9/11 — A View from the Flag Line

Where were you on September 11?  What I’m asking is this: “Where were you on September 11, 2011?”  That was the 10th Anniversary of the Terrorist Attack on America that brought us to a war we did not want, we did not start.  Let me tell you where I was, what I experienced that day.

Along with a group of bikers we gathered early in the morning in the parking lot of the Bank of North Dakota. We mounted our 3’x5′ flags on our bikes and waited for the call to participate in to the first of two official events.

The idea of a group of bikers similar to the Sons of Anarchy was abolished.   There were no black-jacketed, surly, violent, ugly, mean lawbreakers manning the flag lines.  There were hardworking blue collar and white collar men and women honoring America’s commitment to and sacrifice in the war on terror.

Over the last 10 years a group of loosely knit but like-minded bikers have formed themselves in to a recognizable community. North Dakota’s Patriot Guard Riders has become a respected and sought-after presence at military departures, arrivals and of course funerals. Born of the need to shield grieving families from Christian Terrorists called the Westboro Baptist Church, the North Dakota PGR is a silent force standing shoulder to shoulder honoring soldiers, protecting families and supporting America’s cause in the war on terror.

That’s why we were invited to the North Dakota National Guard’s ceremony honoring those killed in the Global War on Terror, and the North Dakota Governor’s ceremony marking the day the U.S. was drawn in to war.

I’m amazed at the intense bonding on this one point that we share.  We don’t necessarily know each other, we don’t necessarily subscribe to the same philosophies or lifestyles, we’re not related, we don’t belong to the same clans or unions, yet our hearts beat as one at these functions.  In fact, there are a handful of men and women in the group whom I love dearly, but there is also a handful of whom I have extreme adverse and unfavorable opinions.  But at each event, we are united.  No one causes a stir or friction; no one acts outside of the unified purpose.  There have been no incidents of shame or dishonor brought on the North Dakota group by members acting outside of the unified stand of the PGR.

On this morning, I walked around the staging area visiting with people whom I knew from around the state — Bismarck, Mandan, Valley City, Jamestown, Minot, Dickinson, and Hazen. Some knew me, but I didn’t know them.  Yet we were bonded.  Business owners, police officers, mechanics, even a zookeeper were on hand.  We talked about shared concerns, Bismarck’s spring floods, a friend injured in a construction accident, motorcycle performance and upkeep.  Then came the call to mount up and head to the first stop, the Global War on Terror Monument.

Riding in to GWOT

North Dakota’s war dead are not forgotten. At the Global War on Terror (GWOT) monument outside of North Dakota National Guard’s Fraine Barracks, the young men killed by Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan were called to mind, verbally and ceremonially.  As invited, the Patriot Guard Riders rode in, parked their bikes and stood silently, even forming a barrier at the end of the ceremony, ringing the monument, backs to the families providing a human wall separating families from the rest of the world.  The laughter and frivolity at the staging area were replaced by somber reflection, even tears as young men were remembered, young men who were killed by Muslims who hate America.

I can’t enter in to the grief or loss shared by the families who congregated behind me as I stood in the human wall shielding them from traffic and spectators.  I’m not sure that many of us can, but we can share the heavy moments that mark the memories of young men whose lives ended short of their own dreams.  And that’s what weighed most on me.  Thinking of the young men, the age of my sons who will never finish college, never marry, never watch their children grow up, never see another fireworks display, Christmas display or summer festival.  Usually I’m like most Americans, too busy to stop and reflect on what price paid to be an American.  At the GWOT Monument, that moment to reflect was the moment — fitting, right and proper.

POW-MIA Helmet at 9/11 Ceremony

At the command by our Road Captain, we mounted up 3’x5′ flags flying, riding through Bismarck. Next stop, the North Dakota Capitol where the Patriot Guard was invited to set a flag line as the community gathered and as the ceremony opened.

Soldier’s Angel fairing

A long list of special people shared their emotional and historical place they experienced 10 years earlier:

  • The mother of a young North Dakota woman killed in the World Trade Center.
  • A police officer from a small North Dakota town who was a first responder at the World Trade Center.
  • A North Dakota pilot who flew his fighter over Washington DC moments after the Pentagon was hit in order to protect the city from more attacks.
  • The father, a veteran who spoke of his soldier son’s death in Iraq. When I lived on the Fort Berthold Reservation, I knew this man, his wife and his soldier son.  So for me, it was meaningful that he was part of the state’s official ceremony.  His was the most poignant speech. A Native American from Mandaree from the podium, he praised and cheered for North Dakota and America.  His exclamations punctuated by the only interruptions of applause that any speaker that day experienced.  I was proud of him. I was proud of North Dakota. I was proud of America.

At the end, the PGR presented a plaque to Governor Jack Dalrymple paying tribute to the branches of the United States Armed Forces and to those North Dakotans who have sacrificed themselves for freedom.

Later, in a much quieter and personal expression, a small group of riders rode to North Dakota’s Veteran’s Cemetery to lay markers, bundles of wheat at the grave site of North Dakota’s war dead.

At ND Veterans Cemetery

It’s not a published ceremony, though conducted monthly. It’s not promoted. It’s not for show.  It’s to never forget, to always remember.

A handful of wheat marks the gravesites

Wheat bundles in hand we sought out the markers of those killed fighting against evil and fighting for freedom.  At each marker where I laid a bundle, I stopped, removed my hat, prayed and thanked God for America, thanked God for this dead soldier, thanked God for the families who lost this young man.

Honor, respect, pride and thankfulness — that’s how I marked September 11, 2011.

I’m interested — did you do anything special that day?

A at quiet ceremony at ND Veterans Cemetery

(check out more photos PGR 9/11 photos in the photo garage at http:www.kickstandsupnd.com)

10 Responses to “9/11 — A View from the Flag Line”

  1. Thanks for sharing these touching, personal reflections!! America is great because of great people like you!!

  2. jeff peterson, ride captain, northeast ND Says:

    So well written. It captured the feelings, the emotions, and the dedication of my Patriot Guard bretheran. What an excellent article.

    • Thank you. As much as I appreciate the encouragement, I appreciate more the hearts, the souls of those who ride with PGR here in North Dakota. They leave their egos at home and ride in humble appreciation of the men and women in the military whom they support.

  3. George Quigley Says:

    Thank you Mike for remembering and sharing. You have a gift of picture and pen and enjoyed by all. Land of the free, becouse of the brave. God bless America.

  4. Tony Krogh, State Captain NDPG Says:

    Thank you for an incredible “potrait” in word and pictures. You have so accurately captured the spirit of the Patriot Guard, and more importantly, drawn a focus on remembering and honoring those who have continued to protect our great nation. I greatly appreciate that the focus here was not on a group, but rather on remembering our military. Patriotism is never our of style. Thank you again.

  5. Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Thanks, However
    I am having issues with your RSS. I don’t understand why I cannot subscribe to it. Is there anyone else getting identical RSS problems? Anyone who knows the solution will you kindly respond? Thanks!!

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