Missouri sheriff: No apology needed for military procession

Thursday, September 10, 2009 | 4:15 p.m. CDT; updated 4:55 p.m. CDT, Thursday, September 10, 2009

ST. LOUIS — A Missouri sheriff has offered a stern response to a woman complaining about roadway safety and her treatment by members of a procession accompanying a soldier's casket.

The sheriff said Thursday that while he hadn't intended his message to travel, his electronic response to the woman about military sacrifice started circulating on the Internet, and he's received about 100 e-mails about it.

The woman wrote an e-mail to Jefferson County Sheriff Glenn Boyer on Aug. 27 after she attempted to drive around a procession escorting the casket of Sgt. William B. Woods Jr., 31, from an airport in St. Louis to the grounds of a military cemetery. Woods was shot in Afghanistan by Taliban fighters and died from his wounds on Aug. 16.

She maintained the procession shouldn't have moved at rush hour. She said she wasn't traveling in the same lane as the procession and was yelled at by two men on motorcycles who told her to stop and show respect.

Boyer responded, in part, that the woman needed to better appreciate the scope of the event.

"He did not choose the time of his death, nor did he choose the time his remains would be brought back to his home in Catawissa," Boyer said. "He just did his duty."

He later writes, "While you were being inconvenienced in your car on your way home, there were soldiers just like Sergeant Woods carrying 100+ pounds of equipment in 120 degree heat, up some mountain or in the middle of some desert. They will shower out of a helmet liner if they get the chance. They will eat a cold meal of MRE's; something most people would consider garbage. They cannot text their family or friends, or go to McDonalds, or watch TV."

Boyer had not known Woods, but said he read that the soldier, who grew up in Missouri but had more recently lived in Chesapeake, Va., was a devoted military and family man. He said soldiers only ask that their sacrifices are not forgotten.

Boyer served in the military for 25 years in the Air Force, Army and Missouri National Guard and is a Vietnam veteran.

The sheriff said he thoroughly reviewed the woman's complaint before he wrote back to her. He believes the woman failed to stop when an officer gestured for her to do so.

The sheriff said the motorcyclists the woman complained about were Patriot Guard Riders — a group of motorcyclists whose members accompany the caskets of fallen soldiers. He said they included Woods' uncle, who is a Vietnam veteran. E-mail messages sent to Woods' uncle in Ohio seeking comment were not immediately returned.

The sheriff said he had not intended for his e-mail to receive wide circulation, but wanted to let Jefferson County employees know about the situation as many of them work similar processions to escort caskets or for funerals. He notes the procession in question was not a funeral procession.

The woman's letter indicates she did not know what the procession was for at the time. She said she did not obstruct the procession and said those involved should be disciplined in some manner.

Boyer said the woman's message was forwarded to the prosecuting attorney for consideration, though he considered the complaint "self-serving and without merit."

"Here's a man at the young age of 31 who gave his life for his country," he said by telephone. "It's not too much to ask a citizen for a little respect."

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