'To honor those who have served'

On March 18, The American Legion Riders from Post 136 in Saint James City, Fla., were scheduled to go on their weekly ride to visit other posts. But that plan changed when Patriot Guard Riders based out of Legion Post 110 in Port Charlotte contacted ALR 136’s members.

A homeless U.S. Army veteran, Murray "Slim" Norton Gilcrest, was going to be buried at Sarasota National Cemetery that day, and a military escort was needed for Gilcrest’s final passage from the funeral home to the cemetery.

“When the information came to (us), we said, ‘We have to do this funeral service,’” said Terry Roberts, Post 136’s third vice commander and a Legion Rider. “We just had to be there for our veterans. It’s very important for us to do something like this. Our veterans have to know we are there to support them, because that’s what keeps our American flag flying."

Post 136’s Riders faced heavy fog – “You could hardly see the bike ahead of you,” Roberts said – on the morning of the funeral, but that didn’t stop them from making the 150-mile round-trip ride. They joined other Legion Riders chapters along the way and at the funeral home to provide a military escort for Gilcrest to the cemetery and then stayed for the funeral service. Nearly 50 motorcycles took part in the escort.

“Our post is just so proud of our Riders,” Post 136 Commander Tom Lewis said. “They’ve built ramps for people around here. If someone is in need, they just respond.”

Lewis also wrote a letter to the editor that appeared in the Pine Island Eagle. In it, he wrote “For the Pine Island American Legion Riders Chapter 136, this was 150-mile round trip. When asked why do we do this? The answer is very simple, 'We ride to honor those who have served.'"

Roberts said it was the first such escort Chapter 136’s Riders have provided since he joined the chapter five years ago. He’d been on multiple ones while a Rider in the Department of Michigan for 10 years prior to transferring his membership to Post 136.

“They are so excited at this post to do more,” Roberts said. “I’m going to contact the Patriot Guard Riders … so that when they are having (veterans’ funerals) we can attend them. I think we’ve started something new at our post that will stick. This brings chills to all of us.”