NORTH ADAMS -- The crowd at Saturday's funeral for U.S. Army Pfc. Michael DeMarsico II was bolstered by more than 200 Patriot Guard Riders from five states, an effort coordinated by Patriot Guard state captain Howard Shrut and Berkshire County ride captain Rick Grandbois.
Riders from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut and New York lined Main Street with motorcycles and distributed flags to the crowd as guests invited by the DeMarsico family.
Bill Schaaf, assistant captain of the Patriot Guard Riders of Eastern New York, brought with him a group of 85 members, and he was part of the six-motorcycle escort of the horse-drawn caisson carrying DeMarsico's remains, calling the distinction "humbling" and "an honor."
"We [participated] to show honor, dignity and respect to the life and service of that American hero," Schaaf said Sunday. "The day and the participation went as well as anybody could have ever expected. It was a wonderful day, a great turnout, and an opportunity to meet up with brothers and sisters and be there for the family to give some level of comfort and solace and let them know there's people like us out there in the community that honor their son's service."
Though military service is not a requisite for guard members, Schaaf said the majority are veterans. In talking to fellow Patriot Guard attendees, Schaaf said many among the group were deeply moved by Saturday's proceedings.
The Patriot Guard's mission statement establishes the group as a presence at the funerals of members of the U.S. armed forces, firefighters and police as a show of respect for service to country and community.
DeMarsico's funeral drew extra attention from the group after it was rumored that anti-gay protesters affiliated with the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church had designs of staging a protest at the funeral.
The Kansas church group associates the deaths of U.S. soldiers with divine punishment for America's acceptance of homosexuality and is commonly classified as a hate group. In the past, Patriot Guard Riders have served as a buffer between protesters from the church and funeral attendees.
To the relief of residents and guard members alike, no such action was necessary Saturday.