When Tom Bellomy of Blythewood heard about the death of a former shipmate's nephew in Iraq in 2006, he was moved.
The Navy veteran, 52, wanted to find a way to support those who had lost a loved one in battle.
"I had done my 20 (years) but still had a desire to serve. I wanted to show support and back up those families."
One day, while Bellomy was surfing the Internet, a national organization called the Patriot Guard Riders caught his eye. The group shields families from protesters at military funerals.
"I knew I had to get involved in it," said Bellomy, a longtime Harley rider.
In their biker colors, the Patriot Guards line up in front of protesters, holding a row of large U.S. flags. "That way the families just see us and the flags," Bellomy said. "We want them to not even know the protesters are there."
There have been dozens of S.C. funerals for service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan but only one protest. The riders show up anyway.
"It's sad. Sometimes, you get them back to back," Bellomy said of the funerals. "But if we can stand there and give the families some kind of peace of mind that America is behind them, then it's worth it."
The riders also attend other events, such as sendoffs for soldiers heading for war zones.
"Those are the fun times," he said. "We're tickled when we get to do a happy mission."
- Jeff Wilkinson