More than 200 members of the Patriot Guard Riders motorcycle group and about 30 police officers and county deputies were on hand for the Tuesday funeral of a Fort Bragg soldier killed in Iraq.
The large turnout was in response to a threatened protest of 26-year-old Staff Sgt. Michael A. Dickinson II’s funeral by a Kansas church that praises God for dead U.S. troops. The church says the deaths are punishment for American tolerance of homosexuals.
But members of the Topeka, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church did not show up Tuesday — mainly because Dickinson’s family decided to keep the service private, a member said.
Margie Phelps said the group decided not to come to Fayetteville after learning Monday that the media would be kept out of the funeral service.
Phelps, a daughter of Westboro Pastor Fred Phelps and one of the church’s lawyers, said Westboro targets “pep rallies” where — as she put it — the media, families and others make a spectacle of a death.
“When the family stops using (a funeral) as a public platform we feel we should try to honor that,” Phelps said during a telephone interview.
Dickinson was assigned to A Company, 9th Psychological Operations Battalion, 4th Psychological Operations Group at Fort Bragg. He died July 17 in Ramadi, Iraq, after he was shot by snipers while on patrol with a Marine Corps unit.
Mike Haluski, a member of the Patriot Guard Riders, said he’s glad the funeral went smoothly for the family. It was held Tuesday at noon at Jernigan-Warren Funeral Home on Ramsey Street.
About 175 motorcycles showed up. It took them about four minutes to caravan the quarter-mile from their link-up point at the CVS pharmacy at Ramsey and Grove streets to the funeral home.
The motorcyclists lined Webb Street, next to the funeral home, and held American flags as Dickinson’s family arrived in stretch Cadillacs and government vans.
Capt. Terrell Jones, who is chaplain for the 7th Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, said it was good to see all the riders.
“They have one common goal: To honor the dead,” he said. “This is beautiful.”
The motorcyclists got a false alarm about 11:40 a.m., when Haluski announced that “uninvited guests” — code for Westboro members — were at the cemetery.
Haluski later said that someone had erroneously reported seeing protestors on Murchison Road near the Sandhills State Veterans Cemetery in Spring Lake.
Tuesday’s only incident happened about 10:30 a.m., before the motorcyclists’ ride to the funeral home began.
John Duszynski of Munith, Mich., was trying to make a left-hand turn into the CVS parking lot from Grove Street when he hit a 2004 Jaguar driven by Ida Hook of Goldsboro.
Police said Duszynski was charged with failure to see before turning. He was taken to Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, where he was listed in fair condition.
Two military widows — Crystal Owen and Connie Moralez-Piper — attended Dickinson’s funeral, and Owen led the motorcycle procession to the funeral home.
Owen’s husband, 31-year-old Staff Sgt. Michael G. Owen, died Oct. 15, 2004, during a homemade bomb blast in Iraq. He and Dickinson were both in the 9th Psychological Operations Battalion.
Piper’s husband, 43-year-old Staff Sgt. Christopher N. Piper, died June 16, 2005, in an Army hospital in Texas. The injuries that killed him were from a bomb in Afghanistan.
Lt. Gen. Robert W. Wagner, commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, also attended Dickinson’s funeral, according to a command spokeswoman.
Haluski said riders came from as far as Florida and Michigan.
“The family was very appreciative,” he said. “Everything went off without a hitch.”