Michael Smerconish: One by one, GOP candidates ride the wave, while Obama laughs

By Michael Smerconish

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Published: Thursday, Dec. 1 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

The Patriot Guard Riders escort the hearse by invitation from a fallen soldier's family. They were inspired, ironically, by the hateful Westboro Baptist Church, a teeny group of protesters who like to show up at soldier's funerals and bother the families with their message that the individual's death was divine retribution for America's tolerance of homosexuality. They say stupid things, like expressing thankfulness for the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that have killed so many of our young men and women in the last few years.

Why their deity would single out a soldier here and another there to express wrath is beyond me. It doesn't fit in with anything I've been taught about God's nature.

But I suppose we owe them thanks for inspiring the Patriot Guard Riders, who have expanded their purpose to embrace the funerals of firefighters, police and other first responders and to welcoming soldiers home. What they do is a public "thank you" for service.

The PGR website sums it up: "We don't care what you ride or if you ride, what your political views are, or whether you're a hawk or a dove. It is not a requirement that you be a veteran. It doesn't matter where you're from or what your income is; you don't even have to ride. The only prerequisite is Respect."

The procession and my near-failure to see it reminded me of those who serve their country far away — something I've selfishly paid less attention to since my own soldiers, my brother Ken and nephew Josh, both got home safely. What a lamentably short attention span.

A soldier's final journey demands silence and a hand over the heart — if you're blessed enough to notice it.

But it also reminded me that so much life passes by me, and I'm usually paying very poor attention. That's something I can change. When my dad became blind at age 13, he said the thing he missed most were the sunsets. I don't always remember to look at them.

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