Cedar Posts' wingman "The General" and fellow Patriot Guard Riders
Shelby Star reporter Jordan-Ashley Baker
They wore heavy black pants, vests covered in tattered patches and studded boots — leather-clad reminders of the frailty of human life.
The men and women of the Patriot Guard Riders stood beside the waiting hearse and watched silently as members of the U.S. Army Honor Guard carefully removed a flag-draped coffin.
Those riders whose hands weren’t occupied by large American flags raised their arms to their foreheads or on their hearts in salute to Staff Sgt. Christopher Newman, a fallen soldier. Newman died Oct. 29 in a Kabul, Afghanistan suicide attack that left 12 other Americans dead.
After the Army Honor Guard members carried Newman’s coffin inside Bethel Baptist Church to prepare for his funeral, the Patriot Guard Riders stayed outside — waiting and watching.
Bill Cook of Sherrills Ford, who is the ride captain for the Newman mission, estimated the Patriot Guard Riders brought about 120 bikes and 200 people to Shelby on Wednesday for Newman’s funeral and the seven-mile processional to his burial at Cleveland Memorial Park. The Patriot Guard is a national, Web-driven organization where motorcycle riders attend the funerals of fallen American troops as invited guests of the servicemembers’ families.
Cedar's Ride a Yamaha V-Star
Keith Elledge of Boiling Springs has served in the Patriot Guard for six years. His brother died in the Vietnam War.
“It’s the ultimate sacrifice, as far as I’m concerned,” Elledge said.
The Purple Heart
With the Patriot Guard Riders keeping watch outside the church, hundreds gathered inside for Newman’s funeral service.
His family members walked into the church as the congregation sang “God Bless America.” Some of the family wore yellow ribbons on their lapels, while others waved small American flags. Many dabbed at already-red eyes with crumpled facial tissues.
Newman’s coffin stood before the pulpit, flanked by red, white and blue flower arrangements.
Members of the military, wearing pristine uniforms, were mixed among those seated inside the church. During a military presentation of honors, the Army soldiers presented Newman’s widow, Amanda Newman, and other family members with Newman’s service honors.
Newman received the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star as well as several other service medals. He was also posthumously promoted to staff sergeant.
The servicemembers gripped Amanda Newman’s hands in theirs as they handed her the medals. They bent down to embrace others, sometimes pausing for several moments to whisper words of support and encouragement.
“He was such a bright light,” the Rev. Steve Waters said of Newman, who Waters knew as a young man.
Waters recalled the mischievous, playful Newman laughing and whispering during church services. Newman’s family and friends laughed at Waters’ story, nodding their heads and smiling as if they could imagine Newman whispering into their own ear with a joke to tell.
“He enjoyed life so much that he just couldn’t contain himself,” Waters said.
And although Waters and Newman shared moments of laughter and jokes, they shared a serious moment when Newman returned to church this spring before being deployed.
Waters recalled how he talked with Newman and asked if he had fully committed his life to God and his son, Jesus. Waters said Newman answered firmly that he had.
‘For the sake of our freedoms’
While the service continued inside, Bethel Baptist Church member Mable Shepherd of Shelby stood outside with two American flags grasped in her hands. She had been standing in the same spot for more than two hours.
Just a few of more than 100 Patriot Guard motorcycles
“I just wanted to give honor to the families,” she said.
Shepherd’s sister served in the U.S. Navy for 20 years, so she knows about the sacrifices of servicemembers and their families
“(Soldiers) go and endure a lot for the sake of our freedoms — so I could stand here,” Shepherd said, never lowering the flags waving in her outstretched hands.
She waited solemnly, silently for the processional of Newman’s family to leave the church and down South Dekalb Street. Suddenly, the rumbling of motorcycle engines punctuated the solemn silence.
The Patriot Guard Riders were on the road again.
Cedar Posts and Fellow Patriot Guard Riders
In rows of two, with American flags streaming behind them, more than 100 motorcycles filed out of the church parking lot.
The riders disappeared into the distance toward Cleveland Memorial Park — the final stop on a mission for a fallen soldier.
More of the Shelby Star's extensive coverage is here