8/25/2008 5:17:00 PM About 500 attend local rally for Minnesota Patriot Guard Remembrance ride: “beautiful”
On a gorgeous late summer Saturday, as the sun shone through the cool afternoon air, about 300 members of the Minnesota Patriot Guard rode their motorcycles past 11 soldiers standing along the side of Highway 30 between Chatfield and Stewartville.
The soldiers, strategically located along the road, held placards displaying the pictures and the names of 10 Minnesota-affiliated servicemen and women killed in Iraq or Afghanistan since the Patriot Guard's June 2007 ride.
Councilperson Roger Hanson, a member of the Patriot Guard, was touched by what he saw as he and his fellow riders honored the memory of America's fallen heroes.
"It was the most beautiful ride you've ever seen," Hanson said. "All the way from Chatfield, there were active soldiers holding up the names of those who have fallen. We slowed down and saluted them. I can't tell you how moving that was. I had tears in my eyes."
The 16 miles from Chatfield to Stewartville was the last leg of the Patriot Guard's 134-mile remembrance ride through southeastern Minnesota bluff country. The riders started in Pine Island, continued to Wabasha and finished at a rally at Strikers Corner and the Stewartville American Legion Post 164 on Saturday, Aug. 23 at about 3:30 p.m.
Hanson joined the Minnesota Patriot Guard about two years ago. The group attends funerals for fallen soldiers at the request of the soldiers' families. It displays flags to comfort families and also hosts welcome-home celebrations for servicemen and women.
"There are some honorable people here," Hanson said. "I look to them and I know what they represent, and I don't think you'll find any more honor anywhere in the country."
John Redfield, a ride captain with the Patriot Guard's southwest metro sector, spoke to a gathering of hundreds of Patriot Guard members near Strikers Corner on Saturday evening. He thanked the members who have sent American flags to U.S. troops and displayed a large, encased placard signed by soldiers in Kosovo who thanked the Patriot Guard for sending the flags.
"As a member of the Patriot Guard, I can do what should have been done 30 years ago with the Vietnam veterans," Redfield said. "Maybe I can make up a little bit for what the Vietnam veterans didn't get."
Craig Ugland, the Patriot Guard's southeastern Minnesota ride captain, said the annual rally gives the organization's members an opportunity to gather for fun and fellowship.
"It's our one chance each year to rub elbows, share stories and meet new members -- things we can't do while we're standing in a flag line," he said.
About 300 Patriot Guard members took part in this year's remembrance ride, Ugland said. About 500 people attended the rally.
"It was unbelievable," he said. "It was absolutely a huge success. Nobody was hurt. Three hundred bikes went out and 300 came back. That's all you can ask for."
Bob Burkholder of Rochester has served three tours of duty in Iraq, as a combat military policeman in 2003-04; and as a battalion supply sergeant at Camp Bucca, Iraq's largest prison camp, in 2005-06 and 2007-08.
Burkholder has been especially touched by the Patriot Guard's support because many of the organization's members are Vietnam veterans who were never honored after returning from war years ago.
"The Vietnam vets come out and show us the support they never had," he said. "I had two uncles who were Vietnam vets. It puts you at a loss for words."
Burkholder has been so touched by the Patriot Guard's kindness that he decided to join the group in 2006.
"These people are the greatest," he said. "I'm very proud to be in the Patriot Guard."
Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has attended a number of the Patriot Guard's past rallies, sent a letter praising the group for its support of U.S. servicemen and women.