YUMA, Ariz. --
A unique scene of patriotism unfolded on the flight line of Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., as part of the opening ceremony for the 52nd Annual Yuma Airshow, March 15.
A motorcycle contingent of Patriot Guard Riders, a non-profit veterans support organization, filed out in full force before a crowd of local families, active duty service members, honored veterans and international aviation enthusiasts. Their arrival was unmistakable, as their roaring engines resonated across the flight line, following the performance of the 3rd Marine Air Wing Band, based out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.
“The PGR is not about the members. We generally don’t want to be singled out – It’s all about the veterans we’re honoring,” said Mark Hanley, who retired as a major from the Air Force in 2009. “It’s an honor to come out and show respect for the flags, the veterans, for the local Marines here, and to show the community that there are folks who care about active-duty service members.”
That sentiment is readily shared by all Patriot Guard Riders. Priority one, echoed by all members, is getting the word out and educating the public on their presence in support of fallen heroes.
“We support first responders, law enforcement, firefighters, but primarily veterans,” added Hanley, who is also the ride captain for the Patriot Guard Riders Yuma chapter.
Originally, the PGR was formed by a group of American Legion Riders out of Kansas in response to protest groups who harassed military families at funerals. The organization does not recognize itself as a motorcycle club, nor does it require admission fees or dues from its members. It operates strictly as an open invitation to anyone, motorcycle enthusiast or not, willing to support America’s veterans.
The engines roared and revved their way to the flightline pavilion set up for the opening performances. Heads turned and greeted the riders with cheers and a round of applause as they broke into two files in a v-formation around the band.
Patriot Guard Riders rode in with American flags affixed to the back of their Harley’s and cruisers. Once positioned, each rider dismounted and took their post in front of their bikes, creating a flag line that spanned their size of their convoy.
“You will find that, after you retire, you become much more patriotic,” said Hanley.
Although there were plenty of gusty winds to be mindful of, nothing could shake the stoic riders from holding the flags high and strong.
“It is a grassroots organization, not a club, of folks who believe in what the military is and what the country stands for,” said Lew Anderson, a retired helicopter law enforcement officer who also served in the Air Force from 1966 to 1970. “Male and female, riders and participants range in age from early twenties to seventies and even eighties; all with the same opinion that we’re there to support the veterans in a unique and honorable way.”
Once the national anthem had come to a close, the flags were recovered and the Patriot Guard Riders circled around and rode out to their designated area where they answered questions and addressed any inquiries airshow goers had.
No prior service experience is required to join the Patriot Guard Riders. It is an all-inclusive, federally recognized, non-profit organization which prides itself, not on name recognition, but on the honorable service it provides to our nation’s brothers and sisters-in-arms.
“The community here is welcome to call us about anything,” said Daniel Jordan, a retired firefighter and a native of Astoria, Ore. “Departures and homecoming arrivals, funerals – we’re here to lend support to veterans and their families in any way we can.”
The importance of remembrance and honoring the troops, past and present, is a reality held true in the hearts and minds of Yuma. Through support organizations like the Patriot Guard Riders, we are all reminded of the sacrifices made by the few on behalf of the many.