Funeral services and full military honors were recently bestowed upon 32-year-old Staff Sergeant Shaun Michael Mittler, who was killed in the line of duty on July 10, 2010 while serving in Afghanistan.

Funeral services and full military honors were recently bestowed upon 32-year-old Staff Sergeant Shaun Michael Mittler, who was killed in the line of duty on July 10, 2010 while serving in Afghanistan. Services were held at the Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Liberty on Saturday, July 24 with burial in the White Chapel Memorial Gardens at 6600 NE Antioch Road in Gladstone, Mo.

Sgt. Mittler grew up in Gladstone and graduated from Oak Park High School. He served in the Kansas National Guard after graduating and then enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1998. At the time of his death he was attached to the 1st Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, of the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Ky.

Sergeant Matthew Beynon of the 101st Airborne out of Fort Campbell was chosen as Sgt. Mittler’s personal escort as he was his next door neighbor on post and best friend.

Attending the ceremony were a number of special guest and dignitaries, including Brigadier General Sean B. MacFarland, Deputy Commander of the Combined Arms Center and Deputy Commandant of the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. And Brigadier General Stephen Cotter, Assistant Adjutant General of the Missouri National Guard. Also attending were Sarah Woodward, who represented the office of U.S. Congressman Sam Graves; Stephen Cotter representing the office of Missouri Governor Jay Nixon; Senator Luann Ridgeway, Missouri Senate – District 17, Representative; Jerry Nolte, Missouri House – District 33; the Mayor of the City of Gladstone, Les Smith; and Jerry Head, Commander of the American Legion Post 95 in Liberty, Mo.

Also attending were a number of the Gold Star Mothers who were all dressed in white. Gold Star Mothers are honored women who have all lost loved ones in combat. Diana Pitts of Leavenworth, who lost her son, David Unger, in action is the President of the Northeast Kansas Chapter of the Gold Star Mothers. Diana was accompanied by her mother, Kathie Echols of Easton, Kan., Debbie Murchison-Perri of Overland Park, Kan., and Debbie Austin of Spring Hill, Kan.

There was also an estimated 150 patriotic civilian escorts at Mittler’s service and about 125 motorcycles from the Missouri Patriot Guard Riders. In recent years, the patriot riders are motorcyclist who normally escorts the funeral processions of our fallen heroes from the service to the cemetery.

The Motorcycle Association was initially formed in Mulvane, Kan. by riders of the American Legion Post 136 in July 2005 to shelter and protect military funerals from protestors such as the Reverend Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church of Mulvane. Phelps claims that the deaths of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are divine retribution for American tolerance of homosexuality. Back in 2005, when legion rider Terry (Dark Horse) Houck’s wife, Carol, learned that a group of protesters disrupted a Newkirk, Okla., soldier’s funeral, they decided more respect was due our fallen heroes. Soon afterwards the Patriot Guard Riders were organized and quickly expanded across the Midwest. Today the organization has an estimated 200,000 members nationwide.

The Patriot Guard positions itself to physically shield the mourners from the presence of the Westboro protesters and other such groups by blocking the protesters from the view of the motorcade, or by having riders hold American flags in the protesters face. The group also has been known to drown out the protesters’ chants by singing patriotic songs or by revving their motorcycle engines.

The group’s early mission also expanded to include the funerals of law enforcement officers, fire department personnel, all first responders and any active duty member or veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces from all previous wars and conflicts and their families and loved ones. In addition to their attendance at funerals, the group also greets troops returning from over seas at welcome home celebrations, deployment ceremonies, and performs volunteer work for veteran’s organizations such as Veteran’s Homes. The group also assists families in financial difficulties with travel and housing arrangements, and they make visits to military hospitals to visit wounded service members.

Jerry Price of Lake Tapawingo, director the American Legion Post 2, said they had 46 Patriot Guard Riders registered at the Tirey J. Ford Post at 16701 E. U.S. Highway 40 in Independence.

Examiner Press operator and production supervisor Phil (Lew) Lewallen of Greenwood, Mo., has been a Patriot Guard Rider in the Kansas City Chapter since 2007. According to Lew, “The Patriot Guard Riders is a diverse amalgamation of riders from across the nation. We have one thing in common besides motorcycles. We have an unwavering respect for those who risk their very lives for America’s freedom and security. We don’t care what you ride or if you ride, what your politics are, or whether you’re a hawk or a dove. It is not a requirement that you be a veteran. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what your income is; you don’t even have to ride. The only prerequisite is respect.

“Our main mission is to attend the funeral services of fallen heroes as invited guest of the family. Each mission we undertake has two basic objectives: To show our sincere respect for our fallen heroes, their families, and their communities – and to shield the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by any protestor or group of protestors. We accomplish the latter through strictly legal and non-violent means.”

Lew said patriot missions are planned and executed with strict military precision. “To those of you who are currently serving and fighting for the freedoms of others, at home and abroad, please know that we are backing you. We honor and support you with every mission we carry out, and we are praying for your safe return home for all.”

Robert (Whiskey Bob) Sever is the senior ride captain of the Kansas City Chapter of the Patriot Guard riders and said their group has been active locally since 2006, “But not all members are former servicemen, he said. “For example, one of my assistant ride captains is not only non-military, but she is a woman from Lee’s Summit. All riders have nicknames like mine, “Whiskey Bob”, and her handle is “Chili Pepper.”

“You don’t have to be military, just have a heart for our country,” Chili Pepper said. “I’m only one and you can’t do everything, but at least you can do one thing, and this is my one thing.”