Day of honor and patriotism in Galesburg
The funeral of slain serviceman Jerry Tharp of Aledo, cut down by an IED in Iraq, was held in Geneseo Saturday afternoon, attended by The Patriot Guard Riders.
The Patriot Guard Riders is a group of primarily veteran motorcycle riders formed to provide an honor detail for fallen veterans or active duty servicemen and women, as a way to counter the loathsome protests of the Westboro Baptist Church, and has grown exponentially in a short time. They now organize honor details for any vet who has passed away.
Mainly through word of mouth and their website, "missions" are organized and the turnout is nothing short of amazing.
Though I went primarily to see the freakazoids who protest at fallen soldier's funerals, (and who consider Galesburg a "particularly evil place") I instead was caught up in the sheer mass of bikers who came to honor this young man.
There were conservatively 3 to 400 bikers at the funeral. They formed up in a large parking lot and then moved out onto a cross street where they waited for the procession carrying the body to pass, then pulled out to form a massive line of motorcycles, which even at two or three abreast stretched for a half mile at least. The procession of bikes took over five minutes to pass.
At the church, they deployed to form long lines along the street in front of the church holding around a hundred American flags. They then stood solemnly for at least an hour or more, before standing down and mounting up again.
A cop told me that the goons from Westboro Baptist Church had indeed arrived and protested, at over 300 ft from the church, and at least a half hour before the funeral started, as required by law, and had assembled down the street over a slight hill, so they were both beyond eyesight and earshot.
A small group of civilians reportedly stood and faced them in silence, but beyond that, no one gave them any attention, which is, after all, the only reason they do what they do.
In that respect, it was rather disappointing to see every Quad City TV outlet as well as at least one paper there in force and giving them camera time and publicity that they certainly don't merit.
I think that if everyone ignored them, they might just go away. But of course, the press is congenitally incapable of doing that.
While waiting for the funeral to end and the coffin to be loaded into the hearse, the press showed a rather ugly side as well, as they huddled in the shade across the street.
A select group of Patriot Guards, perhaps 8 or 9, who had come from all over, and who had stood solemnly in the heat holding flags lining the streets around the church, came forward and formed a line facing the hearse to honor the dead soldier as he was loaded into the hearse.
This immediately brought howls of protest from at least one photographer who started carping immediately to his fellow press members that they were going to "ruin our shot!"
He started walking out into the street shouting to a Navy man in dress whites who was apparently coordinating the press coverage, and amazingly, they actually asked the honor attendants to stand back at an awkward distance just so these guys could get a shot without having to move. God forbid they'd have to move somewhere else.
Why should they move to get a better shot? Why not just interfere with the funeral of a Iraq casualty, right?? Struck me as pretty disgusting, not to mention callous.
The town of Galesburg also had a shiny new, no doubt incredibly expensive. "Central Command Unit" parked nearby, a huge enclosed truck with "Homeland Security" painted on the side and brisling with high tech gear and a extendable mast with a surveilance camera on top. Of course it was useless, but hey, they got their toy from "Homeland" security. And in the event that something major ever does happen, maybe someone will actually know how to use it. Maybe.
Just prior to the end of the funeral, the bulk of the riders formed up and roared off again for Keithsburg, where Tharp was to be buried.
A special honor detail from the group remained and escorted the funeral procession after the church service.
This group is very impressive, and very inspiring. To see such a display of honor for their fellow soldier is truly touching. The sheer logistics and organization required to pull these missions off is amazing, yet they do it with military precision, unsurprisingly.
The Galesburg Fire Department backed in two ladder trucks at an intersection near the church and huge an enormous flag over the street.
When the procession left the church, two Army trainer planes flew overhead at precisely the right moment as the hearse passed under the flag.
I've posted several pictures of the day in the blog's Photobucket album. If anyone is curious, they can be viewed here.
RIP PO1 Jerry Tharp.