Bill Cook's 2003 Heritage Springer Harley-Davidson motorcycle represents more than just the freedom of the wind in his face.
It represents his respect, passion and patriotism toward fellow veterans and active-duty soldiers.
Cook, 69, a retired Army specialist, is a permanent ride captain with the Patriot Guard, a national organization that serves as escorts and attends funerals for fallen active-duty soldiers, as well as veterans.
Patriot Guard riders only attend funerals for soldiers and veterans if invited by the family, Cook said.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
Since he joined in March 2006, Cook has attended more than 200 funerals. Of the approximate 114,000 miles on his bike, he doesn't hesitate to say half are miles related to Patriot Guard missions.
Cook was 18 or 19, he says, when he joined the Army. His dad and uncles were in World War II and another uncle was in Korea. His brother served in Vietnam, and even though Cook was active duty from 1962 to 1965, he was never sent to Vietnam.
Because of high test scores, Cook was asked to join the Army Security Agency, where he was a Morse Code intercept operator. He was sent to Turkey and spent some time in Florida, where he copied code involved in Cold War activities.
After the war, Cook lived in Ohio and worked 32 years for a natural gas company. He moved to Parkview Lane, Sherrills Ford, in 1996, and started riding a motorcycle in 2003 as a retired man.
It was the combination of motorcycles and veterans that sparked Cook's interest in the Patriot Guard.
The Patriot Guard started in August 2005 after a group of motorcycle riders from an American Legion Post in Kansas were appalled to learn a church in Kansas was protesting at fallen soldiers' funerals.
After contacting the family and law enforcement, the riders attended the next funeral that members of this church planned to protest. They served as escorts and held large American flags hanging on 8-foot poles to protect the family from seeing the protesters.
The Patriot Guard became an official 501c3 nonprofit in October 2005, spreading the word through other Legion posts, veterans and motorcycle groups.
The Patriot Guard is now a group of more than 215,000 members. It is an Internet-driven organization, Cook says, and does not require any dues to become a part of.
Not all ride motorcycles and owning one isn't a requirement to be in the group. The Patriot Guard doesn't care what your political views are, what your income is and you don't have to be a veteran to join, according to the website, www.patriotguard.org. The only prerequisite is respect.
Cook was member No. 14,007 when he joined in March 2006. He was watching FOX News one evening when he first heard about the Patriot Guard. He said he immediately went to the computer to find out more about the organization.
As a veteran and motorcycle rider, he felt called to become a part of North Carolina's group, although, he's rode in funerals in eight states.
"You cry," said Cook of the funerals he's attended. "You experience the lowest of low emotions and the highest of high emotions."
One that still brings tears to his eyes was in Arlington, Va., for fallen Sgt. Adam Dickmyer, who was from Winston-Salem. He was a Sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for six years.
The leather vest that Cook wears is covered with patches with names and dates of soldiers whose funerals Cook has attended. On his motorcycle, he carries not only the American flag but a red and white flag that states Honor and Remember, specifically designed for those Killed In Action.
The Patriot Guard does more than escort and attend funerals for soldiers killed in action or veterans. They also ride in funerals for fallen firefighters, police and others killed in the line of duty.
One of the more positive projects is called Help on the Home Front, which includes a number of things such as generating scholarship money for children of those killed in action and attending send-offs and homecomings, or feel-good missions as Cook says.
Cook himself recently escorted a soldier who was wounded in action to a home in Thomasville that was being built especially for him and his family.
Those stories bring a smile to his face and occasionally tears, but of joy.
"It's a tremendous honor to be a part of this," said Cook.
Cook has three children, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Two of his grandsons are currently serving overseas in the military.