My brother died. He was a member of the Patriot Guard Riders of NY (PGR). I did not know what his membership and this group meant, until he passed. I became a recipient of and a witness to the mission of the Patriot Guard Riders of NY. I salute them here as a representation of Earth’s Angels who do the work of compassion for an often insufficiently acknowledged group. This group would be that of US Veterans of all military services that either through voluntary enlistment or conscription protected the interests of the USA. We are the beneficiaries of their patriotism.
To this brotherhood of US Military Veterans my brother Mitch had devoted a decade of his life as an active member, serving as Dispatcher to schedule missions and working out the logistics. The Patriot Guard Riders respond to requests of family and friends to honor deceased military men and women at the time of their funerals and burials. Mitch also researched war time experiences of the deceased and provided biographies of Veterans to recognize their honorable service. He actively joined in the processions riding his motorcycle. He often volunteered to ride in the rear of the procession, offering to take a challenging and often dangerous position. On the flag line he stood at attention, favoring the black and white POW / MIA flag at his side, unfurled and blowing in the wind.
Mitch was among male and female members, standing in the flag line of red, white, and blue in frigid or sweltering weather to honor the deceased and to comfort their families and friends in their loss.The presence of the PGR at the funeral and burial of a Veteran represents a celebration of service to the USA and its citizens. My grief was significantly transformed in the flood of color in the experience of reciprocity. That would be “back at ya” — when we experience poignantly what is given back which the deceased giver gave. Or, perhaps we could view it as a result of “Karma”, when the seeds that are planted by one’s behavior are eventually harvested in consequences, recognition, and appreciation.
Those who appeared that frigid Sunday in January 2017 had the look of baby boomers; but I could see a range in ages of those standing at attention in the flag line who could have been Millennials or even members of the Generation X. The majority were Viet Nam Veterans. They resembled siblings of a large family with graying hair, bearded or stubbled faces, robust physiques slightly revealing the changes of aging, wearing leather jackets or camouflage. Still looking like former military, they constituted a very large family.
As PGRs their mission on that day was to provide support to the grieving family and friends of one of their own. Upon arriving at the funeral chapel it was impressive to see American flags everywhere. More structured was the flag line, bordering the walkway into the Chapel. The PGR saluted the family and friends, offering their arms to escort them into the Chapel. As their numbers increased, the PGR filled the vestibule of the Chapel and formed a channel. Many took seats in the Chapel during the service. On this day one of the PGR eulogized my brother by reading the poem “The Dash” by Linda Ellis from her best selling book Live Your Dash: Make Every Moment Matter. This poem encourages people to consider the DASH between the date of birth and death that is on every tombstone. This DASH can also represent the life that we have lived thus far. The poem invites contemplation of how we wish to live the remainder.
In addition to being counted at funerals the PGR have other missions including honoring first responders of any contemporary crisis and assisting with direct service and/or monetary aid to service persons, veterans and their families suffering any form of distress. PGR are also advocates for MIA’s and POW’s and work on their behalf. They also participate in Angel missions by receiving the arriving remains of service persons returning home and accompanying their remains by procession to the chapel.
When my brother was dying, I knew the Patriot Guard Riders would be represented at his funeral. I knew the PGR would give back with their presence what he already had given to his deceased peers. However, I did not know in what numbers they would appear. They were far more than 25 and it seemed more than 50 or 100. We were immersed in their support and spirit. They led the automobile procession and protected it from interruption in route to the cemetery by locating their cars decorated with American Flags at intersections to stop oncoming traffic. The PGR alerted the Sheriff’s office to take over when the procession was approaching the cemetery.
And at the cemetery the PGRs were already at attention with flags unfurled, as they lined the narrow streets awaiting the three massive motorcycles decorated with American flags that escorted the hearse to the gravesite.
Two other groups took their places to expand the numbers of the PGRs. The Navy sent the well known Bugler whom my brother admired, a male and a female sailor, and a Commander — erect in stature and precise in their deportment. After the draping of the casket and before the folding the American Flag, the Bugler played Taps to perfection.
Then in the sky a red, white, and blue airplane and the a red, white, and blue helicopter flew overhead. These aircraft commemorated my brother Mitch’s mission in Viet Nam. The 2 aircraft were provided by a fellow member of the PGR.
The ceremonial folding of the American flag that had draped the coffin proceeded. The carefully folded American flag was presented to the Naval Commander as a perfect equilateral triangle. With grace and dignity he presented it to my sister – in – law with her 9 year old grandson tucked into her. Both received the flag. It was an intimate moment — reception of this symbol of this honorable Veteran for this grandson and for his grandmother. For those of us standing as witnesses we experienced how one could take loss beyond death and into the sphere of service and honor. This added to the meaning of a life, as it was celebrated in death.
Finally, their appeared yet another group — my brother’s son’s group of motorcycle riders — my nephew’s “brothers” — young Millennials and members of Generation X which also included at least one Baby Boomer. They came to honor the father of their fellow rider. Yes, here was another brotherhood of those faithful and committed to one another. These young, virile, muscular men lined up behind one another, each one taking turns to man the shovels surrounding the grave to finish the burial of the casket, after the family shoveled its share of the dirt, as is the tradition.
This action coalesced with the Rabbi’s reminder of the “Mitzvah”. He explained this is a responsibility or obligation to “do the right thing.” Although there were people of many different faiths present, the Mitzvah was for all who were able — irrespective of religion, color, or creed — to honor the deceased, support the family, and shovel as much of the soil as one could in order to complete the burial. The tradition was simply to do what the deceased could not do for himself any longer.
I have a recurrent memory of my brother that suits the day well. Whenever I said or offered something kind to Mitch, he would say, “Back at ya !” That is what occurred on the day of his funeral, when what he gave came back to him. This, it seems to me, would be a fulfillment of the Golden Rule. It makes for humanity among men and women. Following the example of the members of the Patriot Guard Riders of NY — it is a fine guide for life — to do for others what you would have them give “back at ya ! ”
Photography by Carlos Varon, Member and Photographer of the Patriot Guard Riders of New York
42 thoughts on “My Salute to the Members of the Patriot Guard Riders of New York”
Excellent article. Having spent several Thanksgivings with Mitch and I too knowing little about his association with The Patriot Guard Riders of NY, I was taken back to having known this man without knowing an important part of who he was. Rest in peace, Mitch. You will be missed.
Scott, Your realization about learning more about Mitch encourages us to remember “we can’t judge a book by its cover!” Thanks for the good advice. Ellyn
A remarkable article. On the day of my Uncle’s funeral, I experienced the meaning of my Uncle’s membership and his dedication to the Patriot Guard Riders of NY. This article is written with amazing photographs by Carlos Varon. Each photograph captures meaningful moments which tell the story, and the reader learns from the writing something incredibly new and important that my Uncle was deeply connected with in his life.
Stephanie, you underscore how the photographs of Carlos Varon which mirrored the events of the day gave vitality to the written word. These photos are his gift to each family — and we are grateful recipients of the photos and energy contained in the PGR mission. Ellyn
What a touching and informative article. Your brother was a very special person. I’m glad I had the opportunity to know him even for the brief time I did. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you Krista. We learned what Mitch valued — making sure the PG Riders would fulfill their mission by arriving in the correct location on time — if he detailed the logistics accurately. He thought nothing of going sleepless, often working the logistics of more than one mission at a time, in order to fulfill his commitment to the missions. He was special in his generosity of spirit and energy. Ellyn
On behalf of the PGR and for the members who attended this mission, THANK-YOU.
We stand and remember those who can no longer stand for us.
Thanks for sharing.
PGR Road Captain/Photographer
Thank you, Carlos, for lifting the camera to make lasting, affirming visual images of those PGRs standing to honor the deceased veteran. The photos contain a spirit that is precious and priceless. Ellyn
Thank-you for this – you have written a profound account of the details of love and honor and commitment, from which results, even though I did not know your brother, my benefit from his passing. My condolences and love to you and your family and all those who participated in this meaningful service to your brother.
Judy, Being available to derive a benefit from another’s experience is a moment we can say, “I lucked out!” We who were present “lucked out” in the midst of the colors, aircraft, PGRs, etc. You touch me by your being able, though absent, to benefit from their actions as captured in the photos. This is yet another well deserved affirmation of the PGRS. Thank you. Ellyn
I am a member of Patriot Guard, but never had the opportunity to meet your brother, but did hear so many wonderful things about him. I joined Patriot Guard for many of the reasons you wrote about, the biggest being the ability to give back to those who served our country! Our motto “Standing for Those Who Stood For Us” which I also believed includes their families who also bore the sacrifice of the service member. I was not able to attend your brother’s services because of work, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to. May he Rest In Peace and may you feel the compassion from the many whose lives he touched!
A very personal and moving article. I learned a lot, and I was extremely touched by what I learned.
I imagine, Tom, you were touched, because you could be. Similarly, whatever you touch — like a piano, for example — the results are amazing. Ellyn
Justine, from those Mitch touched it feels like we have received an infinite supply of compassion. This is a very valuable legacy. You wishes feel as if actualized. Ellyn
Beautiful tribute to a Hero, brother, and organization, one I’m proud to be a part of…..Your brother is forever in our Hearts NEVER FORGOTTEN…. Smoke and Prayers are going up for you and your family….
Annette, affiliation, kinship, and association yield big time benefits to those linked together. Mitch’s position in your hearts knits you and us together — spiritually. It is an indissoluble place. Thanks. Ellyn
Elaine, so glad your reading of the days events and seeing Carlos Varon’s photographs gave you a view of the day’s events and the purpose of this Salute to the PGRs. Ellyn
From PGRNY Region 1: I have two poems I’d like to share with you. The first is called “The Patriot Guard Riders”; it is about what we do and can be thought of as our mission statement.
Second is, “UNBROKEN”; it is about that special bond that all service members share.
What a very special tribute. Thanks you for your kind words, and I am very sorry for your loss.
Thank you, Mark, for the links to the 2 poems, which I appreciate having continuing access to. My words flow easily from gratitude for the gift of the mission of the PGR of NY on January 15, 2017 at Mitch’s funeral and burial. Ellyn
Well stated Dr. Altman. The honor extended by the Patriot Guard Riders is massive considering that the numbers seen at missions are compounded exponentially across the nation by the spirit of all of us combined. We are all there in spirit to honor our fallen.
Our profound condolences on your loss. Job well done by our brothers and sisters of New York.
Ohio Patriot Guard
District 5 Ride Captain
If I may say, Blaise, as Mitch might have said, “Back at ya !” The mathematics of compounding exponentially the many spirits contained (across the nation) in each one person with flag pole at side standing adjacent to another on the flag line or directing traffic is huge ! Well said. Thank you. Ellyn
This is a very nice article. My sincere condolences to Mitch’s family and loved ones. May your loving memories of him bring you comfort and peace. As a PRG member myself, I always feel honored to be able to pay respect to our military men and woman. I honestly find it difficult not to get emotional at funeral services for our brave heroes. May the Divine Providence bless Mitch’s soul and grant him eternal rest.
Dale, from the start of encountering the actions of the PGRNY on the morning of Mitch’s funeral through the burial of the casket the experience was filled with varying emotions. The emotions were of awe and also tenderness for the kindness, sensitivity, and sensitivity offered. Not easy but reassuring and affirming. Thank you for kindness. Ellyn
It was a few days before the funeral that I lost a POW flag on the Wantagh Parkway…Smidi always carried the POW flag at PGR missions.. I think that he took my flag with him…now he can fly that flag as high as he can…RIP Shipmate
Stu, your telling of the event of your lost POW flag, like the POW/MIA which Mitch chose to carry at missions, speaks to the loss of a friend, fellow PGR member and a life as the flag symbolizes. Your comments touch me in the spirit you convey and the commitment made by Mitch to those servicemen who were lost. Thank you. Ellyn
Beautifully wrote. I being a PGR member from NE Oklahoma appreciate your writing and remembering your hero. I have been a PGR member since 2008 and it doesn’t get any easier to do, but its such an honor to ride and stand holding our flags. MAY GOD BLESS YOUR BROTHER AND HIS FAMILY. RIP SIR YOUR JOB HERE ON EARTH IS DONE AND JOB WELL DONE MY BROTHER.
ALWAYS RIDING WITH RESPECT
David, you comments address the choice of adopting membership in a “brotherhood” that is not determined by blood. Mitch was fortunate to be related to you from NE Oklahoma and fellow PGR members from NY in addition to the family into which he was born. I feel happy he could, as the members in your “brotherhood”, could make that choice. I also want to say I was happy to meet women on the flag line who were very proud of their membership in PGRNY. Ellyn
My dad is a member of the patriot guard riders and takes great pride in his fellowship. I am very proud of him and his fellow members. God bless all in what you do.
Diane, Your Dad is a fortunate man to have your pride and blessing in his commitment to membership in the Patriot Guard Riders. How fortunate for his fellowship you also bless them too. Ellyn
I used to be a motorcycle rider myself when we lived in Florida. I think your brother and I could have been pals. Your writeup presented him in the same warm light in which he was described at the funeral home by friends and relatives, and by fellow riders of the Patriot Guard — a good group of well-meaning and well-doing buddies. Thanks for sharing.
Bob, if you and Mitch had known each other in Florida where he was stationed for a while in Pensacola, you definitely could have been pals. Then I might have known you sooner from yet another vantage point — equally refreshing. Thank you for sharing, too. Ellyn
Ellyn, what a beautiful tribute to your brother and the Patriot Guard. And…what a beautiful and therapeutic gift that the members of the Patriot Guard gave to you and all of Mitch’s family. I saw firsthand how they helped you through your bereavement by celebrating Mitch’s life and all of his qualities that you cherished most.
Thank you, Randi, for your comment. I have been learning that my family and I are among many beneficiaries of the Patriot Guard Mission. I have also been learning that some of those who benefit seem to be figuring out ways of “paying it forward” in their own manner which has circled around and come to me, as well. Ellyn
I read your wonderful tribute that you wrote to the PGR and share your admiration and gratitude. They visited my husband at the hospice facility on the Sunday before he passed away and then honored him at his memorial service. There are no words to ever express my appreciation for this incredible group of people. Jeff Brown is the founder of PGR and lives in our area. What a blessing to meet this man and see what one man can do. I hope every PGR who reads this will know what their sacrifice means and be assured that they are touching lives with every mission. Thank you Ellyn and my condolences for the loss of you brother, Mitch.
Hi Sue, You, your family, I, my family, and the many other fortunate recipients of the generosity of the PGR across our country can now know with your comment that the many benefits received began with a man of vision — Jeff Brown. Thank you for this information. Thank you also for including me as a recipient of an Eagle Print, the water color painted by your late husband Gil, which you continue to distribute to people from various background that you believe will appreciate them. It occurs to me you are paying forward the kindness you have received. Ellyn
Thank you for your reply and I love the part about paying forward the kindness I have received. I can assure you that am receiving so many blessings in return from dear people like you! Sending you many good wishes!!
Can I share your blog on LinkedIn? It’s very important!
Yes you may share it if you think it is important to you.
All the best,
Ellyn Altman, Ph.D.
Very good written information. It will be helpful to everyone who employess it, including yours truly :). Keep doing what you are doing – can’r wait to read more posts.
Thank you. Hope what you found helpful will serve you well.
All the best,
Hello, I came across your blog and I like this post particularly. You give some interesting arguments. Where can I find out more?
I suggest you google Patriot Guard of NY for additional information about their activities.
Ellyn Altman, Ph.D.