Editor's Note: During the HOME Campaign, Public Affairs will run a series of articles about Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory employees who volunteer for various nonprofit agencies.
Dozens of motorcycles, adorned with U.S. and military flags, roll down the highway on a special mission: to escort retired veteran William Dawson from Gilroy to his final resting place at the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery in Santa Nella, where he will be buried with military honors.
This is just one of many services provided by the Patriot Guard Riders, a nationwide nonprofit organization whose primary goal is to ensure dignity and respect at memorial services honoring fallen military heroes, first responders and honorably discharged veterans. Their motto says it all: “We stand for those who stood for us.”
Mark Perjanik, a longtime Laboratory employee currently working as a coordinator for the Weapons and Complex Integration Principal Directorate, has volunteered as a Patriot Guard Rider for just more than a year. “We provide escorts for deploying/returning troops, fallen veterans and stand for homeless or unclaimed veterans so they will not be alone during their services,” he said. When asked about his volunteer efforts, Perjanik humbly replies, “It’s not about me, it’s about them.”
Patriot Guard Riders will only participate in a memorial or provide an escort if requested by the family of the deceased. A family member must go to the Patriot Guard Riders website and request services. These requests are called “missions.”
As a registered Patriot Guard Rider, Perjanik is notified via email on a regular basis of upcoming missions throughout California and is given pertinent information about the person to be honored. Perjanik has participated in more than 20 missions on days off and on weekends.
On Thursday (Nov. 12), the day after Veterans Day, Perjanik took a day of vacation to escort Dawson on his final mission, traveling on his motorcycle about 200 miles round trip. Dawson, a retired veteran and resident of Gilroy, passed away Nov. 3 at 82 years old. He was on active duty in the Army from 1955 to 1981 and then worked as a civilian for the Army until he retired in 1995. His granddaughter requested the Patriot Guard Riders as escorts to honor him for his long and distinguished career in the Army and for having served his country.
“My grandfather was very proud of his service and of his Native American history. There are stories of our family being descendants of Quanah Parker, the last Comanche chief. He loved cooking, traveling and reading,” the granddaughter said.
“Learning about these heroes makes it personal,” Perjanik said. “When I was young, growing up in Castro Valley, I remember hearing about how the Vietnam veterans were treated when they returned home. I did not understand why there were protests and why they were treated so poorly,” he said. “As an adult I knew that I wanted to do something to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Volunteering with the Patriot Guard Riders is one way I can contribute and make a difference.
“Most people are unaware of the Patriot Guard Riders. My goal is to get the word out and raise awareness of our services so that families of fallen heroes know that we are here for them.”
While most Patriot Guard Riders are motorcycle enthusiasts, a motorcycle is not required. The only prerequisite for joining the Patriot Guard Riders is respect. Respect for those who risk their lives each day for America’s freedom and security. Each mission has two basic objectives: show sincere respect for fallen heroes, their families and their communities, and shield the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by any protester or group of protesters (through strictly legal and non-violent means).
In August, Perjanik and other Patriot Guard Riders served as a special “pony express,” escorting a custom-built cart, designed to transport remains, from Seattle to its home at the San Diego airport for Alaska Airlines’ Fallen Soldier Program. The blue cart ,adorned with flags and military insignias with a red carpet interior, is to ensure the remains of fallen soldiers are treated and transported with dignity. Perjanik was proud to join the procession in Lodi, escorting the cart on its final leg of the trip to San Diego.
“We cannot forget those who sacrifice,” Perjanik said. “I always keep in mind the famous quote: 'The nation which forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten’.”
The Patriot Guard Riders is among the nonprofits employees can choose to donate in the Lab's Helping Others More Effectively (HOME) Campaign, an employee charitable giving drive, which kicked off Thursday, Oct. 29 and runs through Dec. 4.
For more information about the Patriot Guard Riders, upcoming missions, to donate or volunteer, visit the Web.