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A veteran is a veteran

LO's Hanan rides to make sure fallen U.S. soldiers are honored correctly

Patriotism in America is alive and well thanks to the Patriot Guard Riders.

They come by motorcycle and car and show the colors, going anywhere, anytime, to show their staunch support for the people who served in our military.

'The families are so appreciative,' said John Hanan II of Lake Oswego, who has ridden his motorcycle with the Riders since 2008. 'They appreciate our attendance and our respect. Everything is heartwarming.'

The Patriot Guard Riders are probably best known for one of the saddest tasks possible - being there when the coffin of an American soldier killed in the wars of the Middle East is delivered back home to Oregon.

But, they do much more, and a lot of it is happier duty: Gathering to greet American troops who return home to Oregon, riding in parades, going to veterans memorials all over the country.

'We've even been invited to family gatherings for soldiers who are laid to rest,' Hanan said.

The Riders even resemble the Minute Men of the American Revolutionary War era. On short notice they can muster up a handful of men to honor Americans who die in the service of their country.

They also show up in force. For the service of the four Washington police officers murdered in the line of duty in 2009, all 200 Riders of the Oregon-Washington Chapter were in attendance.

Some of the Riders are quite colorful, like Pipey, a blind man who plays the bagpipes.

When Hanan joined the Riders three years ago it was like a call to arms.

'I was reading about the Westboro Baptist Church (a Kansas church much publicized for its anti-gay protests at military funerals),' Hanan said. 'I decided the Patriot Guard Riders was something I wanted to get involved with.'

So far, Hanan has not run into any Westboro members demonstrating at a military funeral.

'Fortunately they're not in Oregon much,' he said, 'although one time there was such a big threat that the FBI came in.'

Protesters or not, as an Air Force veteran of the Vietnam War era, Hanan has strong personal reasons for being active with the Riders.

'I look at how Vietnam veterans were treated when they came home,' Hanan said. 'I never want that to happen again. It didn't happen to me, but it happened to my brother Stephen, who was in a combat zone.'

As a reward for their loyalty, the Patriot Guard Riders receive some of the most meltingly grateful letters you could possibly read.

Like the one from Bonnie Boom, wife of slain soldier Danny Boom, who wrote, 'It meant so much to our son to see his father buried with the respect he deserved that words cannot express how thankful I am for people like you.'

When one of the last Pearl Harbor survivors was buried in Roseburg last March, the Patriot Guards were there. His stepdaughter wrote to them saying, 'What an amazing thing it is that you do. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.'

Hanan has a simple explanation for such extraordinary service.

'A veteran is a veteran in our eyes.'