For The Families
For the Families of the Lakewood Four
It was a long, bitterly cold day. Our mournful spirits were tempered by our warm reminisces, as most of us had met before. New faces had traveled from as far away as Indiana to join our mission: about fifteen indicated this was their first time as members of the Patriot Guard Riders.
As I had prepared for today, various family members had politely asked where I was going to be, if there was a chance the flag lines we were standing would be caught by the media.
I had joked with them: “Sure, I’ll be the one in black leather, holding a flag.
That was yesterday; today jokes were few and far between.
The day had encompassed the widest diversity of emotional experiences.
Now, we were all bordering on exhaustion and eager to get warmed up, thawed out, and on towards the places we call home.
I thought back to the morning’s procession:
A stoic, respectful flag line that I had been proud to be included in.
Seven layers of clothing topped by leathers, with chemical hand and foot warmers had been barely enough to keep the frigid teen temperatures at bay, as I stood beside my brother and sister patriots.
We stood proud for the three brothers and sister we had lost.
While standing at attention, watching the cold air I had just previously expelled; I steadied myself as the hearses and family cars came into my peripheral view.
Keeping my head forward, to my right I noticed that each car was being met by officers and walked in up to the Tacoma Dome.
Officer Tina Griswold’s hearse came to a stop for what seemed like an eternity directly in front of me.
My heavily gloved hands held tight to the metal flag pole assuring myself that I was holding the flag at the proper height, quick to busy my mind with anything else but the memory that was eating it’s way through my brain.
I wasn’t her friend. I was simply one member of the public she enthusiastically had served.
The final time my eyes had met her’s was just this past September 11th.
September 11, 2009. I was a member of an escort to accompany a group of Strykers as they deployed….again.
When the bike that I was riding as a passenger gently took a left turn to follow our small procession, she was standing in front of her squad car blocking traffic for us. Our eyes met, I smiled and gave her a big “thumbs up”….
She had returned my smile and waved. That memory I treasure.
November 29, 2009 was the day the four of them lost their lives: assassinated, in a coffee shop while beginning their day.
While standing at attention out of respect for all four of our fallen heroes; tears silently flowed down my cheeks.
My chin quivering the slightest bit; it was the hardest I have ever cried without moving a muscle. The tears I wanted to evaporate, instead froze as they fell onto my leathers for all to see.
The day had included moments of comic relief.
Friends shared good time stories of riding and families, mishaps, as well as tales from the ride to “get coffee” only two days prior:
The ride to get coffee was actually an unofficial (not PGR) ride for the fallen four.
We had each donned the electrical gear necessary to ride our various makes of motorcycles in the 9 degree December weather. I rode a 2002 Harley Low Rider, my electric vest and gloves, plugged in to the battery ponytail that stuck out from under the seat from Olympia.
Less than 20 bikes made that journey.
Our ride stopped at the Lakewood Police Department to drop off the donations we had collected from each other that morning.
Even though the donations we were giving, were more than the box could have held; a rookie officer, not understanding the deep relationship between the Washington State PGR and Lakewood Police Department, had fearfully hid the donation box inside when we parked our bikes to pay our respects at the memorial.
It seems there is never a shortage of comical misunderstandings when bikers and law enforcement gather together.
We laughed about other peoples’ perceptions and mis-perceptions.
We laughed at some of our own.
The sun receded behind the hills shortly after we had walked our flags up to the dome.
We had set ourselves where instructed awaiting further commands, then moved the entire line when corrected.
While awaiting our duty, we had watched, then joked quietly with, a sniper opposite our section of the flag line as he gave a “one finger salute” to a sheriff’s helicopter that was flying very close. Apparently too close for the sniper’s comfort.
We were positioned around the ramp, outside the Tacoma Dome. Directly within our view were the enormous amount of vehicles from law enforcement and fire departments across this country as well as Canada. The support from around the world, for these heroes, was incredible.
Once the fallen and their loved ones had departed the Tacoma Dome, we were given the orders to assemble as two lines for the several-block walk back to our staging area.
Gathering orderly into the column, we unintentionally encompassed a small group of Canadian Mounted Police who had curiously wandered close to the flag line as they departed the services .
I hung back slightly to allow them through the line in front of me.
Me, being me, couldn’t resist saying something.
Very quietly I stated, “ you are now in the US and you are surrounded by our flags!”
One “mounty” got my joking nature and answered, “ Just a sec, I think I have something.”
He reached into his bright red uniform pocket and proceeded to place a beautiful red and gold CMP pin into my heavily gloved hand stating, “you are now Canadian.”
I tried to answer him, “my grandma was born in Alberta,” but tears choked my words; then he was gone.
I couldn’t feel the pin through two layers of gloves and hand warmers. I kept glancing at it on the walk back down; carefully holding my treasure tight in my numb left hand, as I carefully carried my flag with my right.
We returned to our staging area and stowed our flags in their various proper containers, having been brought from areas around the state. The area was now an eerily quiet dark parking lot.
The small hamburger joint who’s owner graciously donated his parking, restrooms, hot beverages as well as a warm escape to defrost in and monitor the memorial from his television, was closing.
Distant echoes of emergency vehicles filled the night.
Only a small corner of the road we had lined with our flags earlier in the day was visible from where we gathered.
We huddled closer together, preparing to be debriefed.
Our “ride captain” for this mission was someone we knew well, Jim “BikerVet” Dixon. He thanked us for sticking around.
We still had the majority of our numbers. Only about 30 had to leave before we were finished. As he disseminated various facts and figures of the day, I heard a firm voice from a ride captain behind me: “FAMILY.”
It was immediate. Silence. Turn. Face the street.
BikerVet hadn’t even had the opportunity to repeat the word “family” before most of us had already turned to face the small corner of light that was 26th, the street where the family cars were traveling.
It would have been disrespectful to face the opposite direction.
Nearly a hundred of us that remained, turned and stood gently at attention as the procession receded.
My eyes glanced without moving my head, towards my right where I had previously noticed hands raised signifying this was their first mission. They got it.
Standing in the frigid black night, such profound silence struck me: So still. Where just moments before the thumping of heavy gloved hands clapping as well as hushed sounds of light laughter and conversation had prevailed.
The silence in that dark corner reminded me of the significance of our actions that day, and every day that we gather.
The reason why we as a group “The Patriot Guard Riders” exist.
Respect, decorum, honor, courtesy, reverence and propriety.
These are the only things we can offer the families. We owe them so much more.
In retrospect, I know in my heart no one in the vehicles that passed us could have seen, or even noticed our group standing for them in that dark corner lot as they passed. However, for any member of this proud group of patriots to be accused of “turning their back on a grieving family,” literally or figuratively would have felt reprehensible.
The families, the loved ones, the “left behind” are why the Patriot Guard Riders exists.
The families are our obligation.
They have all sacrificed for us, as communities, as a nation, and as a planet.
They are why we ONLY serve when invited by the families. We are here for THEM.
We respect, honor and thank them all for their painful sacrifices. We are forever in their debt.
It was the LEAST we could do.
Love and Lighte.
Wikipededia article on Lakewood Four: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lakewood,_Washington_police_officer_shooting
To learn more about the Patriot Guard Riders: http://www.patriotguard.org/
To donate to the families of the Lakewood Four: http://www.lakewoodofficercharity.com/our-funds/fallen-officers-fund/