Just before the special motorcycle hearse – a trailer with a mahogany floor and lanterns from England – roared off on its first journey with the remains of veterans, several members of its motorcycle riding escort somberly took it all in.
“Let’s get her done!” someone called out from the parking lot of the Lakeside Memorial Funeral Home in Hamburg.
Four Patriot Guard Riders, veterans volunteers who form funeral corteges for fellow veterans, carefully carried a tray with four boxes containing the cremated remains of soldiers and sailors and slid it into the elegant hearse.
It was shortly after 8 a.m. Friday and the 100-mile trip to the Bath National Cemetery was about to begin with a pit stop to collect about 100 more riders at the Tops Market in Amherst.
The hearse’s black paint gleamed in the sun. David Ferguson was impressed by the way it looked, hooked to a black Harley Trike, a three-wheeled motorcycle.
“It’s a whole new experience to have a trike,” said Ferguson, from his seat on his own motorcycle trike in cherry red.
“It’s an honor for us to be here and recognize the veterans who have passed.”
Ferguson, a Marine in the Vietnam War, wryly described himself as “67 and still glad to be here.” He and the other Patriot Guards looked fiercely regal, and mysterious, in sunglasses and black leather jackets decorated with chains, ribbons, badges and American flags.
Bob Woodward was moved by the gathering at the parking lot. He began volunteering in motorcycle funeral processions like this in 2006 because it was important to make sure that veterans were properly honored in death.
Two of the cremated remains of the soldiers had gone unclaimed by their families and languished in a Niagara Falls funeral home:
Air Force Sgt. Robert F. Dezaiffe served in Korea and Vietnam and died Nov. 19, 2001. Army 1st Lt. Carl J. Doerfler served in World War II and died Sept. 16, 1989.
Two others died more recently, but had families who liked the Patriot Guard Riders’ approach. Navy servicemen Francis M. Cutolo served in Vietnam and died Oct. 11; Joseph Rank, who served in Korea, died Aug. 3.
“Now we’re going to bring them to their final rest in a place of honor,” Woodward said.
Lakeside Funeral Director Charles Castiglia said he decided to transform the hearse to serve the motorcycle community.
“It was actually a disaster and we souped it up,” said Castiglia, who bought the hearse from a motorcycle club. “I wanted it to have the feel and look of an antique horse-drawn hearse.”
The Patriot Guard Riders didn’t stay long. Bath and the cemetery funeral service was more than three hours away. By 8:15 a.m., the four riders and Castiglia roared off down the road.
Lakeside staff member Ernest Waddell, who helped fix up the hearse, watched them go. A Vietnam veteran himself, he feels it is nice to see veterans treated with such dignity. Back in the 1970s, nobody wanted to hear about the war he served in., he said. “It’s a little bit more respect,” he said.