SOUTHERN UTAH – They have been present at many veterans’ funerals, they have escorted the Vietnam Wall from Mesquite, Nev. to St. George last year, they have led the Veterans Parade in St. George and have stood in ceremony at groundbreakings for the Sun River Veterans’ Memorial Park and the Ivins Veterans Home. When the Triple Deuce is sent off out of Cedar City and St. George, they are there, when the troops return home, they stand in reception to welcome them.
You may have seen them and your perception may be that they are a motorcycle gang of old vets, and that they are – some of them – but they are many and more than that, teenage to late 70’s, men and women, motorcycle riders and car drivers and pedestrians.
They are the Patriot Guard Riders of Southern Utah, a band of about 140 people, and they take their volunteer service seriously.
The Patriot Guard national organization was formed in 2005 in response to protests taking place by the Westborough Baptist Church at funeral services for military persons killed in action. The Patriot Guard forms a barrier between the protesters and the families at funerals so the protesters can’t disrupt the service.
“The first one was back in Topeka, Kansas. The (WBC) was protesting gays in the military – they didn’t think it was right for gays to be in the military so to protest it they oddly showed up at veterans’ funerals,” said Dave Riggs, Ride Captain for the PGR of Southern Utah. “They chose KIA servicemen because they knew it would be a good way to get them (the WBC) publicity,” he said, “so we refer to them as WBC or uninvited guests or protesters.”
Riggs said that the uninvited protesters are still active but now they target high profile things. “They had announced plans to attend the Josh Powell boys’ funeral,” said Riggs and said they have appeared in northern Utah, Salt Lake City and the Wasatch area, but none in Southern Utah.
Nevertheless, as touched on above, the Patriot Guard is active locally and its members are diverse.
“It’s actually anybody,” said Riggs. “Generally it is veterans, generally it is motorcyclists – men or women motorcyclists – we have some members who have a background in police or fire, some that are just patriotic; we have one member that is 14 years old at Snow Canyon High School. (We are) open to anyone who is willing to attend a veteran’s funeral, hold a flag, and just stand in honor.”
Evidently, many are willing and 14-year-old Emily Lopez is among them. She has participated in Patriot Guard ceremonies for a year in May. She also inspired her dad, Cesar Lopez, and her mom from time to time, to join in.
Emily said she found out about the Patriot Guard through her choir teacher, Laura Graf, at Snow Canyon Middle School.
“She’s a really patriotic person,” Emily said of her teacher. After being selected for a speaking part in a musical Pledge of Allegiance presentation, Emily’s interest in patriotism grew. When Graf introduced the Patriot Guard to the class, Emily said she thought, “I’ve got to get involved.’”
Emily then emailed the ride captain for the Patriot Guard and her involvement began.
“I met the different members, Dave (Riggs) included; there was Dale (Moore) – Moe – just a bunch of different people, I meet different people every time I go, we’re just like one giant family, … I dragged my dad into the group, to one of our first meetings – it was Dave that told him he didn’t have to have a motorcycle, just be a citizen willing to give thanks and give back to the men and women who have served our country,” Emily said, and added “then I got my mom to attend from time to time.”
Not all Patriot Guard members are motorcycle riders. The Lopez family does not have a motorcycle “yet.” About that, Emily said:
“We’re working on it, we drive our car, they call it a cage. Being on a motorcycle you’re free, you feel like you’re on top of the world, you feel like a bird, you feel like you can fly! In a car, you feel closed in, you can’t feel the air, the wind in your face, you’re restricted. On a motorcycle you feel free – so they call (the car) a cage – that’s one of the reasons the boys ride their motorcycles around.”
The Lopezes basically cart around all the flags and things like that, Emily said.
“I grab the flag and stand in the line with everybody else; when we do missions that aren’t for funerals, like the 20th coming up Tuesday _ we’re having a banquet at the Democratic Party – … I’ll just sort of be sitting there, and they’ll introduce me as the youngest member..”
While Emily is the youngest regular participant, (she said there are a couple toddlers that sometimes come with their moms), she does have a message for her peers:
“You know, I do notice that patriotism has sort of lost the flavor it used to have towards young people. I’d encourage them to get out there and get involved in their community whether it’s patriotic or not. It really needs to become more important to more people because it’s our future. We can’t run a country if there’s not people who love their country.”
It’s not just funerals that these guardsmen of Southern Utah help and honor. Besides those already mentioned, Moore who is the Media Manager for the regional chapter is also in charge of the Guard’s Help on the Home Front program.
“We participated in the disabled bicyclists that were riding from California to Virginia – it was called the Sea to Shining Sea – amounted to 20 to 25 disabled vets many who were amputees demonstrating that handicapped can still be productive,” he said.
“Help On The Home Front … deals with introducing our group and explaining what it is we do for veterans,” Riggs said. “Last November, we gave a presentation at the Dixie Newcomers luncheon in St. George. In January, we gave a talk at the meeting of the Disabled American Veterans. We’ve been ‘on tour’ for the past year, visiting convalescent homes, rehab centers and assisted care facilities to introduce ourselves.”
Moore told of the most awesome mission he has served:
“We were asked by two young men whose father was 61 years old to come to Mexican Hat in Southeastern Utah – there were nine of them riding motorcycles from Georgia to Mexican Hat to spread ashes – they asked for the Patriot Guard to provide the flag ceremony and 6 of us went and we provided the flag ceremony – remarkable young men, two young men spreading their ashes.”
The Southern Utah Chapter also networks with other chapters of the national association.
“We’ve also had an elderly veteran that passed away in California – only living relative was in Clive Idaho – we relayed the flag off of his casket from California, it was relayed through Nevada to us, we relayed it to … all the way to Clive Iowa to his sister.”
The stories of these proud patriots are endless and new ones arise all the time. Between the times these members were interviewed and this article goes to publication, they provided honor guard at two funerals for local veterans.
To engage the Patriot Guard at an event
Riggs said that they must have a formal invitation from a family member before they can appear or attend a funeral.
Moore said that people may ask for the Patriot Guard’s services at whatever kind of need or event arises by contacting any one of its members, or preferably contacting their ride captain (contact information given below).
To become involved with the Patriot Guard
Anyone is welcome to become involved with the Patriot Guard. In this article you’ve met Riggs and Moore and Emily. But there are many more of all ages and genders, riders and non-riders, and it is not uncommon for other local motorcycle groups to join with the PGR here. It is all volunteer participation, Moore emphasized:
“We publish through our website, we never know who or how many will show up. We have had members of our group in Southern Utah go up to Salt Lake City, Vernal, Duchesne, and participate – we bounce around the state . . . and that kind of thing.
Volunteers may also contact Riggs (contact information below) to get on the notification list.
Upcoming for the Patriot Guard
The PGR will address the Democrats of Southern Utah dinner meeting on March 20 at the Abbey Inn on Bluff Street. “While this group has a very political bias and is partisan in nature,” Riggs said “the PGR is not! Our presentation will focus on the diversity within our ranks and the fact that we can all come together to honor the passing of a veteran or a soldier killed in action. Our purpose in conducting these presentations is to let people know that they can call on the Patriot Guard in time of need.”
Contact the PGR of Southern Utah:
Ride Captain David Riggs
Email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Telephone 435-628-2841 and 801-615-1946
Copyright 2012 St. George News.