The purchase of a motorcycle led a Mountain Home couple to the Patriot Guard Riders.
After learning of the group, which forms a line of flags to escort the hearse or other vehicle transporting a casket of, typically, a veteran, Larry Nelson, who addressed the Booneville Rotary Club along with his wife Brenda, also a PGR member, last Thursday, looked the organization up online.
“Our main mission is to attend the funeral services of our country’s heroes, fallen military, first responder and honorably discharged veterans, and to show our respect for them and their service,” said Larry Nelson. “We (also) shield the family from unwanted interruptions.”
Interruptions have not been an issue for any of the missions on which Larry and Brenda Nelson have participated. On one mission the riders were told the Westboro Baptist Church would be protesting a funeral in Gentry, but the group did not show, Larry Nelson said.
“Since Larry was in Vietnam, we knew this was something that we really want to do,” said Brenda Nelson. “We signed up immediately.”
Now the Nelsons ride with groups of riders from Central Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri on what are called missions.
Larry Nelson said the missions arise only through the request of the family of the deceased.
“We don’t care what you ride, or if you ride, or what your political views are. If you’re a hawk or a dove, it’s not a requirement to be a veteran. The only prerequisite is respect,” said Larry Nelson.
The Nelsons took their first mission in 2012. It was for an 89-year old World War II Marine veteran in Gainsville, Mo.
To date the Nelsons have been on 24 missions, some of which they detailed for Rotarians.
In one, a father led a ride for his 22-year old son and the last skipper of the USS Razorback Capt. Truett Talbart, Jr.
“The ceremony was a burial at sea with full military honors,” said Larry Nelson. “In the Navy the ship’s captain is referred to by the name of the vessel he commands in this case Razorback. When the ship’s captain boards or departs the ship, sailors standing guard make an announcement to the crew and they ring the bell.
“This boat’s bell was rung when Captain Talbert’s ashes were placed in the Arkansas River by his surviving and it was announced ‘Razorback departs.’”
Others include a corporal killed in North Korea 65 years before he was returned to his family.
“In an unbelievable mission we joined with members from Missouri and Oklahoma to help escort the remains of U.S. Army Cpl. Elvin Irvin,” said Brenda Nelson. “He had been killed in North Korea in 1950. Now Brig. Gen. Edwin Simmons had served with the man we were burying in Korea and had actually seen him die in the freezing weather of December in the famous battle of Chosin Reservoir.
“Years later Gen. Simmons wrote a book called the Frozen Chosin and with information from that book U.S. officials were able to finally recover Cpl. Irvin’s remains and return him to his five living siblings. We stood his flag line in Miami, Okla., and then we rode him to the cemetery in Seneca, Mo. His sister told us at the cemetery that she had been waiting 65 years to lay flowers on his grave at Memorial Day.”
Still others include a 95-year old Pearl Harbor survivor and one of the first Seabees, Wendell Alltag to a family cemetery in Rosebud and a portion of a relay ride from California to Georgia.
“Staff Sgt. Johnathan Turner, a 17-year Marine Corps veteran had served seven deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and he had died in California,” said Larry Nelson. “The mission read ‘Staff Sgt. Turner’s family is not local to California, so his Marine family made all the arrangements for his service.
“Staff Sgt. Turner’s blood family will not be present for the service. The funeral home is instructed to send his urn to his family in Georgia. We do not want this hero to be shipped back in a FedEx box.”
The result was a relay the Oklahoma PGR met the Northwest Arkansas PGR unit to take the urn through a “solemn transfer.” It then met the Central Arkansas unit for another solemn transfer, which then took the urn to meet another unit in Memphis, Larry Nelson said.
“After several days across nine states by hundreds of volunteer riders, covering 2150 miles, this went down as the longest PGR mission on record and became known as the Pony Express Ride.”
The group is a 501(c)3 organization but charges no membership fees or mission requirements to remain active. All expenses incurred are on respective members.
“Some of you may have seen the movie called American Sniper about Chris Kyle. If you stayed for the final part of the movie, at the credits, they showed the real-life movie of the Patriot Guard riding escort for him from his services in Dallas at Cowboy Stadium and taking him 200 miles through pouring rain to where he was laid to rest,” said Brenda Nelson.