Patriot Guard Riders Comfort Returning Vets

Donnie 'Reaps' Snyder and his wife Linda 'Epicwoman' Snyder i i

Donnie "Reaps" Snyder and his wife Linda "Epicwoman" Snyder are members of the Patriot Guard Riders. Ketzel Levine, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Ketzel Levine, NPR
Donnie 'Reaps' Snyder and his wife Linda 'Epicwoman' Snyder

Donnie "Reaps" Snyder and his wife Linda "Epicwoman" Snyder are members of the Patriot Guard Riders.

Ketzel Levine, NPR
Patriot Guard Riders i i

Patriot Guard Riders Marilyn Everett (from left), BJ Jones, Joye "Grace" Howell, Linda "Epicwoman" Snyder, Donnie "Reaps" Snyder and Cal "Zopa" Manning. "We're so far different on values, principles and everything else," "Reaps" Snyder says. "But this one thing, this one time, today, we're here and we get along." Ketzel Levine, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Ketzel Levine, NPR
Patriot Guard Riders

Patriot Guard Riders Marilyn Everett (from left), BJ Jones, Joye "Grace" Howell, Linda "Epicwoman" Snyder, Donnie "Reaps" Snyder and Cal "Zopa" Manning. "We're so far different on values, principles and everything else," "Reaps" Snyder says. "But this one thing, this one time, today, we're here and we get along."

Ketzel Levine, NPR

A funny thing happened to Army Spc. Jeremiah Sullivan after his recent return from Iraq. As he and his fiancée were on their way home from Fort Bragg, N.C., they stopped at a gas station and were abruptly circled by a motorcycle brigade, gathered to welcome the soldier home.

The event was planned by the Patriot Guard Riders, a grassroots group that just keeps growing.

Over the past year, with a Web site — and a deep sense of gratitude — 61,000 strangers have come together to do works of good will: homecomings, visits to veterans hospitals, even house-painting. Sadly, though, their chief mission — done only with family approval — is to attend the funerals of military personnel.

BJ Jones, the southern Oregon ride captain for the Patriot Guard Riders, has been to 17 military funerals since he joined the group. He carries dog tags on his motorcycle to remind him just how many he has attended.

"They ride with me everywhere I go," Jones says.

Jones is only a year out of the military, and very much at home in the Patriot Guard Riders, whose volunteer works are called "missions" and whose ranks are dominated by veterans. For a great number of them — including Jones, the PGR seems like a gift, a place to belong and to matter, particularly during missions like homecomings.

"We did one very recently for a Marine that came back and shook his hand and said thank you for his service... It left him utterly speechless because he wasn't expecting this," Jones says. "Everyone's been drilled that it's going to be another Vietnam-type thing, and you're going to come home and there's not going to be anybody for you."

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