It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 3 years since my friend John Hartman Jr was killed by an IED in Baghdad Iraq. November 30th, 2006.

A lot has happened since then. I’ve meet and kept in contact with some of his comrades. In fact Alej is just coming home from another damn tour in Iraq.

One of the outcomes of John’s death was that I’ve meet some pretty nice people, also some pretty hateful ones, but more on that in a bit.

John was awarded the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart by the military, and given the key to the City of Bradenton Florida, among other things.

One of the things I now have is a PDF print out of a flyer from the hateful Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) group stating that they will be protesting Johns Funeral. I have it hanging next to a print made by The Big Sky Brewing company honoring John. One of my co workers thought I was nuts til I told her the story behind it.

This is what the WBC does. The go to funerals of prominent people and soldiers killed overseas and preach hatred and nastiness. This is what was going to happen at John’s funeral. (This is a picture from a different protest. There are none from John’s funeral. Reason later)

Then an amazing thing happened. When the WBC announced that they would be protesting Johns funeral I was contacted by a group called The Patriot Guard Riders. This is now a national group of people, mostly motorcycle riders, and mostly veterans, that will, “with the permission of the family”, attend the funeral of a fallen soldier and block the view of the protesters with large American Flags. I cannot say enough good about this group. Instead of hate and anger showing when we left the church we were greeted with

From Blogger Pictures

This is what decent humans do. The protesters “were” behind where the flag line blocked them from view. I say were, because they didn’t last long. It was the Patriot guard, backs to the protesters, Police line, and then across the street the WBC protesters. It seems that some concerned citizen realized what was going on and called the local radio station and announced the protest by these hateful people at a soldiers funeral. Well, this didn’t sit well with some folks. We’re talking southern folk here. So, while we were having services for John, cars kept driving past the protesters and accidentally dropping items at high speed in their general direction. Food, food containers, soda’s, etc. And, ironically, it only happened when the police had their backs turned. Before long a drenched, bruised, and bedraggled group of protesters decided to give up and left. So, when we exited the church there were the police and the Patriot Guard. No protesters.

Now, I don’t condone getting physical with these folks, but it didn’t break my heart that they were treated poorly, I’ll tell you that. There was some talk about “dealing” with the protesters before they ever got there. That was shut down pretty quickly and rightfully so. John died so these assholes could protest, “dealing” with them would have been wrong, if ever so tempting for just a brief second.

That’s just one story in a long line of events that have taken place since before and after Johns death. Some good, some not so good. I’d give them all up to have John back, but since that’s not going to happen, I’ll hold onto the stories, adventures, and friendships his passing brought about.

If you read the mission statement of the Patriot Guard you’ll get a feeling for why I like them as much as I do.

Patriot Guard Riders Mission Statement

The Patriot Guard Riders is a diverse amalgamation of riders from across the nation. We have one thing in common besides motorcycles. We have an unwavering respect for those who risk their very lives for America’s freedom and security. If you share this respect, please join us.

We don’t care what you ride or if you ride, what your political views are, or whether you’re a hawk or a dove. It is not a requirement that you 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 is Respect.

Our main mission is to attend the funeral services of fallen American heroes as invited guests of the family. Each mission we undertake has two basic objectives:

  1. Show our sincere respect for our fallen heroes, their families, and their communities.
  2. Shield the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by any protestor or group of protestors.

We accomplish the latter through strictly legal and non-violent means.

To those of you who are currently serving and fighting for the freedoms of others, at home and abroad, please know that we are backing you.  We honor and support you with every mission we carry out, and we are praying for a safe return home for all.