City honors soldiers

Published 12:01 am Sunday, December 16, 2007

NATCHEZ —When leather-clad bikers sporting chains and tattoos met with city officials and military officers under a foreboding sky on Saturday at Natchez National Cemetery, it made for a strange scene.

“The freedom we enjoy today did not come with out a price,” Oscar Seyfarth told the gathered crowd.

Seyfarth, a motorcycle-riding, baldheaded biker, is a member of the Patriot Guard Riders motorcycle club that helped to coordinate a local Wreaths Across America ceremony in Natchez.

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Wreathes Across America was started 15 years ago as a way to honor and decorate the headstones of Arlington National Cemetery.

Today the event has grown across the country and encompasses several national cemeteries.

The event takes place simultaneously across the country in an act of solidarity, Seyfarth said.

The event has strong ties to the biker community because when it was in its infancy members of the Patriot Guard were asked to escort the truck that carries the wreaths from Maine, where the wreaths are made, to Arlington.

So on Saturday, an odd cross section of the city met at the cemetery to honor veterans who were killed in service to their country.

“It’s a chance to give tribute to those who gave their lives for us at the holiday,” Seyfarth said. “They gave their lives so that we can enjoy this type of freedom.”

When the actual ceremony began, seven wreaths were ceremoniously given to each branch of the military. One was given to soldiers who are listed as missing in action or prisoners of war.

Seyfarth said over 93,000 fall into the P.O.W./M.I.A. category.

Mayor Phillip West thanked all the veterans in attendance for their dedication and service in a brief speech he made to the crowd.

“Today is a proud day,” he said.

Then two trumpeters played “Taps.”

With hands saluting the flag, several men were clearly trying to fight back tears.

Seyfarth gave credit for the event’s success to Guard rider Jera Anderson.

“He went a long way to putting this whole thing together,” Seyfarth said.

This year marks just the second year Natchez has hosted a wreath event.

Dick “Varmint” Bounds, a Leatherneck Motorcycle Club member, attended Saturday’s event.

“As a veteran I’m glad to see something like this going on,” he said. “It’s a difficult thing to try to explain but it’s good to see.”