Article in Auburn Citizen Newspaper

Marine Sgt. Bell's heroic homecoming

By Shawn Bissetta

Thursday, October 9, 2008 11:30 PM EDT

Homecoming is supposed to be a happy time of year. It is a time to  connect with former classmates, relive fond memories and of course, watch football in the brisk fall air.  Unfortunately for the Port Byron community, homecoming took on a drastically different tone this year. Marine Sgt. Jerry Bell, a 1997 graduate of Port Byron Central Schools, was killed serving his country in Afghanistan. I personally never had the chance to meet Bell, but in recent days I've talked to many people who have.

The pride that countless members of the Port Byron community have expressed in their native son is unquestionably well deserved. While words are of little comfort to the Bell family at this terrible time,it is important to note that Jerry Bell has made a positive lasting impact on many young people who have followed in his footsteps through the halls of our school. His family should be comforted in knowing that what Jerry stood for - honor, loyalty, patriotism - will live on through the memory of his example.

On a daily basis in our school, we talk about things like hard work, persistence, teamwork and leadership. Frequently the examples that we ask our students to learn from are from the history books from a distant time or place. We are detached from the situation and unconnected to the people involved. Heroes take on an untouchable, unattainable quality leaving us to wonder if what we see is real. 

Jerry has transformed the notion of what a hero really is to us. The characteristics of hard work, perseverance and honor were embodied in a hero who walked the halls of Port Byron just a few short years ago.

On Friday, Sept. 26, students learned about these qualities - not from a book or video clip, but from a first hand glimpse of how a man of honor and commitment, an American Patriot, was treated when he came home. The motorcade that brought Sgt. Bell home made its way through the normally quiet early afternoon of Port Byron on that Friday. Our staff and students had the honor of standing along Route 31 in front of our school as the procession went by. They saw the sheriff's patrol cars and the dozens of Patriot Guard members on motorcycles that lead the way as Sgt. Bell came home.

It was an emotional moment for many students, as Sgt. Bell was just like them a few years ago. They learned more that day than we could ever teach them through a textbook, because the hero they were  learning about was real to them. He was the real thing. He was a graduate of Port Byron who served his country with honor, dignity and courage.

In many ways, our students grew up a lot on that sad Friday afternoon. The greatness in our hero from Port Byron however, was defined not by those solemn moments two weeks ago, but by the 29 years of living a life of courage. Regardless of political belief or bias, a dedicated life of discipline and commitment to a cause is one worth examining.

We are proud of our hero, Sgt. Jerry Bell. We have paid attention to the lessons provided through his example, and we will never forget.

Shawn Bissetta is principal of Dana L. West High School in Port Byron

The Citizen Copyright ©2008


Patriot Guard Riders salute the military's fallen with their silent presence



Sunday, May 25th, 2008









As she stands silently at attention, Debbie Johnson’s presence says thank you. She holds a crisp American flag in a line of Patriot Guard Riders assembled to honor a soldier’s sacrifice.

The tiny gold star on her vest says much more.

Johnson, whose son, Staff Sgt. Aram Bass, was killed in Baghdad in November 2005, is one of the local ride captains with the Patriot Guard Riders, a group that exists to honor and thank veterans and active duty soldiers.

It’s the best-organized disorganized group you’ll ever see, united only by its slogan: “Standing for those who stood for us.”

The members, men and women of all ages and from every walk of life, stand with flags outside a funeral home or on the road into a cemetery, or escort a hearse on a phalanx of motorcycles or in cars.

“There are no meetings, no dues; you don’t have to be a veteran — you don’t even have to ride a motorcycle,” says David Cullen of Salamanca, assistant state captain, who served in the Air Force for 22 years. “The only reason we get together is for this. We’re a cross-section of America. All you have to do is want to come and honor the fallen. It started with motorcycles, but we have people come in cars, too. However you want to get there is how you get there.”

“The way I would put it is that we are a group of patriots and some of us ride motorcycles,” says Johnson. “What we have in common is not the motorcycles, but the respect for people who have made the sacrifice by being in the military.”



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