A New Blue Star Mom Shows Supports for Fallen Soldier

The Patriot Guard Riders line the drive to shield the fallen soldier's family from any possible protestors.

As I get ready to transition from the mom of a cadet at The Citadel to the mom of an U.S. Army 2LT, a fellow Citadel Ya Ya suggested I join the Blue Star Mothers (BSM), a nonprofit for mothers with children in the military. I signed up just last week. 

Two days later I received an email from the BSM asking members to please attend the funeral for a fallen soldier from our area, Spc. Gary L. Nelson, III of Woodstock, GA. The Westboro Baptist Church group was threatening to protest the proceedings and they wanted to get as many people as possible out to show support for the family and keep them from seeing or hearing any protesters.

The Patriot Guard Riders wait outside the sanctuary for the family of Spc Gary L. Nelson, III to arrive.

I posted a note to my Facebook page to ask anyone who was in the area to attend too if they could.  I received a flood of supportive responses from friends, many of them mothers of cadets at The Citadel. Since I had never attended a military funeral, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  As the mom of a future Army officer, I felt it was my duty to show the Nelson family support.

I arrived at the church an hour and a half before the funeral.  The crowds already formed along the road to the church. After parking in a neighborhood across the street, I walked to the church. Along the way, I met a man and his young son. He was a Baptist pastor who lived in the neighborhood.

I began to take photos of the gathering crowd. Some wore patriotic clothing, others carried signs of support for the Nelson’s and many had American Flags. They represented all different generations. When I crossed the street and saw the crowd gathered there, my eyes began to tear up for the first time since arriving.

Johnny “Swatt” Badger of the Patriot Guard Riders instructs the people gathered to salute if you are a veteran or put their hands over their hearts as the family passes.

A huge gathering of the members of the Patriot Guard Riders (PGR) was just inside the parking lot.  Scores of motorcycles of varying sizes and types were lined up.  Many of them had American Flags flying. The riders were gathered in a group apparently receiving instructions for the morning. Once the group broke up a line formed at the rear of a car as 2 people began to hand out large American Flags to the PGR members. They took the flags and began to line up on both sides of the entrance to the sanctuary of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church.

Also watching the events as they unfolded were a group of ROTC cadets.  I could tell they were cadets by the leadership patch on their arms, but I didn’t know which program they represented. I said hello and asked where they went to school. They were all with North Georgia College and State University, which has an excellent Army ROTC department. After a brief time of good-natured kidding (The Citadel and North Georgia are rivals) we had a great conversation. I took a group photo, which by then also included a few members of the National Guard who came over to say hello.

Army ROTC cadets form North Georgia College & State University and visiting National Guard members wait in the parking lot of the church for the family to arrive.

Like most of the crowd they did not know the fallen soldier, but the cadets and a hand full of National Guard soldiers heard about the funeral and the rumored protest and decided it was important for them to come and support the family.

I moved on to take photos of the scene unfolding in front of the church. The Patriot Guard Riders were evenly spaced from both sides of the front door of the sanctuary and along the sidewalk. Each person held an American flag on a long white flag pole. They wore their leather vests, which displayed patches of the organizations, and/or ideals they represent.

The Honor Guard during their practice.

At quick glance I could tell many of these mostly men were Vietnam Vets.  A few children members joined the tribute. A little farther away from the front door a group of JROTC cadets began to take their place along the sidewalk. As I took photos my eyes filled with tears. I can’t imagine the grief the Nelson family feels. Seeing so many people come out to support the Nelson family filled me with emotion. I hope the family will be able to find some small comfort from all those who gathered to honor their son and to thank them for their ultimate sacrifice.

Members of the Georgia Department of Defense pay their respects.

It was time for the family to arrive so I moved to the entrance of the parking lot and met a number of people who came from some distance to support the family. People with large flags lined up along the street. At one point a woman stepped forward and asked the crowd to recite the Pledge of Allegiance together. A group of easily a couple hundred put their hands over their hearts and recited the Pledge.

An announcement was made that the family was almost to the church. A representative of the Patriot Guard Riders stepped forward to instruct us that current and former members of the military should salute and all others could place their hands on their hearts. I watched as this group of strangers quietly followed the instructions.

The Patriot Guard Riders surround the area where the service is taking place.

When the procession of police escorts, funeral home vehicles and family members arrived they were greeted with scores of supporters at attention quietly paying tribute to their son.  As cars with family and friends drove by where I stood, I could see the passengers and drivers were all filled with emotion, wiping the tears from their eyes.

Once the family and visitors were inside for the funeral some people began to leave for the Georgia National Cemetery. I decided to go as well. Along the 20 minute ride from the church in Woodstock to the cemetery in Canton, I could see members of the local fire department on the overpasses hanging American flags.  A group of people waited in a shopping center parking lot along the route.

The Army ROTC cadets stand at attention during the Honor Guard practice prior to the family arriving to the cemetery.

The cadets from North Georgia College were at the cemetery along with the Honor Guard and representatives of the Georgia Department of Defense (GDoD). I took photos as the honor Guard began to practice.

When the family arrived, they were escorted by the Patriot Guard Riders.  Once again the PGR took their flags and lined up around the gathering spot for the service. The Honor Guard, cadets and the GDoD members stood at attention.

Fortunately, the protestors never arrived. The Nelson family and friends could say good bye to their soldier in peace.

Previous entries by Dorie Griggs:

The Making of a Military Mom

Mom Readies for Son’s Military College

The Citadel: Year One a No Fly Zone for Hovering Parents

How The Citadel “Ya-Yas” Came to Be

Learning Leadership and Ethics at The Citadel

The Citadel Trained Me as Well as My Son

The Citadel: BVA’s and  Summerall Guards

The Citadel: Recognition Day and Ring Weekend

Care Packages for Cadets: The Citadel Heroes Project

The Citadel Bond Renews Parents’ Long Time Friendships

The Citadel: Unofficial Tips for Families of Incoming Knobs

The Citadel: Saying Good-Bye, But Always Connected

A Sister, a Mom, A Family Prepares for Military Life

Survival Skills to Succeed as a Citadel Mom

Here’s an open letter to the Westboro Baptist Church  from another contributor asking the church members to stop protesting fallen soldiers’ funerals and instead protest at government venues where policy is changed.

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15 Responses

  1. Thanks for this article and photos Dorie. Very touching. Glad to see all the support for the family.

  2. Great article!

  3. Thank you for sharing this experience. It was so moving to read about, I can only imagine how it felt to all who were there. And thank you for representing Blue Star Mothers so well.

  4. Thanks so much for your story Dorie, you expressed it so well for so many of us Moms, being new to the military, Army. Having been a Citadel Mom will surely help for your career as Army Mom.

    Thanks to to PGR, ROTC and all who were able to attend and support the Nelson family.

    To Spc. Nelson, III Thank you for your service to our country, your ultimate sacrifice will always be remembered.
    My prayer is that God comforts the family of Spc. Gary Nelson, III.
    BSM to two, U,S. Army. VMI, VA Tech

  5. Great story and good looking images!

    Would love to have you share this on our Facebook wall!

    https://www.facebook.com/GeorgiaGuard

  6. Thank you Georgia Guard!!
    I’ve posted the link on your FB page.

  7. Great! Thanks!

  8. […] A New Blue Star Mom Shows Supports for Fallen Soldier […]

  9. […] to them and tell them of how impressed I was by their cadets when I met them at the funeral for Spc Gary L. Nelson, III a few months ago. Dorie Griggs holding her Challenge Coin, Police Chief John King (left) and an aid […]

  10. […] A New Blue Star Mom Shows Supports for Fallen Soldier […]

  11. […] joined the Patriot Guard Riders of Georgia last year after attending the funeral of a young soldier. You don’t have to ride a motorcycle to be a member. The members of the PGR impressed me with […]

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