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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Don Himsel's 'Voices': “...as long as we’re alive.”

By DON HIMSEL

Staff Writer

Paul Baptiste said, “Something like this should never have happened.”

Baptiste stood in a loose formation on the side of Route 27 in Exeter on Wednesday. His group of Patriot Guard Riders clutched tall polls topped with American flags and prepared themselves for silent tribute. Their motorcycles and cars were parked nearby. Soon they would huddle for final instructions and spread themselves along the entrance to Exeter High School as a hearse carried the body of part-time Brentwood police officer Stephen Arkell’s to his waiting family and hundreds people seeking to pay their last respects. ...

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Paul Baptiste said, “Something like this should never have happened.”

Baptiste stood in a loose formation on the side of Route 27 in Exeter on Wednesday. His group of Patriot Guard Riders clutched tall polls topped with American flags and prepared themselves for silent tribute. Their motorcycles and cars were parked nearby. Soon they would huddle for final instructions and spread themselves along the entrance to Exeter High School as a hearse carried the body of part-time Brentwood police officer Stephen Arkell’s to his waiting family and hundreds people seeking to pay their last respects.

Baptiste said the Patriot Guard Riders were there to “stand in honor of officer Arkell.” It was the second time in two years they came together for a police officer killed in the line of duty. With fewer military casualties because of the winding down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the riders are standing for first responders like Arkell, who was shot while responding to a domestic disturbance call in Brentwood May 12.

Like Baptiste, many Riders are Vietnam era veterans. He served in the Marine Corps Reserves from 1962-70. He “tried like Hell” to get overseas, but it didn’t happen. Regardless, he’s a proud veteran and though he admitted he could be anywhere else Wednesday, he was not about to miss an opportunity to provide an honorable sendoff.

During his time in the military, soldiers coming home from Vietnam were often advised to not wear their military uniforms in public. It happened to his uniformed brother in San Francisco when he encountered protesters when he arrived home. How did Baptiste feel about that happening to his brother?

“I wasn’t happy. Not at all,” he said.

Baptiste said he and his fellow Riders now gather to “never allow that to happen again as long as we’re alive.”

It’s a busy week for him. Sunday he’s in Bar Harbor, Maine, to honor the brother of a friend, a missing in action pilot lost while flying supplies over “The Hump” during World War II. “An honor way overdue,” he said.

Then it’s back to Derry for a bridge dedication honoring the late Michael Geary, a fellow Marine killed in 2009.

But on Wednesday, Baptiste broke free from a brief conversation to muster his troops in a flag line to honor a husband, son, father and friend who served differently, but in his eyes, with the honor of a soldier.

Don Himsel can be reached at 594-6590 or DHimsel@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Himsel on Twitter (@Telegraph_DonH).