MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — A cool breeze blows across the Turnerville cemetery, breaking the still heat from the sun blazing above the freshly turned dirt. The breeze provides relief for the men standing at attention near the grave that will soon receive the remains of a soldier who’s been missing for nearly 7 decades. The breeze snaps the flags they are holding to attention and an honor guard fires a 21 gun salute.
The men holding the flags are members of the Patriot Guard Riders. And they’re helping make sure a Korea War veteran who was killed in action in 1953 gets the hero’s home going he deserves. In 1950 Master Sergeant James Gerald Cates was a young father. He had survived battle in WWII to come home to his family. Life in post-war America was good. Cates had served his country and had earned the precious time to spend with his family, including his 4-year-old son Bobby. Bobby Cates is now over 70, nearly 3 times the age his father was when he died. James Cates made the fateful decision to re-enlist and was killed in 1953. His remains were just this year identified and returned home.
They may ride loud motorcycles but they are quietly serving our veteran heroes on the Gulf Coast almost every day. The Patriot Guard executes hundreds of missions every year to escort fallen heroes to their final resting places, many who have no family to send them off. To the Patriot Guard Riders, every day is Veterans Day.
There are nearly 230,000 members of the Patriot Guard across the country in all 50 states according to Lloyd Pursley district ride captain for the Patriot Guard Riders in South Alabama, “our mission is to make sure that no veteran or police officer, first responder ever goes home alone.”
The Patriot Guard started years ago in Kansas when a church with extreme views began protesting soldier funerals. The guard was there to block the protesters so family could give their loved ones a proper goodbye. Pursely got involved because of family ties, “both of my parents were World War II veterans…I got involved strictly for respect of these veterans.”
There is at least one mission every week, sometimes as many as five according to Pursley, “in the six years I’ve been with the Patriot Guard I’ve done about 700.”
This week the Patriot Guard is on a mission to honor veterans, but not in their typical fashion. They will be riding to Spanish Fort Elementary School for their Veterans Day ceremonies.
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Chris Best is the News Director for WKRG. He’s a husband and father of four. He’s also a motorcycle enthusiast.