the outdoor pit and sat and talked for about an hour.
Flags that had adorned motorcycles were presented to her. “I've got them in a glass case,” Seig says. “They gave me a plaque from the Patriot Guard Riders. It was beautiful.”
The area group became active after Graham read about PGR on its Web site and invited about five other Batesville men to the spring funeral of Marine Justin Sims in Taylor Mill, Ky.
Then Kieffer, Graham and Decker joined about 100 at a state service on Memorial Day at Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis. “It was very emotional,” Decker recalls. “You're there to support the troops. I never was in the service ... you get such a feeling of pride ... It's really bittersweet.”
The organization is “not just about funerals," according to Kieffer. Members have been to three other more uplifting events.
According to Kieffer, last summer “I got a last minute e-mail” that an injured soldier was getting discharged that day and would arrive at his parents’ Cincinnati home. He, Decker and Greiwe revved up their cycles and took off to join firefighters, local well-wishers and 50 riders. “He got out and talked to every person.”
They accompanied four busloads of troops the 40 miles from Camp Atterbury to the Indianapolis airport to give them an overseas sendoff. “They were excited to see you,” Kieffer tells. “It was like school just let out” with servicemembers whipping out cameras and cellphones. “They had absolutely nobody to say goodbye, then we showed up,” says Decker.
An area contingent went to a Support Our Troops Rally organized by Mothers of Marines at the Indiana War Memorial Oct. 8. About 150 PGR members held flags and lined the steps and two balconies for the two-hour Indianapolis program.
While Patriot Guard Riders was founded by mostly veterans, locally just Graham is one. Participating in the movement “gives people a venue to go and say thank you” to military servicemembers, he notes.
The loose-knit state organization is headed by an Indianapolis captain and Peru assistant ride captain. Riders communicate by e-mails and Web site forums and may meet up at sporadic gatherings, such as a Christmas party.
“We want everybody to join,” according to Graham. There are no dues and “you don't have to have a bike.”
Linda Seig points out, “It's about respecting the people who do for us.” The area group is hoping to expand its scope. Graham vows riders will show up at funerals for World War II, Korea and Vietnam war veterans if requested by families. Kieffer says they have talked about honoring fallen firefighters and law enforcement officers as well. Graham adds, “Our highest priority is for our soldiers right now.”
According to Klimczewski, “If you've got the chance to go, you go.”