Editor's note: This story ran in the Fall 2017 edition of My Onslow
Ed Faude or “Gunner” as he’s called, is up as the sun is rising. His bags are packed. He’s kissed his wife goodbye. And his motorcycle, a 2006 Yamaha, Midnight Star Silverado 1700 awaits. As evident from the patch on his leather vest, he is a proud member of the North Carolina Patriot Guard Riders (or NCPGR) and the District Captain for the Patriot Guard Riders here in the Southeastern District which includes Onslow County.
It’s a big cruiser. Black and chrome, with whitewall tires and black hard saddle bags. Faude says the morning of a “mission” is easy. It’s getting ready the day before where it all begins.
“If I am the Ride Captain for the mission, I check to ensure I have 21 Flags packed in my flag bag and that they are all in serviceable condition.”
Faude began about the list of things he mentally checks off.
“Next I ensure I have 21 iron stakes to pound into the ground to hold the flag poles up and I make sure my hammer is in the saddle bag. I set all this in one spot in my bike shed, so I can easily find it in the morning. Next, dependent on the branch of service of the hero we are standing for, I ensure I have the proper service flag on my Guide-on staff and the appropriate flag set up to go on my bike along with the American flag. Finally, I give my bike a once over to ensure tires are up, oil is full, battery is charged, and fuel tank is full.”
The upkeep as he explained ranges from simple oil changes to having the entire drive gear and chain assembly rebuilt. But, maintaining his bike for missions is of the utmost importance. In fact, Faude had to purchase a new tire for a recent mission — the long journey (approximately 730 miles) to Arlington, Virginia with other Patriot Guard Riders who escorted Sgt. Murray to his final resting spot, one of the 15 Marines killed in the military plane crash in Mississippi on July 10.
“I had to replace the front tire. It definitely wasn’t lookin’ like it would make the mission,” Faude joked. His voice is kind and soft. Not at all what one would expect from a biker. Then again, he’s really not a biker per se. He doesn’t belong to any club. And as he made sure to mention, the Patriot Guard is also not to be considered a club. Rather, he’s a patriot first. A veteran second, one who served 23 years in the United States Marines as a Chief Warrant Officer 4. And he’ll be among many to assure being a part of the Patriot Guard is less about the bikes, the mileage, and even the sacrifice of expenditures.
It’s solely about respect.
The Patriot Guard Riders pride themselves on being a diversified fusion of riders from across the nation. Handicapped, Democrat, Republican, fully functioning, old and young — all are welcome. They are unified strictly by their sense of patriotism. And for that, Faude says, “there is no motorcycle needed.”
One could own a “cage” or car as Glen Murdock put it, another Patriot Guard Rider near Albemarle, North Carolina “or simply just wish to stand the flag line. No ma’am, you don’t even have to be a veteran. We welcome all who just want to show their respect to those who deserve to be honored.” Murdock is a maintenance man at Shady Oaks Plantation, a wedding and event venue.
Similarly to Faude, Murdock joined the Patriot Guard Riders, because it was a calling to serve those who serve today. He’s been riding with the PGR for about two years now. Retired from the United States Air Force after serving 22 1/2 years, a retired North Carolina Corrections Officers, and, as he jokes, old enough for Social Security it seems, as he reflected on his experiences in the military, he spent a lifetime in the back of a C141 looking at the coffins of his brothers draped with American Flags.
Riding for those today is, in his own words, the least he can continue to do.
“It would be a duty within a person. We don't do it for us. We do it for respect of our brothers and sisters.” Murdock continued. As every ride, he said, is to honor a fallen hero.
The Patriot Guard’s Riders have a dual pronged objective; First to show sincere respect for fallen heroes which include first responders, police officers, firemen, EMS, or veterans, their families, and their communities as invited guests. Like the archangel Raphael and Michael called upon those who pray for peace and protection, Patriot Guard Riders must be asked to join the family.
The second objective is to shield the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by any protester or group of protesters through, of course, strictly legal and non-violent means.
The aforementioned have always been their main objectives since the Patriot Guard’s founding. Though, the origins of the how the PGR officially formed is something of a mystery. Many just agree its beginnings have a lot to do with the infamous and vile Westboro Baptist Church—a Christian extremist group from Topeka, Kan., with (at last count) 70 parishioners. They are known to turn up at military funerals across the country with signs reading "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and torn American flags. And they use damnation to promote their message of hate.
“It smelled a lot like Vietnam,” Murdock recalled. His voice trailed off a bit as he opened up about the first time he witnessed protestors horribly celebrating the death of one of our country’s finest. “Lining the streets, roaring our engines, it was a way to fight fire with fire.” On one side of the street, across from the funeral, Murdock described there weren’t as many as there used to be, but there were certainly enough. “We stood in front of them, never touched them, and were proud to shield the family’s line of sight.”
Providing some peace for a grieving family with the heart palpitating and word obscuring thunderous roar of engines may seem a tad counterproductive—to smother noise with more noise—but that’s just it. For those who hear it, who feel it, and who see the flag line it is the sound of freedom, pride, and strength.
At the Patriots Guards website, patriotguard.org, members of the guard can check on “upcoming missions” and even see previous mission that have been completed. On March 15 of this year, the site changed over to a new “subscription based mission notification system” in hopes to reach more members in a timely manner. In their database, missions are archived as far back as 2006. There’s also a link to request a mission, too, for both funerals and even memorials.
Contrary to frequent thought, “…the Patriot Guard is not just for funerals,” Fraude explained. “Anytime there is a memorial, anything patriotic, we will proudly be there.” What seems like just recently, Fraude and others rode with the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall.
The website also hosts a link for those interested to join the group. It’s free of charge. There are no dues, no fees, and functions solely on volunteerism as a federally registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization.
For Sgt. Murray, there were no protestors at his protesters his funeral— though, if there had been, you better believe the Patriot Guard would have been ready. And it seems the community would have been, too.
In a glorious demonstration of unity, mothers, daughters, sons and fathers, business owners and patrons all stepped outside to line the streets with American flags to pay their final respects as Sgt. Murray Hearst took his final journey down the paved road and headed across the North Carolina state line. Some even saluted both Murray and The Guard. There was even a call from the fire chief in Wayne Co. to confirm the route, because they wanted to honor Sgt. Murray as the Guard passed.
Along the way, other districts of the Patriot Guard joined the ride thickening the chrome army escorting the family—protecting them with each passing mile. On an overpass two fire trucks with ladders extended up to the heavens and suspended a beautiful American flag while firemen saluted.
“It brought a tear to this ol’ Jarhead’s eye,” Fraude said upon his return from the mission.
Sad, yet in a sense “satisfying” as Fraude confessed with a heavy sigh, completing a mission delivers a real sense of accomplishment as any tribute frought with honor and dignity would.
“He was one of us and we always take care of our own. Once again, the people tugged on not just my heart strings, but many of us felt a little choked up again by the show of support for Sgt. Murray by the local folks and those along the way. It took a few miles before many of us could see clearly again and it was a little hard to swallow for a bit. After a long ride like this one a lot of us hurt, but I can tell you this, to the man, if asked to do it again tomorrow for the same reason, we would ride.”