Patriot Guard Riders Take Wrong Turn,
Lead Hearse Away From Cemetery
Well-Wishers Along Published Parade Route Left Cold


Shutefight, Big Dave, Recon, I write to you as the named RCs of the McHone Mission. My primary purpose is to be helpful, but also to document what happened during the escort from the church to the cemetery, since I am a primary witness. I’m not fishing for an apology; in fact, I am not receptive to any response to this message. Publishing this statement is the only end I seek.

Background: Less than a year ago I participated in the Andrew Wade Mission in Antioch. Probably because of my big flag, RC Mark Pleasant assigned me to be the lead bike. From past experience in that role, I insisted on a clear statement of what I was to do, which, I think, annoyed Mark. Nevertheless, reacting to my demand, he told me exactly which bumper to follow all the way from the airport to the Strang funeral Home.

I followed that car’s bumper with a 25-foot interval right past Strang. When the car turned-off his flashers and sped away, I saw in my mirror that only four bikes followed me and the rest of the procession was turning into Strang. We five made a U-turn which conflicted with oncoming traffic and required that we re-merge into the procession, both of which introduced needless danger and violated decorum.

So, later in that same mission when we were staged across the street from Saint Peter Church and Mark wanted us to re-form for the procession to Millburn Cemetery, I was reluctant to be again assigned by him as the lead bike. I demanded a crystal-clear statement of where I was to lead the procession, even though it was only a few hundred feet from the Jewel parking lot to Hillside Avenue.

Mark was more annoyed than before. He used the phrases “around the block” and “around the church” and pointed to the first intersection. I repeated those phrases back to him and then I led the bikes out of the parking lot taking Davis/Orchard/Hillside. As I started down Davis, Mark came running and intercepted the procession, redirecting it to Henry/Elizabeth/St.Peter and then down Lake to Hillside.

The bikes that followed me made difficult U-turns and a difficult merge and then finally lined-up on Lake at Hillside. I continued with Davis/Orchard so that I could avoid those two difficulties, but also to recover from my anger before I rejoined the procession. When I came down Hillside, I had to go around a traffic control barricade to get to the head of the procession. A cop nearby yelled, “Where do you think you are going?”

Well, I don’t like getting yelled at by cops. I am quite intelligent; I applied my intelligence to following the RC’s instructions; with an abundance of caution, I confirmed my simple instructions. I do not accept that “this is just one of those things…nobody’s fault”. That is why I am more determined than ever that when these things go wrong, they not be MY fault. End background.

There were only two bikes to make the run from church to cemetery for the McHone mission. The route was published in the Northwest Herald and republished on my website, so I had an idea of what we were to do, no thanks to the leadership. During the McHone service, I asked Big Dave where I should go and he said that I should take a place behind his truck. A few minutes later, Recon sent me to the end of a line of cop cars, where I parked.

I understood that I was to be immediately in front of the hearse so I found Mr. Davenport (funeral director) and the hearse driver Bill and confirmed that. I checked with the other biker and told him what I knew and arranged that he would lead. Then I returned to my other activities.

After the hearse was loaded I returned to my bike. The line of cop cars was gone. Al Oller directed the other biker and me to the end of the church drive near McHenry Street. The hearse did not move and was some distance from us. Another car moved in front of the hearse. The two of us waited at the end of the drive – no one in front of us, no one behind us and the hearse out of sight.

After a time, with the hearse not moving, I asked, “What’s the deal, Al?”

Al said “wait” and ran off. A short time later he came running back and said “Go, go!”

I yelled, “Which way?”

He yelled, “Left, left!”

So we went left. The other biker moved north on an utterly empty McHenry Street and I followed. It was so plainly evident that bad things were about to happen that I called out one last time, “Where are we going?”

In the circumstance, a reasonable question.

That must have been amusing to the television and print journalists gathered on the street in front of the church. It was not funny to me. I had some idea from my independent research, but I felt entitled to receive clear instruction from the PGR leadership. What I got from Al was something about a “cop at the corner” as I moved away from him. I was not wearing a helmet and paid keen attention, and that was all I got. “Cop at the corner.”

The other biker was wearing a helmet so he could not hear anything after “go, go” and “left, left”. He simply set parade speed and moved down the road like a good soldier. To the rest of the procession, everything might have seemed to be proceeding according to a plan, but I knew that the two bikes in the lead did not have a clue.

By the time we got to the first turn, which was onto US 14, we saw flashing lights but it was not clear which light we should follow. The lead bike made the reasonable assumption that we were crossing the busy road and had to be intercepted and redirected by the cop at the corner to go southeast instead.

Assuming there were other vehicles down US 14, should we speed-up to close the gap? That would mean (1) the increased speed would compromise the decorum of the procession, denigrating it for both those in the procession and those gathered along the roadside, (2) the increased speed would make us seem less like a solemn procession and more like regular traffic, which would mislead other traffic and reduce reaction times, and (3) what if there was no one ahead to catch up to?

I yelled across to my partner as we made the turn to advocate for increased speed but it was not the time, place or circumstance for a discussion. He continued at parade speed. With hindsight, I think he was right.

By the time we got to Virginia there was regular traffic ahead of us. The traffic signal turned red and that traffic stopped. We went around their left and pushed into the cross traffic. Understand this: I am not receptive to anyone second-guessing our judgment. There was no cop at this corner. We were the lead. The four-lane US highway was dedicated to our use and we didn’t think the Nathan McHone funeral procession should wait for people running to the grocery store. So we honked our bike horns and forced the matter. A woman driving a white SUV stopped with her grill only inches from my right knee.

I would get angry later. At that point, the whole of my mind was focused on the patches of black ice. The SUV that I cut off was just a distraction. We maintained parade speed. I was now convinced that gaps are dangers. My thinking at this point was that if we speeded-up, we would create gaps that that the SUV or others would exploit. That was probably not true but I came eye-to-eye with that driver and there was no one there to help me.

We honked as we entered intersections and the car behind us honked too. The emergency vehicles that were to establish our right-of-way had stopped and we caught up to them after Main Street. A blue sedan with a Dominos sign on its roof had fallen in behind them. I overtook him on his left, danger close to his window. When he turned to look he saw my right index finger on his window glass inches from his nose and heard the booming order to STOP. He stopped right away.

The second half of the trip to the cemetery was more routine, but only until we got to the cemetery. Reasonably, the emergency vehicles drove past the cemetery entrance and continued north on Rawson Bridge Road. We knew we were at the entrance because they turned-off their lights. I understand that the hearse would have made the turn anyway and led the rest of the procession in but my partner and I should have been informed. We turned where we saw flag-holders.

It happens that the lanes within this cemetery are very simple, but I didn’t know that. I had no idea where the gravesite was or how to get there. From my perspective, it was not too late to take a wrong turn and cause congestion, confusion and consternation. There was a car that appeared ahead of us with its four-ways on, but it was not clear to me that I should follow it. For example, there was no sign on the trunk that said, “Follow Me” and no one told me that I should be following any car.

As I passed a guy who was dressed like a cemetery worker, I yelled, “Which way do I go?” and he smiled and shrugged. I have never yelled during an escort before but for this one, it was the rule. Farther down the road I saw some people gathered and another guy in work clothes near the roadside. I yelled the simplest question I could think of in an aggressive tone that demanded an answer: “IS THAT THE GRAVE?”

He nodded, gestured toward the gravesite with his hand and back away from me. Ahead, the ice and snow-covered lane climbed a hill. My partner went on up the hill. But it led away from the grave. I parked. Maybe I stopped at the wrong grave – how would I know? The procession moved past me. I stood at my bike with my hand over my heart. Mr. Davenport stopped his car and suggested I continue up the hill. “No. That's it. I’ve had it.”

From the time during the church service when I was assigned to lead the hearse until I stopped at the grave, I had been seeking direction. I was no longer receptive. My curt response to Mr. Davenport is the only action yesterday afternoon that I regret.

It turns out that the people who went up the hill looped around and came down again. I did have the right grave but I am glad I didn’t hassle with the icy grade. And the people following the hearse never knew that anything was amiss. Mission accomplished.

My loyalty is to the mission, not the leadership. Until they read this, they won’t know that they did any less than a stellar job. But in my view, the role of the leadership is to make participation easier for the membership. It was enough that I rode through temperatures in the 20s after it snowed that very morning. I shouldn’t have to do route planning and traffic control too.  The headline at the top of this page was never published, but it might have been.

I am publishing this because it needs to be said. There is a forum that might be better for such comments. The Illinois Patriot Guard Riders has a FaceBook group in which I participated. Dan Hough used his position as Assistant State Captain to advocate for anti-First Amendment legislation and I used the FB group to point out that such behavior was contrary to the second paragraph of our stated mission. As a result, the state leadership of Gary Schrock, Dan Hough and Mark Pleasant expelled me from that group. Everyone says they welcome “constructive criticism” but they rarely mean it. This forum is beyond their censorship.

A week ago during the Patterson Mission, two newspapers published a detailed description of a PGR escort past his two schools and through the school’s parking lot. I posted a detailed map on my website and a FaceBook item entitled “secret mission” a half-day before the PGR national website was updated and the Illinois state-wide email was sent. When I heard RCs complaining among themselves about the word getting out through FB, I pointed out that two newspapers had already published that very information. Shootfight responded that “newspaper get things wrong” though they didn’t in that instance.

This weekend Shutefight gave three days of notice for the McHone airport escort, which was a good reaction in my view. I believe it helped produce the good turnout. His reaction was far better than Gary or Dan or Mark. If anyone takes these comments personally, then they have put themselves before the mission. There will always be mistakes – in our reactions we can compound the mistakes or we can learn from them. I did my best on the road yesterday and I am doing what I can by posting this.

But I don’t expect that Gary, Dan or Mark will appreciate it. I have higher expectations of Shutefight, Big Dave and Recon.

Respectfully submitted,

Don Russ


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