LAPAZ – Despite temperatures in the 30s on Friday, Indiana Patriot Guard Riders rode through LaPaz on their way to Niles, Mich., to return the remains of a veteran who had recently died.
It was a journey that started in New Mexico three days earlier, according to John Petro, the Indiana state captain of the Indiana Patriot Guard Riders.
Petro and a group of about 20 fellow Indiana Patriot Guard Riders – many dressed in layers to brave the cold as they drove their motorcycles – arrived in LaPaz at about 5:30 p.m. for an exchange ceremony of the cremated remains of U.S. Air Force veteran Bradley J. Williams.
Williams, a 1967 graduate of Niles High School, served four years in the USAF and was discharged as a sergeant in 1971. While he didn’t serve in Vietnam, he did serve during the Vietnam War era, according to his obituary.
After leaving the air force, he served as an officer with the U.S. Border Patrol stationed in Alamogordo, N.M., for 30 years. Williams, 72, died in early October in Alamogordo after battling an unspecified form of cancer, his obituary states.
Patriot Guard riders left New Mexico with Williams’ remains on Tuesday – what’s known as a Pony Express Mission, according to the Patriot Guard Riders – and the Indiana chapter members made their way from Central Indiana to Northern Indiana on Friday. In LaPaz, the remains were exchanged between Central Indiana and Northern Indiana riders and were then expected to make their way to Niles.
Chuck Damp, of Bristol, the assistant senior ride captain for the North Central Indiana district of Indiana Patriot Guard Riders, said he was first contacted about three weeks ago concerning the proposed Pony Express Mission.
“In the last week, we’ve been evolving and all of the states getting more and more involved,” Damp said.
Members of the North Central district rendezvoused with riders from central Indiana in the parking lot of McDonald’s near the intersection of Old U.S. 31 and U.S. 6 for a brief exchange ceremony. There riders signed an Indiana Patriot Guard Riders’ flag for Williams’ family. They also held hands in silence and listened to the Randy Travis’ song “America Will Always Stand.”
Along with the Indiana Patriot Guard Riders, members of Plymouth’s American Legion Honor Guard were at the exchange ceremony.
Petro, of Anderson, the state captain, said that being a member of Indiana Patriot Guard Riders has special meaning for him because he’s worked as a firefighter/emergency medical technician for three decades.
“For me being a member of the Indiana Patriot Guard gives me an opportunity to show honor and respect to our military and fellow first responders,” he said. “Also showing the Vietnam War veterans honor and respect because they didn't get that when they returned home from the war.”