Jim died in a place where there is no color; just shades of grey all 12 months.

Jim died at a time when his hometown was bursting with the colors of autumn.

Instead of returning to Darlington, Wisconsin for the funeral day of Jakob Roelli, I traveled to the home of Jim Butz in Indiana.  He was to arrive at an airport in Valraraiso and we were to escort him north 15 miles to Chesterton.  I got to the airport an hour early but there were already enough bikes ahead of me to make a respectable escort.

Fire departments transformed the commercial facility into a temporary memorial.

The few bikes would become hundreds.  The FD flag was the first of thousands.

Danita Clemans brought one.  The "All Americans" of the 82nd Division are the light infantry of our army.

She and Calvin were soldiers, as is their daughter Terra Embich and her husband Walt who is an 82nd Sergeant Major.

Soldiering is often a family tradition.

The pain of sacrifice falls on relatively few American families.

They stand for our nation and the Patriot Guard is their extended family.

Lucky for me, the Patriot Guard has lower membership standards than the services.  That is why I can stand shoulder-to-shoulder beside great men like these:

We were called together for Pledge and prayer.  Then the Ride Captain reminded us of flagline protocol:  No cell phones, no eating, no smoking, no talking.  He also remined us of procession protocol:  No waving, no honking, no revving, no cheering.

And then he introduced the new State Captain:

Ron Coleman, aka Chief will be a fine leader.  After the breifing he wanted to present a mission pin to the girl shown on the left below, near the edge of the road.  I hope he found her.

And then it was time. The center of the hanger had a few rows of folding chairs beneath a huge American flag that was suspended from the ceiling far above. I was among those who formed a corridor of flags from the waiting room to those chairs.

The family walked quietly between our flaglines, some of them overtaken with emotion of the imminent reality. They had been told that Jim was killed. They had been told where, when and how. But all that was just words. Now there was something tangible. Now there were folding chairs. These were the chairs where they would sit when Jim was finally returned to them. The chairs faced the hanger door – the jet would not enter the hanger. The doors were closed. And then, like the curtains of a stage, the doors were opened.

The little jet was parked just outside the hanger. PGRiders had formed a sheltering perimeter connecting the jet to the hanger. The Kalitta air crew opened the door, positioned the two ramps, off-loaded the lift, removed the ramps and positioned the lift.

The escort climbed down from the plane and took a place near the lift and stood motionless. He wore the maroon beret of the 82nd division. He was wearing his class A uniform and looked like any other soldier from a distance, with an exception. He was not wearing dress shoes. The 82nd Division dress uniform includes jump boots. The whole division is paratroopers. The divisional expertise is to land in the enemy’s backyard carrying nothing but rifles. “We hit the ground, form at the rally point and move on the objective.  That's what we do.” my step-son, also named Jim, also 82nd Division, explained to me.

Then the casket appeared for the first time. The equipment was grey, like Afghanistan. The lift had a black skirt. But the first visible corner of the casket was covered in a fabric of bright red and white stripes. Of the many flags present, all eyes went to this one.

Jim’s casket was moved onto the lift and lowered. Then the army detail moved Jim’s casket to a stand in front of the chairs. The PGRiders who had been holding flags outside moved quietly inside and the big hanger doors closed again. The army chaplain led us in prayer and said a few words. And then the family, two or three at a time, came forward to greet their returning hero. The semi-circle of PGRiders stood quietly, motionlessly and waited.

And then it was time to mount-up.

Newspapers have published the story of our trip those 15 miles.  There were people along the whole route holding signs and flags.  Mindful of the RC's instruction, I have only this one image taken while riding:

Welcome home, Jim.






(in process, to be posted here in a few days)