Memorial Day is every day for those who participate in memorial rides
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Monday is Memorial Day, but for the volunteers that make up the American Legion and Patriot Guard riders, their mission is the same as it is every other day of the year — to remember veterans who gave their life for their country.
They do this by conducting memorial rides for veterans who have passed away.
“Most people join the riders just because they want to continue their service,” said L.Z. Harrison, Jr., a retired Army Sergeant Major.
Harrison is the Director of the Post 6 American Legion Riders and the Assistant State Captain for the South Carolina Patriot Guard Riders. He told WIS News 10 it starts with getting a notification from a funeral home or the next of kin.
Then, they get together on their motorcycles and ride to the ceremony. Some riders put large flags on their bikes and some wear black leather vests dotted with colorful patches. Many are veterans who served in different military branches, where as others are civilians.
Despite their many differences, they travel in an entourage, all on the same important mission.
“It’s our way to continue to give back,” Harrison said. “We feel like we provide a service to show families and to show veterans that their service to their country, especially those that died ... will never be forgotten as long as we are around.”
David F. Mills, Jr. is also retired from the Army as a Master Sergeant. He is the District 20 Commander for American Legion Department of South Carolina.
“We’re honoring those that have given their all,” Mills said. “We’re able to be here because ... we did the same thing, but we came back, and that’s the biggest reason.”
Harrison said the two groups are made up of veterans and family members of veterans from all of the military branches who want to honor those who served their country.
Even though he has attended a number of services and memorials, he said each one is unique and unforgettable.
‘They’ve become a member of our family’
Some of the memorial rides have led to life-long bonds between the riders and families.
“There are many families here in the Midlands that we continue to see and continue to hug every time we see them,” Harrison said. “They’ve become a member of our family and we let them know every time we see them that we remember their loved one.”
Although the riders will be taking part in ceremonies across the Midlands on Memorial Day, they will still take the time to reflect on their own friends and family who are no longer with them.
Mills will be thinking about his father who is buried at the Fort Jackson National Cemetery, where he also honors many veterans through the memorial rides.
“My dad was a big father figure for me because he was in the Air Force for 21 years,” Mills said. “I’ll be thinking about a lot of people. Those that I worked with in Iraq, even Panama because I deployed to Panama as well.”
The biggest message the riders had for the public on Memorial Day is it’s not a day of celebration, but rather a day of observance.
“It’s not a happy day for many families in South Carolina and across this nation,” Harrison said. “It’s actually a day of remembrance of the loved ones they lost.”
Comradery for the veterans
“When we get together, we get to talk about the things that go on in our life and sometimes we don’t even have to talk because we each know how the other feels,” Mills said.
If you would like to request a memorial ride for a loved one, you must extend an invitation to the American Legion Riders or the Patriot Guard Riders. You can do that through the funeral home or by contacting your local American Legion post or submitting a request through the Patriot Guard’s website.
The riders also provide a flag line for services without rides.
To become a rider, you can also reach out to your local American Legion post or the Patriot Guard.
“We have a saying. Everyone of us says, ‘It’s our honor,’” Harrison said. “It’s our honor to be able to do this to show our appreciation for those loved ones and as well as for the families because it’s ultimately the sacrifice they’ve given their loved one to this country ... How else can you do anything but to honor them?”
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