In 2006, Ellicott City resident Mark Krause stood with his family outside St. John's Catholic Church in Westminster to mourn the death of his nephew, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, 20, who was killed in an accident during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Krause recalls hearing the chants across the street of protesters from Westboro Baptist Church, a group known for picketing military funerals with the belief that God was punishing the country. Protesters carried signs stating, "God Hates the USA" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," but Krause said all the commotion was shielded by volunteer Patriot Guard Riders, each holding an American flag.

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Krause said he found a new level of respect for members of the military and, shortly after, joined the Maryland Patriot Guard.

Now a designated ride captain, Krause and dozens of motorcycle riders will represent the nonprofit organization for their ninth year at the annual Memorial Day Ceremony May 29 at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium.

Krause says he's attended every ceremony since 2006, and as a Patriot Guard Rider since 2008. Krause, who has participated in roughly 100 military funerals, anticipates 25 to 30 riders at the Memorial Day service.

The ride captain coordinates the "mission," he said, reaching out to volunteers and arranging events.

Jack Mitchell, president of Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, said this year's ceremony marks the 50th anniversary since its first dedication to Maryland servicemen in 1967. Veterans honored at the ceremonies served in Vietnam, the Korean War and World War II as well as recent combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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The ceremony will honor military men and women who died within the last year, including Airman 1st Class Nathaniel H. McDavitt; Pfc. Victor Stanfill; staff Sgt. Adam S. Thomas; and Sgt. 1st Class Allan E. Brown.

Patriot Guard Riders will split into two lines and form a corridor of flags, where the military color guard will enter for the ceremony. Once the service concludes, the color guard will exit through the same corridor, led by a bagpipe player.

Mitchell has been co-owner of the memorial garden for the last decade, alongside his father, and said the Patriot Guard Riders have participated in the annual ceremony even longer.

"We love to have the Patriot Guard Riders," he said. "We're putting on a ceremony that we take very seriously to respect the men and women who have laid their lives down in defense of our country. While we're honoring the men and women of Maryland, it's a great feeling to know that these [riders] are doing it week-in and week-out, all year round."

Serving with the Patriot Guard

At a family's request, Krause said riders extend their services to local memorials in Howard and Baltimore counties to show respect and honor fallen military members, first responders and honorably discharged veterans. Motorcycle-riding veterans formed the organization in Topeka, Kas., in 2005 to form a wall between Westboro Baptist Church protesters and families, which Krause said was more frequent between 2006 and 2009.

Although he doesn't ride a motorcycle, Krause said he still wanted to participate. Today, riders rarely encounter protesters, but continue their efforts as a sign of respect.

"As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have wound down, there are obviously not as many funeral protests and military funerals for active-duty deaths," Krause said. "We go to funerals for veterans [and] have a flag line that serves as a sign of respect for the veteran's service and sets a comfort for the family to see a group of flags in celebration of the veteran."

Each rider presents a 3-by-5-foot American flag and remains standing in a line throughout the service. Sixty riders presented this visual buffer at his nephew's funeral, Krause said, traveling from as far as New York and Virginia.

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After the conflict at Snyder's funeral, his father, Albert Synder, sued Westboro Baptist Church and its founder, Fred Phelps, for causing severe emotional distress, Krause said. According to the U.S. State Courts website, the U.S. District Court judge for the District of Maryland, who presided over the Snyder v. Phelps case, awarded Albert Snyder $5 million. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals later reversed the ruling, the document states, after determining that Phelps' actions were protected under the First Amendment's Free Speech Clause.

At his nephew's funeral, the Patriot Guard Riders instilled a desire for Krause to pay it forward. Despite the title, he said, you don't have to ride a motorcycle.

"A lot of times the families will come out and thank us and tell us how much they appreciate us being there," Krause said. "It's very gratifying to know that you're being a comfort to a veteran's family in their time of loss and grief."

His latest ride for a fallen veteran was on May 16 in Elkridge at the funeral of Vietnam veteran Franklin Camden, who was the brother of Connecticut Patriot Guard Rider Don Camden.

Don Camden, 63, said Krause and the Maryland riders participated in his father-in-law's funeral about five years ago in Catonsville. Seven Patriot Guard members held a flag line at his brother's funeral in Elkridge.

"Mark is a good man [and] does an outstanding job," said Camden, a 10-year member of the Connecticut Patriot Guard in East Haddam. "It is an astounding sight to see that flag line when you're coming in with your deceased loved one. It's just so moving."

During his four-year service in the U.S. Navy, Camden said, he hardly experienced any dangerous situations and felt the need "to pay back the veterans who actually stood in harm's way."

"Even if they didn't, I felt I had to do something to serve my country again. It's a privilege," Camden said.

No matter the scale of the event, Krause said emotions always run high as riders, active military, families and friends pay their respects to those who fought for their country.

"It makes me think that much more about my nephew and his service," Krause said. "There's sadness for the family, but I'm there to be able to help, show respect and, hopefully, give them some comfort. I know how my family felt about the Patriot Guard being there and I thought if I can pay that forward to another family, that's something I wanted to do."



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