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thedrifter
03-11-07, 09:28 AM
Patriot Guard, Museum
welcome home heroes

By Toni Walthall
Editor

The two polished Marines were surprised Thursday morning by the unexpected explosion of applause as they exited the Little Rock International Airport terminal with baggage in hand.

Lance Cpl. Jacob Turner, formerly of Jacksonville, and his friend Lance Cpl. Joseph Wooden of Orange County, Calif. were warmly greeted and thanked by the Patriot Guard Riders, whose mission is to “stand for others who stood for us.”

Started in Kansas in August 2005 by American Legion Riders Chapter 136, the Patriot Guard’s genesis was a result of protests at military funerals by “misguided religious zealots.”

The original riders obtained permission from family and local law enforcement to show support and serve as a shield between the disrespectful interruptions and the grieving family members.

Since 2005, the Patriot Guard has grown to 83,042
nationwide. That number reflects nearly 40,000 new members since May 2006. The Patriot Guard has rallied to support and respect fallen
heroes around the state, but on this day their mission was a happier one.
This was fourth time in four months that the Patriot Guard has provided escort for returning soldiers.

“We would do this for all of our soldiers, but we have to be asked by a family member. Our presence is by request only,” said Tim Mistric, central Arkansas ride captain.

“This is the first request whether walking or in a box that we’ve had for Jacksonville,” said Janie Mistric. “We’re riding with respect for our soldiers, not for glory.”

The Patriot Guard Riders formed a double line, taking turns to thank the young Marines.

“This is not the reception I expected,” Wooden said. “I know who the Patriot Guard are, but it’s an outstanding sight to see. This is a site I
didn’t think I’d see until my funeral day.”

The Patriot Guard led the family caravan from the airport to Jacksonville where Jacksonville police officers escorted the convoy to the museum, where they were greeted by a grateful crowd at the Jacksonville Museum of Military History.

In a short ceremony, Turner and Wooden were presented flags by Howard Hart of the Woodmen of the World. Joan Zumwalt, president of the museum board, expressed gratitude for the Patriot Guard and the service men, announcing that a brick bearing the name of each of the Marines would be placed in the memorial walk at the museum.

Turner said he was completely taken by surprise and was impressed with the turn out.

“I expected about 10 people, family. I’m very pleased, surprised. There were cops at every stoplight getting us through. You just don’t see that [support] every day,” said Turner.

Even coming from a place where Marines are abundant, Wooden said he has never seen anything like the Jacksonville welcome.

“It’s my first time to come to Arkansas to visit. This is a visit I’ll always remember,” he said, when invited to speak to the crowd.

The first Patriot Guard Rider to arrive at the airport, Nate Polk, a master sergeant for the 463rd Airlift Group at the Little Rock Air Force Base, said he recently returned from deployment to Iraq.

“This is what my unit does – get guys out of the country when coming home. We escort [those killed in action] or injured out of Iraq. This is much better and it is another way to keep serving,” Polk said.

Barb Mellinger of West Virginia came to Arkansas in November for a special welcome home event in Russellville for Vietnam veterans. Her brothers, David and Bill Shaver, served in Vietnam.

Asked why she participates in Patriot Guard events, she said, “I do it out of support for veterans of all wars, who didn’t get the respect they deserved for protecting our freedoms,” said Mellinger. “Without them, we wouldn’t have our freedom.”

Dana Gaines, state coordinator for the Patriot Guard program Missing In America, became involved with Patriot Guard after attending the November event. She rides in honor of her father, Gerald Gaines, a Vietnam veteran and Patriot Guard ride captain for Arkansas.

“I signed up within two hours of getting home and I ride whenever I can,” she said. “It’s the least we can do for what they do for us.”

Tina Weaver’s son, a Marine, was greeted with a similar welcome in December when he returned to McRae. Several of the Patriot Guard riders have children serving overseas.

According to the Patriot Guard Riders in attendance Thursday, the group gathered at the Jacksonville Museum of Military History was the first to publicly thank the Patriot Guard.

“There are a lot of Patriot Guard Riders from Jacksonville,” Janie Mistric said. “The reception for these boys here was awesome - from the police to the museum. It’s nice to have this happen [without] funerals.”

Transportation officials at the Little Rock National Airport welcomed the Patriot Guard, greeting them by name.

“This is not a bother to us at all. Our responsibility is for the security of the passengers going on the planes,” said one official, who asked not to be named. “We just like to come out and watch. It’s a cool thing to do and we’re glad they do it.”

An Arkansas State Police officer who provides security for the governor, stopped to shake hands with a few in the group.

Rod Dunn expressed regret that he couldn’t join the group on this ride due to his work schedule. He announced that he is an active member of the Patriot Guard Riders.

As the website states, the Patriot Guard Riders is a diverse amalgamation of riders with one thing in common besides motorcycles – an unwavering respect for those who risk their very lives for America’s freedom and security.

Membership is open to anyone, whether a “hawk” or a “dove.” Patriot Guard Riders do not have to own a motorcycle or be a veteran.

“It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what your income is. You don’t even have to ride. The only prerequisite to be Patriot Guard Rider is Respect.”

Janie Mistric serves as “tail gunner” for escorts, driving the last car in the convoy as protection for the motorcycles. Mistric is one example to prove that people don’t have to be bikers to show support.

“It’s really an awesome feeling and sight to see,” said Janie Mistric.

President Ronald Reagan said, “Some people live an entire lifetime and wonder if they have ever made a difference in the world, but the Marines don’t have that problem.”

Neither do Patriot Guard Riders.

Ellie