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Fallen Marine buried with dignity, respect
MURRAY - Bruce Clements stood at the center of a motley group of motorcyclists, cigarette clasped between the knuckles of his hand, and choked through an emotional salute to his fellow riders.
Most of those assembled in the hardware store parking lot hadn't ridden with Clements before. And many didn't know they were going to ride with the white-bearded ride captain until early that same morning.
That's when the riders, checking e-mail accounts and home answering machines, learned that an extremist Christian sect had promised to protest at Wednesday's funeral for Adam Galvez, who was killed in Iraq on Aug. 20 when a roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee in the Al Anbar province.
The advertised protest never materialized.
But it mattered little to those who gathered to help Clements render honors to the family of the slain Marine.
"This isn't something I could refuse to do," said Steve Taylor as he stood, American flag in hand, beside his Suzuki Intruder. "This is not that much of a sacrifice for any of us compared to what this family has been through."
Down the row of motorcycles from Taylor, Steve Thomas stared down at the street and wondered how he would have dealt with the possibility of protesters showing up to disrupt the funeral of his son, Brandon, who died in Iraq in May, 2005.
"When I saw the Web site and learned what this group was all about, I knew I had to be a part of this," said Thomas, who had just returned from a 2,500-mile ride on his Honda Goldwing.
Brandon Thomas, a thrill seeker who went to Iraq as a security contractor when he learned his National Guard special forces group had no plans to deploy, rode a Honda Magna. "I think he would be riding with us," Steve Thomas said. "In fact, I think he is."
The riders stood watch outside the Murray church where Galvez was honored as, inside, family members recalled a young man who was driven to do the right thing.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., and Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett each took a few moments to thank Galvez's family for their sacrifice and devotion to the cause for which their son died. Even while grieving for their son, Amy and Tony Galvez have been outspoken advocates of the war in Iraq - a factor some opined may have resulted in their listing on the Web site of an extremist church from Topeka, Kan., whose members believe God is punishing U.S. troops for their nation's tolerance toward homosexuality.
Until the night before the funeral, Clements' group, the Patriot Riders, had expected a ride devoid of confrontation.
Though the national group was established, in part, to protect families of fallen service members from harassment by the Topeka church, there had never been a protest in Utah.
The last funeral, held in April, drew a few dozen riders.
"I can't tell you how much it means to me that so many of you turned out this morning," Clements had told the nearly 100 riders gathered that morning in the hardware store parking lot.
But it meant even more to Adam Galvez' family and friends.
Matt Gomez choked back tears as he looked over the hearse carrying his friend's flag-draped coffin to where the riders were lined up, holding American flags.
"What these protesters have threatened to do, you know, we fight for the right for them to do that," said Gomez, a Marine gunnery sergeant who served with Galvez in 29 Palms, Calif. "But for these people to take time to do something like this, to come together like this for Adam and his family, what an honor."