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The Last Ride

Posted in Legion Riders

Here is a tribute I wrote some years ago to those men and women who ride in support of a fallen hero. Thank you for what you do in supporting our fallen heroes for the families need to know that a nation grieves with them.

It’s 4 a.m. on a cold winter morning. The frost still glistening on the landscape and your breath is clearly visible. A little hot tea and maybe a quick bite before heading out. It’s cold so it takes an extra minute or two to add some protection from the elements. The garage door is opening now and you’re just beginning to feel the nip in the air and now you wonder why… Why am I getting out of the bed on such a cold morning? Why am I leaving a warm house to brave this weather? Is it that important for me to be there?

I couple weeks ago a young service member was waking up to an average day somewhere in harms way. He was getting dressed for physical training and thought that this day would be like the rest, average. Physical training is over, showered and dressed for work this young man heads out for a bite to eat and the days briefing. Briefed and ready to go the team heads out not knowing what this day will bring. Later that afternoon this young person is riding along a previously secured route when suddenly an explosion.

I week ago the parents of this young person were waking to an average suburban day. The sun was rising and the little ones were headed down for a bite to eat and off to school. Mom in the kitchen taking care of the morning’s breakfasts and Dad getting ready for another day of work. It’s an average day with the exception that this family has a young one in harms way. They know not what is about to befall them, they know not who is about to come calling but they fear the worst everyday.

I’m awaken by the sound of the phone, its 3 a.m. I answer to find my Commanding Officer on the other end informing me to come to work. I shower and dress rapidly skipping a bite to eat because I fear the worst. Riding into work my mind is going a thousand miles an hour wondering who I may have to inform the worst has happened. This isn’t the 1st time I’ve had to make this ride and I fear it won’t be the last. I arrive at my office to find my Commanding Officer and 2 other members of my command standing by in their dress “A” uniform. Briefed and ready we head out. My mind again wanders a bit as I read the information about this young person. Riding to the home my hand begins to shake (noticed by the others) and the closer we get to the home the worse it gets. We’ve arrived and it appears the family is home, my heart begins to race.

Things are going well inside the house. Everything moving like clockwork. The little ones have left for school and Dad is about to leave when suddenly, the knock on the door. Looking through the window Mom knows the news is not good and begins to cry and scream uncontrollably. Dad opens the door with tears in his eyes. I ask to come into the home and am granted permission. Mom and Dad are sitting on the couch now both crying uncontrollably as I inform them of their worst nightmare.

We’re riding back to the office now and I’m desperately trying to hold back the tears. This ride is somber and quite as we reflect on what just happened to this family, the friends and the service member’s comrades. This wasn’t my child nor was he my sibling or friend. I never knew this person yet this ride is difficult at best.

I’m leaving the house now the bike topped off with fuel and I’m heading down the road. My mind wanders a bit and wonders how this family is doing. As I ride by the exit for Bushnell my hand begins to shake and tears well up in my eyes. Returning to a national cemetery is not in the cards for me at this time and I’m not sure I could ever again. I can see others like me in the distance. A big burly man stands at the entrance to the church. Its overcast now and there’s a chance of rain yet so many people have come to pay their respects to this fallen hero. The big man reaches out his hand and says “Thanks for coming my friend” and I reply “It’s been a long time Jack, but it is sure good to see you”. He directs me where to go and after parking we stand in this cold overcast morning and talk for awhile.

The rain has started, it’s a light sprinkle but no one is wavering. The flag line is set and we await the family, friends and the fallen hero. Guest have been arriving for the past few minutes. The honor guard is here preparing for the last goodbye. Family and friends of the fallen have made there way down the flag line in the rain to say thanks to the members for coming out and standing for this young one. “It is we who thank you”, “it’s an honor to be here” and silence with tears rolling are what is heard and seen all down the flag line.

The limo has arrived and it’s time to leave. Mom is slow to move but is helped along by Dad. The little ones are still unsure of what has happened but understand that their brother will not be there for their next birthday. The deputies pull away with their lights flashing and it is a somber and quite ride to the church. The family arrives at the church and cannot believe their eyes to see so many have come to pay their respects to the fallen hero. Tears begin to flow again and as they leave the limo Mom and Dad say “thanks to you all”. There’s not a dry eye on the line.

At the funeral home our hero is received by the chariot that will carry him/her to the last resting place. The honor guard has secured him in the chariot and has set out for the church. The chariot sets out on its mission to deliver this hero to the family and friends. The ride is relatively slow because of the weather but the chariot arrives at the church to the sight of a couple dozen people standing in the rain saluting our hero. The honor guard receives our hero and takes him to the alter for last rights and reflections.

I’m standing off on my own. The memories of knocking on those doors are taking their toll. The memories of burring so many veterans, retirees and young men and women are taking their toll. The feeling of helplessness is taking its toll. From the flag line comes a nice lady. She walks to me not saying a word just stands there with me. We watch as the family files out of the church. We watch as the honor guard brings our hero to his chariot. Neither of us saying a word. As the flag line breaks up for their long ride to the cemetery she turns to me and says “Better now”.

The services are over now. Arrangements have been made to allow 4 riders with flags to ride on all 4 corners of the chariot. It’s raining now and the wind has kicked in just a bit. The ride is slow and surprisingly a number of people have come out to the route to pay their respects. The procession arrives at the cemetery where the honor guard is there and awaiting the hero’s arrival. The rain has let up a bit and everyone has gathered around the family for the last rights and the last farewell. Taps is played and the rifle fire has subsided.

I’m on my way home now reflecting on the days events and trying to hold back the tears. It’s a bit warmer with a light rain. I’m reflecting on the price that has been, is being and will be paid for freedom. I’m thanking those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom; it’s a tough ride home. I’m finding the time to answering the questions I previously posed; why, because the family needs to know that this nation grieves with them. Why, because never again will our service men and women come home to an ungrateful nation. Why, to pay our last respects to the fallen hero and the sacrifice he/she has made to ensure I’m free to make this last ride.

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