LANCASTER — When the U.S. Army announced that the remains of Alex Kariger, a 21-year-old from Lancaster who passed away during training at Ft. Brum, N.Y., would be flown back to Southern California on Tuesday, David Corbin and Greg “Gunny” Donor were on standby.
Corbin, a 40-year resident of Lancaster, and Donor, who lives in Fontana in San Bernardino County, are two of the senior members of the Southern California Patriot Guard Riders.
At the national level, the Patriot Guards are a 501(c)3 nonprofit, founded in 2006. The local membership is more of a loose affiliate, but the mission is the same: To accompany the fallen members of the Armed Services, in addition to fallen first responders.
“The purpose is two-fold: One, is that no outside entity attempts to interrupt,” Donor, the senior ride captain, said. “Secondary is that (the fallen is) honored and no one disrespects him and his family.”
He estimates he’s accompanied more than 1,000 processions since the Patriot Guards began riding in 2006, in direct response to the funeral protests organized by the Topeka, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church.
“They’ve come out here on three occasions and I’ve confronted them,” Donor said. “We form a barrier between them and the family. They have every right to protest and the family has every right not to see them.”
Corbin, a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard during the Vietnam War, joined the Patriot Guard Riders seven years ago and now serves as the ride captain for the Antelope Valley region that spans from Rosamond to the Newhall border. He said he signed up online. SoCalPGR.org is the regional Riders website where anyone can view planned accompaniments and reach out for information.
Corbin signed up for the Patriot Guard Riders as soon as he found out it existed. As the group’s de facto leader in the Valley, he visits area funeral homes and hands out business cards so that funeral home staff can pass along the info to the families of the fallen.
The Riders services are free to the mourning families.
“Everything we do is courtesy and each individual is self-supporting,” Donor said. “We don’t ask the families for a single thing, except for the honor of honoring their loved one.”
The Riders are there to lend a hand throughout the fallen’s last journey.
“Once we get to the funeral home, we will assist in removing (the veteran’s remains) from the coach and take them to the mortuary,” Donor said. “On day of (the veteran’s) services, we’ll accompany them to wherever the church is … we’ll be with them every time he’s moved.”
For Corbin, deciding to be a part of the accompaniments — the Riders eschew “escort” — was easy.
“That wasn’t done for us when we were in the military,” he said. “It’s very humbling. You see what these families are going through. It makes you realize what these people give up.” The number of riders on any particular accompaniment can range from five to 100, and although many are bikers, a motorcycle is not a requirement to join.
“if you’re willing to roll, we’ll take it … all you gotta do is respect and honor our fallen,” Donor said.
On Tuesday, Corbin and other riders gathered at the Antelope Valley Harley-Davidson dealership in Lancaster, before riding to LAX. Once at the airport, they waited at the Bob Hope USO at the airport’s Theme Building. Once Kariger’s remains arrived and his casket placed in the coach, the Riders accompanied the coach carrying Kariger on the 76-mile trip north to Halley-Olsen-Murphy Funerals and Cremations in Lancaster.