Exhibit honors fallen Oklahomans
October 18, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla. -- Kendall Jirtle, a veteran and Lawton resident, looked over the names and photos of Oklahomans on the Remembering Our Fallen exhibit Oct 11-13 at the Great Plains Coliseum.
The display attracted small groups of people, each quietly reviewing the names and faces of those who served ... and died.
In doing so, Kendall reconnected with two family members.
His brother, Scott, an Army specialist, was killed in June 2010 by an IED in Afghanistan. He also lost a cousin to the war.
Silently, he toured the exhibit holding his son, Prestyn, his wife, Brandi, close by his side.
"It means a lot to see this, because it seems a lot of people want to forget about things," he said. "This is just something you can't forget about, I love it."
He said the display gave people a place where they could hold onto the memories of those who served and died for their country.
Dan James, of McAlester, and Penny Stroud, a Lawton resident, also reviewed the collage of images. Although the two came to the coliseum for a Harley riders' group meeting, their connection to the exhibit is much more personal though in a different way.
James and Stroud both ride in the Patriot Guard Riders, a group that formed in November 2005 to honor veterans and emergency services personnel at their funerals.
"You don't have to be a biker to be a member; all you have to have is respect," said James, who added nationally the group has more than 270,000 members.
He added the group doesn't meet or have a dress code.
"We do this because we're never going to have someone come home or onto their final resting place without the respect due them," said James, a Vietnam veteran.
Stroud said members protect mourning families from uninvited protesters at funerals.
"We gather to prevent families from seeing or hearing these protesters," said Stroud, an Oklahoma assistant state captain for the group. "Riders hold American flags, sing patriotic songs and stand for veterans and those killed in action."
She added group members aren't just motorcycle riders, and anyone may join. She said they also stand for firefighters, police officers and anyone who has performed a service for the protection of others.
"We will stand, represent them and honor their service," she said.
Rather than just show up at funerals, a ride captain responds to an invitation to attend and assembles group members.
"These families are inviting us to their most intimate, personal, life-changing moments of their lives and it's something we have to respect and honor," said Stroud.
James looked long at the photo of a young man killed in action. He became the ride captain in charge of that service member's funeral. He said the young man married a few days prior to being sent overseas. He died just prior to returning home."
"When you do one of these KIA missions, it's life changing. I'm still in contact with his parents, and anything they need I will help any way I can," he said.
Stroud said she hopes one day to only respond to requests involving retired people who lived a full life. Regardless of how long the war continues, the riders will continue to extend honors after the war ends.
For more information on the group, visit www.pgrofok.us.