"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: , ,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was a very good friend of Jason's for many years and the news of what happened to him was a shock. It's still a shock, actually. But I can tell you, the magnitude of your presence meant so much to the family. And I'm sure, as I have to believe he was watching over everyone that day, that J himself got a kick out of all those bikes. He was a Harley rider himself and had he made it long enough, I'm sure he would have joined you in a few of your travels. Thank you, for showing the amazing support for him and his family.

Blogger Pam said...

It was an honor to be there. I hope that in some small way, our presence there helped to let them know that they were not alone, and that Jason's loss was one keenly felt far outside of their family. I am a member of Soldiers' Angels as well, and please let me know if there is anything we can do for his family. They have given so much for all of us.


Post a Comment

<< Home