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Wichita Falls Living Magazine

Patriot Guard Riders

Oct 10, 2022 12:06PM ● By Heather Martin
Written by  Cindy Kahler Thomas
Photos courtesy of Mike Johnson and members of the Patriot Guard Riders

North Texas patriots celebrate heroes’ safe arrival home, and escort those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to their final resting place.

If you have ever seen a funeral procession led by men and women riding motorcycles with American flags attached to their bikes, you have had the pleasure of seeing Patriot Guard Riders accompanying a veteran or first responder to their final resting place. Ride Captain Gene DeBord said, “They are patriots that love America, love veterans, and love first responders. We do them all.” Gene estimates that there are about 20 Patriot Guard Riders (PGR) members in the Wichita Falls area. However, another Ride Captain, Mike Johnson, said there are over 400,000 members in the United States of America. The only prerequisite for membership is respect.

Many riders are veterans themselves, and the brotherhood reminds them of good times in the military. Gene is a Vietnam veteran.  Anyone can join whether they have a motorcycle, or a vehicle. Vehicles carry many of the flags and other staples like coolers with water. Gene doesn’t ride a motorcycle but provides support in other ways. “I set up the flags at the funeral home for the other riders. When the funeral starts, I take them down and move them to the cemetery and put them up again.” Gene joined after meeting Mike at a car show. “He explained what he did and I signed up for it,” Gene said. “I felt like veterans need to be honored. We didn’t get much coming out of Vietnam. At least we can give them a good send-off,” Gene shared. 

Despite varying backgrounds, they are all united in goal. Mike said, “All kinds of people join the PGR. People that ride motorcycles, people that don’t, and people like me that have never been in the military. Anyone that desires to serve our military’s deceased, as well as police, firefighter and all first responders. The first responders are included because they put their lives on the line every day,” Mike explained. “They are heroes too.”

There are four ride captains in Wichita Falls. They are the ones that send out a call to local members when the national office reaches out. Family members can also request their presence outside the church or funeral home, or grave site by asking the funeral home to contact the PGR. That isn’t all they do. They also welcome home service men and women by meeting them at the airport—both fallen and alive. Showering the living with praise, they make two lines on either side of the door so that the soldier knows pure appreciation when walking through the Patriot Guard Riders, who are each holding a large American flag. He or she knows they are loved as they are welcomed back home. When caskets come home, they do the same thing honoring the veteran who has made the ultimate sacrifice.

“We did one that was very meaningful to me, and a lot of us,” Mike said. “A young lady contacted us, and her dad was a Vietnam vet, and you know how they were treated when they came home the first time, well he was on what they call a remembrance trip to Vietnam. It is where they get to go see the places where they served in Vietnam and occasionally, they get to meet some of the people that they helped or worked with back then. Well, she asked what we could do to welcome him back home. So, we met him at the airport. There were a bunch of flags up and a bunch of us there. When he came in, he got an ovation and the news channels were there. He was crying, she was crying, we were crying. We put flags on our motorcycles and accompanied them from the airport to their house,” Mike said nostalgically. 

The PGR was formed in 2005 by American Legion units. At that time, there was a church protesting at funerals all over the country. They were protesting the Iraq war and certain political agendas. The group was very upsetting for families and friends of the deceased. The PGR came to the rescue of those families—creating lines of riders with flags to block the protesters from their disruption. It was a testimony to the Lord’s ability to prevail with good amidst the bad. The church has since disbanded but the PGR is still going strong, adding members every year, and comforting distraught families of heroes. 

Mike said, “Sometimes we have to fold the flag if the military isn’t going to be there, and we play a recording of taps. Normally we like the military to do it; they are better at it. However; to be frank, sometimes the family doesn’t want the military to be present,” Mike said.  The PGR are always there to do what they can.

The PGR is a 100 percent volunteer, nationwide 501C-3 nonprofit organization. According to the national website, “Our main mission is to attend the funerals of fallen American heroes as invited guests of the family. Each mission we undertake has two basic objectives; to show our sincere respect for the fallen heroes, their families and communities; and to shield mourning families and friends from interruptions by any protestors or groups of protestors. We achieve the latter by strictly legal and non-violent means. For those of you currently serving either here or abroad, please know that we are backing you. We honor and support you with every mission we take, and we are praying for a safe return for all."

“They are gone, but we live on,” Mike said, “The Patriot Guard has a legacy.” For more information on involvement or requests, visit †

 Another Patriot Guard Rider is Cliff Harney. He has a PT Cruiser that is patriotic to say the least. It is red, white and blue, resembling the American flag inside and out. It has flags attached to the back and a large eagle is painted under the hood. He also has a trailer with veterans’ names on it. Harney doesn’t stop there; he has a large sign memorializing the names of veterans, and is working on filling up a second sign. The signs can be set up at the funeral homes and cemeteries.

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