Retired Air Force Col. Gary West took a break from his 2,500 mile bicycle ride from Lubec, Maine to Key West, Florida, to be a part of a special flag folding ceremony on Marine Corps Air Station New River, Sept. 1, 2016.
West is riding as part of the Patriot Honor Ride with a special goal to present 16 families with U.S. flags folded by American citizens as a way to say thank you.
September 1, 2016 - Retired Air Force Col. Gary West stands with Marines and teammates after a flag folding ceremony on Marine Corps Air Station New River West is riding 2,500 miles to raise awareness of the sacrifices of fallen service members and their families. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jared Lingafelt)
"I am riding for Folds of Honor who is a group that provides scholarships to children and spouses of the fallen and disabled," said West. "The other thing I am doing is engaging the public along the way in flag folding ceremonies. We have 16 U.S. flags traveling with us; each flag is dedicated to a family that has lost a loved one in service to this country or has a disabled family member as a result of service to this country."
"We are trying to fly these flags on as many places of history, landmarks, places of interest along the way and engage the public with ceremonial flag folding," said west. "This is not only a way for people to say thank you to these 16 families, but through them to all families who have lost loved ones."
For Marines who folded the flag, the ceremony was an opportunity to look past their specific branch of service and pay their respects to fellow service members.
"It is important to take care of your own," said Cpl. Reisner. "Right now in our country not everyone is willing to take care of the military and veterans specifically and there all kinds of statistics to prove it but there are still those of us around who care and are willing to take care of our own. If we don't take care of our own, who will?"
West averages roughly 50 miles a day on his journey and is accompanied by a team with bicycle parts, the flags and other supplies all while engaging with the public in communities along the way. For the man behind the handlebars, one symbol is a constant reminder of the importance of his journey.
"The flag represents all of us," said West. "All that we stand for, all who have come before us, all who will go behind us and when a soldier has fallen that flag is draped over their remains, it's a last embrace of this nation to say ‘thank you for your sacrifice and for our freedom'.
While West still has many more miles to travel, he says he has learned a lot so far and the trips meaning is a reminder of a grateful nation.
"For me it's a chance to reflect on those friends that I have who have lost loved ones, that I came home after three combat tours and didn't sustain any injury but it's also a chance to connect with other Americans and let them touch the flags, fold the flags and in a way say, ‘ thank you'. I have been positively gratified by the sense of patriotism we have seen. I kind of feel the country is in a bit of a challenge at the moment and sometimes I wonder if enough people are really aware of how many freedoms there are, how they are purchased and how they are sustained. The response we have been getting from Maine to here has really been a very encouraging and uplifting experience for me."
By U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Jared Lingafelt
Provided through DVIDS
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