While hundreds of thousands of people in Indiana either spent Sunday going to the Brickyard 400 race in Indianapolis, or made their way to the many bars or cookouts to watch said sporting event on the television, thousands of people spent their day preparing to welcome home another fallen soldier. Spc. Nick Taylor of Berne, Indiana, was killed last week in Afghanistan protecting the freedoms we each enjoy daily.
Sunday morning showed it would be a great day, with a nice cool breeze in the morning, and glorious sunshine and whispers of clouds that would stay prevalent throughout the day. Many bikers from Indiana and Ohio would converge on the grounds of Indiana’s Air National Guard base, home of the 122nd Fighter Wing, in Fort Wayne, Indiana to show Spc. Taylor the homecoming he would not be able to enjoy, but so surely deserved.
Plans had been made by one of our HOG members, Jeff C., to start out from his home and slowly pickup other riders on the way to Fort Wayne. We met with Jeff in Fortville, and jumped in line with him and several other bikers that had already formed the initial convoy of motorcycles. Riding up IN-67, another group jumped in outside of Pendleton, and we made our way up I-69 to Daleville, where we met a large group of other riders who would be traveling north with us on this sunny morning.
Among the group were members from the nearby HOG chapters, Indiana Patriot Guard Riders, and other motorcyclists who had heard about the day’s journey. Each person gladly put aside their plans for the day, so that we could ensure that a deserving soldier would be escorted properly back to his hometown. Our group had grown to approximately 40 motorcycles, and our riding found us again heading north up I-69 until we reached the exit at Marion…where a very large contingent of bikers were waiting our arrival.
The group swelled to over 100 motorcycles at this point, and also became a police escorted ride. The day was getting warmer, and accessing cold water and liquids from this point forward became a reoccurring theme. We again headed north, and looped around I-469 until reaching the exit that would take us towards the Indiana Air National Guard base. About one mile from our destination, we became aware that many, many other bikers would be participating on this solemn journey.
As we pulled into the base, it became evident that many hundreds of motorcycles were already present, and parking had become an issue inside the base. Parking temporarily in one of the fields outside the gate, we were then led into an exterior parking lot, where we parked the bikes and continue to watch other riders appear.
Word had passed about the ride’s itinerary, with 2:00PM being the planned arrival of the private plane that would be arriving to the airfield carrying Spc. Taylor’s casket. Having arrived at least 45 minutes early, we were a little bummed that the base was no longer allowing motorcycles onto the interior property, but were in awe that so many people were participating. Our parking lot gave us the vantage point of watching the air traffic come into the field, and we knew we’d be among the first to spot the arriving plane on it’s descent and landing.
At approximately 2:01PM, a small white corporate jet came into view as it descended to the field we were parked next to. The entire group of 1,500+ people went quiet as we watched the plane come in and touch down quickly…it was painfully obvious that this was the plane that we were all there to greet. Somehow, we just knew that this was the last flight that this fallen soldier would ever be on, and you could literally feel the respect as not a single word was spoken throughout the parking lot.
As the base was at it’s capacity, our group was unable to go onto the grounds and help establish the flag line that would be created for the passage of the casket. Regardless, we all knew that our many brothers and sisters who had made it onto the base would ensure that everything was handled perfectly; so we waited outside until the family received their loved one, and the procession to proceed out the gate and onto the local roads towards Berne.
The Indiana Patriot Guard created another flag line outside the gates, and waited patiently in the now blistering sun for over half an hour awaiting the procession to lead the way. As the lead police escort pulled out, the entire group became silent again. Hands went over the hearts or into salute by most of those watching, and it would be impossible to say that most did not have tears in their eyes as we watched them pass. The vehicle holding the casket passed, followed by the family, and then by the 400 or so motorcycles that had found their way onto the base. The many bikes that were parked outside followed the main group of bikes onto the road, and the journey began on the road to escort SPC Taylor back to his home.
The ride to Berne was at least thirty miles, and the display that we saw by the many citizens in the area was overwhelming. Many of the residents of the area, and beyond, had also given up their day, and had been awaiting the procession to pass. Signs, and the many thousands of flags, were held high with pride and respect, and most people held them high in the sky until the entire group passed. Armed forces personnel, who obviously lived in the area, had turned out in their dress uniforms to stand in the blazing sun to pay their respects. All stood in salute of the entire group riding the route. Tears nearly filled our eyes whenever we saw this tribute…and more than one of these soldiers or sailors had pulled out their uniforms from decades past to wear on this day on the side of the road.
A sight that would make anybody proud was observing an ex-soldier, who was in his 80s or 90s, standing at full salute in the weeds between the north and southbound lanes…dressed in his military uniform from World War 2. Traffic was slow at this point, and as we passed him at about 15 miles an hour, you could see the tears rolling down his face. You could tell that he was using all of his strength to maintain his salute. Once you are in the brotherhood of the armed forces, you will always be there for another. God bless you, Sir.
News reports later in the day said that the procession was over eight miles in length. Throughout the ride, speeds ranged from 2 MPH to over 55 MPH…but most of the time, we were riding at an average of 20-30 MPH I would guess. The entire line slowed down as bigger groups of people were passed.
As we turned south on US-27, the population became more and more prevalent. Even way out in the country, we’d pass 1/4 mile with nobody, only to find dozens if not hundreds waiting at country road intersections. This area is also filled with many of the Amish faith, who also made it a point to bring out their horse and buggies, and also stand silently alongside the road in their best clothing to show their unity during this sad day. We may all have been of different faiths and beliefs, but this just goes to show when it all comes down to needing to be together as one, men and women will come together.
As we came into Decatur, Indiana, it was obvious that the entire town had stopped for the moment, and its citizens came out. Numbers were impossible to count, but by this time we must have easily passed a couple of thousand people standing on both sides of US-27, and Decatur easily exceeded that count. The closer that we came to Berne, the heavier the presence of people.
Rolling into Berne, it was nearly impossible to keep the motorcycles moving straight. You could see the amount of people at the town’s borders a couple of miles away, and the closer we got, the extent of the turnout continued to magnify. All I can say is…UNBELIEVABLE. Impossible to say the count of humans just in this town…they were dozens deep at places. We passed through Berne, and the family and close friends proceeded to the funeral home (I believe), and we decided to pull off on a road inside town to re-hydrate. A few riders just in our group had become lightheaded due to the heat, as well as the constant shifting and clutching during the entry into Berne. Water was shared all around, and after some time, we decided to make our way back towards home. By this time, our original group of over 100 bikes had dwindled back to many of the our HOG members, and we decided to head out.
IN-218 was the fastest way back to I-69, and after stopping for gas, the group slowly start splitting off in their own directions homeward. My wife and I stopped with 6 other people at a Applebee’s in Anderson to re-hydrate once more, and to intake some delicious food to re-energize for the last leg home.
For the day, all I can say it was a somber ride. I’m very glad to have participated, if not more than to just show strength in numbers, and to do my part in making sure somebody who paid the ultimate price would get back home with the honor they so truly deserved. Days like this make you think about things in your own life. It’s not all that important when the coffee maker screws up the morning java, or the grass needs cutting…or the laundry needs done. These little freedoms we have are provided to us by the sacrifice of the many individuals who are serving in our armed forces.
Do something for a vet…soon. Escort a fallen soldier home. Lend an ear or hand to a vet in need. Shake a vet’s hand in the airport when you see them in uniform. Buy their dinner when you see them at the restaurant. Let them know we appreciate everything they have done, or are doing, for all of us. And never forget the sacrifices that they made or are making for you every day.
As we were warned, we would at least have eyes of tears by the end of the day. It’s true. Many bigger, tougher, and stronger men and women than I routinely shed their tears on days like Sunday was…and they’ll be there the next time a fallen soldier comes home. And God willing, I will be there with them.