North Dakota Patriot Guard Fallen Heroes Memorial and Honor Run a tribute to area soldiersThe roar of hundreds of motorcycles could be heard for blocks around the Dickinson Recreation Center on Saturday.
The roar of hundreds of motorcycles could be heard for blocks around the Dickinson Recreation Center on Saturday.
Bikers from all over North Dakota rallied together to remember, honor and celebrate the lives of North Dakota’s fallen heroes at the fifth annual North Dakota Patriot Guard Fallen Heroes Memorial and Honor Run.
The run began in Dickinson with a short program at noon followed by stops in Belfield, New England and Regent. The riders traveled back to Dickinson via the Enchanted
The event started five years ago when the group honored Army National Guard Spc. Jon Fettig, 30, of Dickinson who was killed during an ambush rocket grenade attack near Ar Ramadi, Iraq, in July 2003 next to the Euphrates River.
Fettig was the first North Dakota Army National Guard soldier killed in battle in decades.
“As a group we felt the need to do something to honor North Dakota’s fallen heroes and decided on a program and bike ride,” NDPG Southwest North Dakota Ride Captain Stewart Stenberg said.
NDPG State Captain Tony Krogh added, “These soldiers died in valiant efforts to bring us peace, keep us safe, and protect our freedoms, for that we are immeasurably greatful.”
This year the group is honoring Cpl. Curtis Mehrer, 21, of Bismarck, Sgt. Travis Van Zoest, 21, of Larimore, Spc. Michael Hermanson, 21, of Fargo, and Spc. Anthony Monroe, 20, of Bismarck.
Mehrer and Zoest were members of the Security Forces of the 188th Air Defense Artillery and died in 2006. The pair had been in Afghanistan for about 2 ½ months when the vehicle they were riding in was hit by a bomb or tank mine blast south of Khogyani, Afghanistan.
Hermanson died of injuries sustained when his RG-31 Mine Protected Vehicle came under attack from an improvised explosive device, a rocket-propelled grenade and enemy small-arms fire while on a route-clearing mission during combat operation in Abayachi, Iraq.
Monroe died in 2004 in Baghdad, Iraq, when two rockets impacted his camp.
“The event is not meant to be a funeral environment,” Stenberg said. “We are gathering in thanksgiving to celebrate the men’s lives and show respect.”
Adeline Reis of Bismarck, the mother of a past-honored soldier, said the gathering is more like a family reunion.
“Its good to get together with other families who have and are dealing with some of the same things we have all been through,” Reis said.
Liz Sweet, family member of another past honored fallen soldier, agreed.
“We find comfort and safety with the Patriot Guard,” Sweet said. “A lot of people say ‘we will never forget’ or ‘we will always remember’ but the guard always remember they are always there for us and they honor every North Dakota soldier.”
Renae Hendrickson and Kim Schuler, wife and step-daughter of a past-honored soldier say they think about their loved one everyday and say the Patriot Guard has never let them down and is always there for them.
Joyce Mehrer mother of Mehrer said the Patriot Guard was at her son’s funeral says they have become family.
“They look out for us, sacrifice a lot of time to be with us and love generously,” Mehrer said.
Mehrer rode in the rally and added she enjoys coming to the rallies to see everyone and visit with friends.
About 400 people showed up for Saturday’s event.
“The response has been tremendous,” Stenberg said. “The event has grown so much over the years. And I can’t emphasize enough how appreciative we are of the participation and generous donations of money, time and prizes.”
The Patriot Guard’s primary focus is to protect soldiers’ families at funerals from protestors, Krogh said. “It’s not as common anymore but it that doesn’t diminish our efforts, we want to be there for soldiers, veterans and their families.”
He added the Patriot Guard is made up of people who say ‘not this time.’
“You see Vietnam and Korean veterans did not receive a warm welcome when they came home,” Krogh said. “There were a lot of people who had strong anti-war feelings and took it out on those who came back not realizing what they had been through, it just seemed disrespectful. And we did not want this new group of soldiers to go through that.”