160 motorcycles, trikes and support vehicles that assembled at the football stadium in Texas City Saturday to honor Sgt. Omar Mora, who was killed in a vehicle accident in Baghdad on September 10, 2007. It was a cool, crisp morning with clear skies. The cool breeze did not last long.
During our pre-ride meeting, ride captain Johnny D stressed the importance of remembering that we were there to honor Sgt. Mora, nothing else. He talked about the young husband wanting to be in Special Forces. Johnny broke into tears as he talked of the young father obtaining his citizenship papers just two weeks before his death.
Iâ€™ve been on enough rides now with Johnny to know that although all of these are hard on him, some take on a special meaning. I think Sgt. Moraâ€™s mission was tough on Johnny. It is an incredibly tough job heâ€™s taken on, volunteered for. The weight on his shoulders is tremendous, the expectations high. He cannot take even one of these missions lightly; they must all be handled delicately and sensitively. And he does it well.
The non-flag bikes led the way to the church, arriving at 9 am as planned. We set up flag lines in front of and to the south of the church, near the parking area. As always in Texas City, there was a large LEO presence, including two fire engines.
There were more media at this funeral than most Iâ€™ve been too, probably because of his participation in the Op-Ed in the NY Times and the possibility of protesters showing up. Since the Patriot Guard was formed, the protests are rare and when they do come, they are minimized by the overwhelming presence of men and women standing silently, blocking the familyâ€™s view of them. No protesters came.
The small church, St. Maryâ€™s of the Miraculous Medal was overflowing with friends and family. An overflow room was setup with closed-circuit video and I was able to watch a large portion the funeral. It was very eloquent and befitting of a man that gave his life for his country.
During the funeral the non-flag bikes proceeded to Forest Park Cemetery to set up the flag line. After the funeral was complete, we led the way to the cemetery, following one of the fire engines and several LEOâ€™s. We left the church and turned on 9th Ave, the main street through Texas City. We passed many businesses on the way and hundreds of people lined the streets to honor Sgt. Moraâ€™s sacrifice.
We then proceeded up I-45 and once again, cars were pulled over on the opposite side of the freeway and the occupants standing outside their vehicles in honor. Every overpass was filled with people silently holding flags or signs in support of Sgt. Mora.
As we turned into the cemetery, two ladder trucks had hoisted a post flag and we rode under it to the grave site. It was an awesome sight, as usual, riding through the flag line set up by the FAST team. The graveside service was brief and as the bugler played Taps, tears were in abundance.
Once again, Scott Given, father of Nathaniel, was at the funeral. He is an amazing man and I am in awe of his contributions to the families during these very stressful times. No one can understand what they are going through but Scott can relate his own experience in dealing with the death of his son. He brings instant hope when he wraps those big arms around people. I know this because heâ€™s done it to me as I wept watching his service. Someday, Iâ€™ll find the words to express my gratitude for what he does but for now, a simple thank you will have to do.
Regardless of your politics or your position on our occupation of Iraq, when one of our soldiers dies in the line of duty, we should honor them. The Patriot Guard always obtains the permission of the families, we never just show up. As Johnny D says, we are not the focus of the day; we are simply there to honor the soldier.
Texas Rep. Rick Noriega (D) and his wife Melissa released a tribute to Sgt. Mora that included these words:
The rising number of casualties strike a chord in even the most hardened among us, and the loss felt as each soldier passes does not diminish. Omar and his brothers in uniform will be missed, and must be remembered.
Voicing oneâ€™s opinion, especially from a soldier, is very difficult when â€˜managementâ€™ is wrong. Omar, and his fellow soldiers had a better understanding of the cultural matrix in Iraq than what gets reported by the media, he had walked the walk. He spoke from experience when they said â€œwe operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear.â€
There is another manifestation of bravery that for those in uniform is a matter of course, but takes on special meaning among civilians who do not have to follow a chain of command â€¦ the courage to listen. Itâ€™s time our political leaders listen to the insights of Sergeant Mora, his fellow soldiers, and the reality in Iraq reported by every objective analysis from the bi-partisan Iraq Study Group to the recent GAO reports.
There are those that were angry that Sgt. Mora dared to speak out against the occupation. They miss the point. If anyone should have a voice, not the only voice but a loud voice, it should be the men and women that we, as a country, put in harmâ€™s way. Having an opinion contrary to the policy that sent them to a foreign land doesnâ€™t mean that they are less worthy or unpatriotic. If anyone thinks that the men and women that had the courage to put their names on this Op-Ed were not and are not true to their mission, here is the last line of that piece.
â€œWe need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.â€
And see it through he did. Thank you, Sgt. Omar Mora, for your service and your sacrifice.