LCpl Anthony DuBeau and SGT Daniel Nerstrom would both have funerals in central Lake County on a Saturday, the second day of Spring.

Friendly fire is a strange term, an oxymoron. It refers to American weapons fire that strikes American troops. It is always an accident, but it happens.

In a broader sense, every American warrior who dies in service but not in combat is a victim of friendly fire. Military work is dangerous work. We want the guys to have the most lethal weapons and the most powerful machines, and we want them to push to their limits. It is a violent business and it is not for everyone.

Anthony was doing his job, which took him close to a runway, when he was caught in a crash-landing. Daniel was deployed to Iraq 10 years ago which ultimately resulted in his suicide 110 days ago; he was discovered three blocks from his home when the snow melted a few days ago.

911 happened before Anthony and Daniel enlisted. They enlisted with a full understanding of the threat of Islamic terrorism and they wanted to do their patriotic duty. In the end, it was not the enemy that struck them down. It was, however, the threat of Islamic terror that brought them to the dangerous work that killed them.

First, we would bring Anthony from the Milwaukee airport to Grayslake.

Second, we would stand for Daniel's visitation in Libertyville.

Third, we would stand for Daniel's funeral and final escort.

Fourth, we would stand for Anthony's funeral.







First, Anthony's escort.   Staging at the Milwaukee airport, Ro was interviewed by Milwaukee Channel 4.


Then, the group from Illinois arrived.


Illinois and Wisconsin Patriot Guard collaborated. That is not ideal but it is not a problem.

The problem was the several municipal police departments and several county sheriffs and two state police departments and airport police that had to collaborate.

In the end, it all worked out.  The trip was made after dark with various bikers and LEOs entering and exiting the procession, but decorum was maintained and there was even some celebration of Anthony's return home as we approached Grayslake.






Second, Daniel's visitation in Libertyville. 

Phil Dane was the Funeral Director.  There are 58,272 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial -- the Wall.  Mr. Dane served with the United States Army Mortuary Service in Saigon and Da Nang.

We arrived ahead of the family, half in cars & trucks, half on bikes even though it was still cold and there would be no escort.

It was early but we lined-up at the entrance anyway because, well, what else would we do?

As people arrived, they assembled their flags and found their places.

Then, shortly before the family was expected, Ride Captain Bob Clement called us together for the pledge.

SPC Chris Patterson died in Afghanistan on January 6, 2012.  My record of his return home is here.  His parents, Robert & Mary Patterson would stand for Daniel.

RC Clement researched Daniel and told us about him.

David Rutter wrote in his newspaper column about Daniel:

"But war kills our young men and women even after their time in uniform. They should be enjoying the peace of home. But they can't. The war won't let them.

"Their war reaches out and still kills them.

"In these days, the memories and mental wounds of the now-diminishing wars still haunt us with these new casualties.

"Though he had come home from war, Daniel Nerstrom still died from battlefield injuries."

Then, Daniel's mom arrived a little early.  SRC Dave Gier embraced Kim Nerstrom.

His friends from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment had converged from all around the country, several wearing the hats that are distinctive to the Cavalry.

Then we got down to business.  A couple of the guys gave up their flags to hold the doors.  I like that.  It feels awkward to stand nearby and not help, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong to hold the flag while opening the doors.  Holding the flag properly is a full task in itself that should not be diminished.

PGRiders arrived late and left early and took breaks, but we always had a significant detail double-flanking the entrance.

We rarely know the warrior we seek to honor, but I feel I get an insight from the people who pass through our display.  At Daniel's visitation, many folks would acknowledge us -- more the my typical experience.  Sometimes a guest would hesitate and try to summon courage just beyond our lines before entering and making a general announcement of appreciation.  It is the kind of thing that is easy to skip.  It is easy to rationalize that it is not necessary, not really helpful, does not matter.  But at Daniel's visitation, a lot of the guests made the effort anyway.

Often it is hard to do the right thing.  And Daniel, like the people he came from, tried anyway.

So twenty of us, like Daniel, tried to do the right thing.  Twenty Portraits of Patriots are here.










Third, Daniel's funeral and final escort.  

We returned the next day to stand for Daniel's funeral and to escort Daniel's remains to the crematory.

The weather was pleasant.

The Ride Captain was Bob Clement.

The Senior Ride Captain was Dave Gier.

Since the Summer of 2005, Patriot Guard Riders have been standing outside of funeral homes and churches, and in cemeteries, holding PVC pipes flying 3X5 American flags.  We turn off our cell phones, we don't smoke and generally we don't talk.  The best of us stand as straight as our PVC pipes.

We make a more dramatic presentation when we parade in escort, and frankly, that is the easier task.  Sometimes we shovel snow or direct traffic.

And sometimes the military provides only a pesudo-bugal that plays a recording of Taps.  Jim Reynolds (white shirt below) brings his trumpet and his talent so their will be a better alternative.

When the service was over and it was time to transfer Daniel to the hearse for his last ride, we stood in a ring around the rear door from which he would emerge.  We didn't have flags because we would turn quickly to the bikes after the transfer, but we did create a "circle of comfort" as it has been called.

It was no longer a corner of the parking lot -- it was a sacred place, reserved for use by a fallen hero.  In PGR history, our perimeters were used to keep desecrators out but now they simply keep a private honor in.

And they have always been effective.  So much so in this case that the many guests who left by the front door kept their distance even from us, as you can see below.  Big Dave, realizing that absurdity, turned and invited Daniel's friends to close in on our border.  But still, of course, no one crossed it.

And then came the sad, final escort.  I shared the honor of leading the hearse with Recon; I am at the far left flying a 5X8 flag.

There are always respectful bystanders.  In this case I don't know how they discovered our time or route, but there they were.

From my lead position, I could see a column of bikes so well stationed that only the front bike is visible.  Blocked from my view by Daniel's herase another column matches time, moving slowly east on Route 176.

Goodbye, old friend.  Sorry we never met in life, but we did what we could when we finally could.









Fourth, Anthony's funeral.


On March 10th, a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter with a flight crew of four and a full load of seven Marines of the 2nd Special Operations Battalion was conduction a training exercise at night and in heavy fog. It crashed in Santa Rosa Sound, just east of Pensacola. All eleven died.

The next day on March 11th, 1,850 miles away by car in Yuma, Arizona, another Marine died. LCpl Anthony DuBeau was on duty and on base when a T-59 Hawk airplane crash-landed. The pilot and passenger of the T-59 survived.


Sadly, Anthony's job required him to inspect the runway and he was doing his job when he died.

Many of us traveled directly to Anthony's funeral from Daniel's funeral.  Ride Captain Al Oller was already hard at work.

The Causalty Assistance Office asked me if she could help assempling flags and I reflexively said no thanks.  A minute later she came to me again and said, "I feel I could be helpful."

So she helped.

The rifle squad did not have a single loose thread on their uniforms.  Which is normal.

And our two Marine Moms were ready.

It is just a matter of standing with flags and we have done it before, but we always have a breifing anyway.  It is something like a football huddle -- we synchronize on a plan and then we break and head for the line.

But first Big Bird tells us to shut off our cell phones and put on our game faces.

And he leads us in the Pledge.  Because I took this photo, I didn't pledge.  That's okay; I've pledged before and it still goes.

Gold Stars Mary and Robert Patterson had attended a soldier's funeral this morning and were now to attend a Marine's funeral this afternoon.

In football, everyone shouts "break" together as they clap their hands and turn to the task.  I have experienced the corresponding Patriot Guard moment many time:  All the talking is done.  We move in unison but in silent reverence.

The way we honor Anthony is by showing respectful behavior in the flag line.  That means no unnecessary talking.  Still we try to be polite when approached.

I think many of us are motivated by a good feeling we get from participating, but as the wise Eric Kuhn has said many times, "It's not about us."

The guests did not come for souveniers.  They came for Anthony.  Our job is to demonstrate that we too share their loss without intruding on their privacy.

Individual initiatives undermine the team.  We make our best impression when we all do the exact same elegant thing:  We stand with flags.

There would be no escort today for Anthony but I had the 5X8 still flying from the escort for Daniel.  I was told to park it by the street where the passing traffic would be informed that someone special was inside the funeral home.

When I parked near the PGR truck, Big Dave gently asked me, "So, you up on your flag code?"

I eventually undertood that I was effectively flying the United States flag lower than the nearby Marine flag.  Not even a Marine would want that.

So I don't know what Big Dave will think about this.

I took a lunch in the middle of Anthony's visitation.  The crash bar hit the concrete gutter when I made a hard left into the restaurant parking lot.  Broken fibula.  Nuts.

Plus, the flag was on the ground for a long time

Then back to work, standing on a broken leg.  At least no one was shooting at me, unlike the warriors we honor.

It's not about us.  Its long and cold and we volunteer anyway.  Its called selfless service and it is number 4 of the Seven Army Values.  And it is a value of the other infrantry branch too.

Many PGRiders were never in the military but we have some understanding of it.  If more Americans understood, there would be more PGRiders holding flags.

At last, when the visitation ended, our role ended too.  But the rifle squad and the other Marines had yet their time-honored ritual to perform. 

Marines, plus one sailor.  One sailor plus 24 haunting notes.

Two days after Anthony's funeral came the anniversary of the Green Ramp Disaster.

In 1994, a mid-air collision triggered a ground collision at Pope Air Force Base.  The resulting fireball killed 24 paratroops from the adjacent Fort Bragg.

Like Anthony, those 24 troopers of the 82nd Airborne Division were at the edge of the tarmac because it was their job. 

And like Anthony, they died because they volunteered for a dangerous but necessary job.

Most Americans live live blissfully ignorant of the price paid by a very few among us to keep us all free and secure.

I think about the scene from We Were Soldiers when the First and Second Battalions of the 7th Cavalry Regiment were assembled in formation to hear their commander just before leaving for Vietnam.  The camera took a perspective from behind the soldiers showing what they saw of the civilian audience facing them.

The vast bleachers hold few people.  They are certainly family of the soldiers, but it seems there are not as many in the audience as there are on the parade ground.  And great masses of cheering Americans are conspicuously absent.

PGRiders are not active military, nor are we family.  We are from the population that is simply appreciative.  Semper Fi, Anthony.