"These fallen heroes represent the character of a nation
who has a long history of patriotism and honor -
and a nation who has fought many battles
to keep our country free from threats of terror."

-- Michael N. Castle

Monday, July 16, 2007

Saying Goodbye in Brookfield...

Saturday morning was beautiful. A little cool, sunny, with a slight breeze. I left my house at eight a.m. to make sure I was there early. It was a great day for a motorcycle ride, but this wasn't an ordinary ride.

I was going to help bid farewell to a Hero.

Jason Dale Lewis' funeral was Saturday morning in the town I grew up in. It was the first ride I was able to make with the PGR since joining, due to my work schedule. This one I had decided to be there for, no matter what.

When I arrived, the parking lot was already busy. Among those there, there were police, Navy pall bearers, and a pair that made my throat catch - a Marine with a riderless horse.

I was directed to where the Patriot Guard Riders were gathering, with a "thank you for coming."

When I arrived, an hour before the scheduled meeting time, there were already a few Riders there. I got help to rig my flag to the back of my motorcycle (duct tape and zip ties work wonders), and watched as the parking lot began to fill.

The final count was more than seventy motorcycles.

The bikes to my left - two rows deep.

The bikes to my right, also two rows deep.

As we waited there, people began to wander over, one or two at a time, to look at the motorcycles, and to talk to us. Some were Jason's family. His aunt stopped by, stopping to thank us for being there. I was stunned by that, and by several other thank yous we got that day. To be thanked by a Fallen Hero's family was humbling. After what Jason and his family had given, riding down didn't really seem like something worthy of thanks. It seemed to be so miniscule, and yet here they were, telling us how much it meant to have us there. Simply unbelievable.

The PGR takes their missions very seriously. Before heading over to form the flag line, we were briefed on what was going to take place, and on the conduct expected of us during the day.

As we got closer to the service, we were ordered to form a flag line outside the church. Several people came out to speak with us, including one governmental figure who shook hands with the entire flag line, thanking us for coming. I have to say, I thought that was pretty classy.

Some saw all the flags and cried, telling us how beautiful they looked. A man in a wheelchair saluted as he went by - I was told it was Jason's grandfather.

And then the Navy pallbearers stopped by to say thank you. It was another jaw-dropper for me.

Standing there, watching people file in, amid a line comprised largely of veterans, I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of what I was doing. I watched the Navy pallbearers as they moved around the parking lot, and in and out of the church. They met the hearse when it pulled up.

When the service had started, we broke down the flag line, and headed to our motorcycles to prepare for the ride to the cemetary. The general route was one I'd travelled countless times when I lived in Brookfield and the next town over. But I'd never travelled it like this.

We rode out two abreast, under a flag draped from two fire trucks - the New Milford and Brookfield fire departments had come to pay their respects. There is video of the flag, and of the PGR, here and here.

People stood with flags here and there along the route. The local and state police did an excellent job with the escort, closing our route and allowing us to get to the New Milford cemetary without incident.

In the cemetary, people had come to stand along the route, too, holding flags and standing quietly along the drive. We waited until the procession entered the cemetary, and then formed a flag line around the service.

I'd never seen full military honors before, other than as portrayed on T.V. A number of Navy personnel were in attendance in addition to the pallbearers, and the lone Marine with the riderless horse was there, too. It is a somber, moving thing to see them. The professionalism and care with which they performed their duties is simply stunning. They moved Jason's flag-draped coffin gently into place as the service started.

There was the twenty-one gun salute, and the profoundly moving sound of Taps being played. Then the folding of the flag, and the presentation of that flag to Jason's wife. Tears flowed along the flag line, and among those in attendance.

A couple of times, as the minister spoke, the light wind would catch the flags and have them waving. One of those was just at the moment that he said the service was concluded.

And then came the moment when Jason's wife stopped at the flag line, and embraced one of the PGR members.

We were dismissed shortly after that, and I began the ride home still stunned by it all.

It's hard for me to explain the magnitude of the day. When a loved one is lost, the grief can be overwhelming. When a Hero is lost, it's not just one family that grieves. It's a community, a state, a nation.

The reality of the cost of war was never so tangible, so real, as that sunny Saturday when I stood among my fellow Patriot Guard Riders, to hopefully shoulder a little of the grief that Petty Officer Jason Dale Lewis' family was feeling.

The men and women who go to war know that they can become one of the fallen, carried in a flag-draped coffin as their family grieves. They know that they could lose their lives in a land far away

And still they go. For their families, for their friends, for strangers.

It was an honor to be able to help say farewell to one of them, and an experience that I will never forget. Though I wish I did not have to be called to do so again, I will be proud to stand with my fellow Patriot Guard Riders should the need arise.

Rest in Peace and Godspeed, Petty Officer Lewis, and thank you.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: Thank you to Soldiers' Angels Richard and Adele for coming to the service.

Labels: , ,

Friday, July 13, 2007

In Honor of SGT Michael Stokely

I have had the honor of meeting Mr. Robert Stokely, the father of a Fallen Hero. He is an amazing man, who has worked tirelessly to honor his son's sacrifice.



SGT Michael James Stokely
US Army E Troop 108th Cavalry 48th BCT
GEORGIA ARMY National Guard
KIA 8/16/05 – Yusufiyah, Iraq

Saturday, August 25th, 2007

Law Enforcement Escorted Ride
(Cars and Motorcycles Welcome!)

Starting at First Baptist Church of Peachtree City (208 Willow Bend Road/behind City Hall)


Ending at Jackson-Pless National Guard Armory on Armory Road by Newnan High School/Newnan, GA

Family fun, games, entertainment, BBQ, door prizes, auction and

Grand Prize Raffle – a Motorcycle!

Pre-registration urged but can register onsite beginning at 8:00 a.m. We will Roll-off at 10:00 a.m.

This is a ‘sponsor’ ride with a goal of a minimum of $25 per bike/car

For each $250 in sponsorship donations – Free raffle ticket for the Grand Prize

Additional Tickets for the Motorcycle Raffle - $50


One free meal ticket with each $25.00 sponsorship donation

Don’t want to ride? Come to the BBQ – plates available for $10.00 each

Children under 12 / hot dog plate - $5.00 each

Make checks payable to “The Mike Stokely Foundation”

Proceeds will help establish a scholarship in Mike’s name at his college

Georgia Military College in Milledgeville, GA - $25,000 challenge goal

For more information contact: Robert Stokely at rrmwastokely-AT-aol.com

WEBSITE: http://www.mikestokely.com/

100 Fountainhead Way, Sharpsburg, GA 30277


The Mike Stokely Foundation, Inc. is registered and in good standing with the Georgia Secretary of State as a non-profit corporation and is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501 (3)(c) charitable organization.


Monday, July 09, 2007

When War Hits Close to Home...

Brookfield, CT is a not-so-small, not-so-big town near Danbury, in Fairfield county. When I grew up there, Hoffman's chicken farm was the biggest building on my end of Route 7, and it took you about ten minutes to get from the house I grew up in to the only movie theater in town - right next to John's Best Pizza. Hoffman's chicken farm is long gone, replaced with self storage centers and industrial buildings.

The farm where I first took horseback riding lessons is now the site of the town hall. The field we used to walk through in my neighborhood to get to the local fishing and swimming pond now is filled with a new housing development.

When I grew up there, Brookfield was a lot smaller - or seemed it. It was a place where you pretty much knew everyone in your grade in school; where people still left their doors unlocked at night, and no one locked their cars in their driveways. Brookfield is the place where I learned to ride a bike - where I got my first kiss - where I learned to drive a car - where I got my first job.

It was a nice place to grow up. It's still a pretty nice town, even if it now takes you almost a half an hour to make the trip to that movie theater, thanks to a wealth of new strip malls and stop lights.

Jason Dale Lewis grew up there.

Brookfield is still listed as his hometown:

No. 840-07July 07, 2007

DoD Identifies Navy Casualties

The Department of Defense announced today the death of three sailors who were
supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. They died July 6 as a result of enemy action
while conducting combat operations in the vicinity of Baghdad, Iraq. The three
sailors were assigned to an East Coast-based SEAL team.

Killed were:
Petty Officer First Class Jason Dale Lewis, 30, of Brookfield, Conn.,

Petty Officer First Class Robert Richard McRill, 42, of Lake Placid, Fla.,

Petty Officer First Class Steven Phillip Daugherty, 28, of Barstow, Calif.

For further information related to this release, contact Naval Special Warfare Group Two Public Affairs at 757-462-2282.

I didn't know him. But I know his hometown well. I know the places where he and his friends probably hung out after school and on the weekends. I know the halls of the schools where he once walked. I know the roads he probably drove down too fast because of the great curves and "whoop-dee-doos" you got if you went just the right speed.

I know the pond he probably went skating on as a kid.

I asked my sister if she knew him. He was her age. She did.

"I wasn't friends with him but you know how in Brookfield you pretty much know everyone - he was a nice kid. I feel bad for his wife and kids, I was surprised to read that he had 3, they must be young."

This one hits close to home. Each day as I see the names, it affects me. But somehow this one is particularly strong. I remember my mother talking about when someone she went to school with was lost in Vietnam. Even if you're not close to them, seeing a familiar town on a casualty list reminds you that the people fighting this war are not just Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, or Sailors. They're sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers, sisters, friends. They are ours. They are your paperboy, the kid who used to sell lemonade down the street, the little girl who fell off her bike in front of your house. They are your UPS guy, your brother's old girlfriend...or a 'nice kid,' who went to school with your sister.

One of the dangers as a war goes on is that it becomes less real, less personal. No matter what your belief about why we went, a few years into it, less and less people watch the news. Less and less people look up at the TV in the local watering hole when pictures of Soldiers flash across the screen.

Remember the first few names? The way that every single loss seemed incredibly important? And now, you hear the news reports, and it's just "in Iraq today, 4 US Soldiers were killed, bringing the total to..." The four get lost in the total. Just numbers.

But Jason wasn't a number. None of them are. Heroes to me, they're even more than that to those they leave behind. Hell, to them, they'd be heroes if they never went to war. They're Mom, or Dad, or a best friend...or a nice kid from Brookfield, CT.

Jason Dale Lewis died in Iraq on July 6. He leaves behind three kids, a wife, family, and friends. And he reminded me that every single loss hits close to home somewhere.

So tonight, please raise a glass, say a prayer, or pause a moment, for a nice kid from a nice town in Connecticut, who died in service to his country.

UPDATE: I am collecting condolence cards for Jason's family. If you would like to send one, please email me at fallensoldierbike-AT-sbcglobal.net for the address to get them to me.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Two Hundred and Thirty-One Years Ago Today...


The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

— John Hancock

New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York:
William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey:
Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina:
William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton


Thanks to those who still step forward to pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to keep us free.


Images courtesy of:
The Flagpole