GETTYSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Stars and stripes.
They are common scenes in Gettysburg.
But the historic little borough in Adams County never saw anything quite like the motorcycle procession that rolled through Friday morning.
“We knew there were people in the area that might want to come out and pay respects,” said Tom Dejardins, a historian from Maine who helped make the event possible.
Respects were paid to Jewett Williams, a Civil War private in the 20th Maine.Jewett joined the 20th Maine after Gettysburg. He was there when Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia.
After the war, Jewett migrated west. He died, alone, in Oregon in 1922 and was cremated. Unclaimed, his ashes sat in a can, on a shelf, at a state hospital for 94 years.
Until Desjardins, who specializes in 20th Maine research, tracked him down.
“His name was unusual enough that if you Google it, it shows up somewhere. It showed up in the records of the Oregon State Hospital for the Insane. Jewett was actually senile and spent the last three months of his life in the hospital.
Insane, some thought, is what happened next. Maine’s Patriot Guard Riders offered to escort Jewett home, by motorcycle, from Oregon to Maine. The three-week journey covered 19 states and 3,500 miles, including Friday’s stop in Gettysburg. It’s been a procession of flags, fellowship, and farewell.
“We do this every day,” said Mike Edgecomb, the state captain for Maine’s Patriot Guard Riders. “The Patriot Guard does missions every day. We don’t do cross-country missions but we have done several multi-state missions. This is the first coast-to-coast that I’m aware of.”
Miss Rose, as she wants to be called, is a living historian from Maine who is accompanying Jewett on the trip. She dresses in period costume and speaks during the short services at each stop. She admits she was skeptical at first about the appropriateness of a motorcycle escort for a Civil War soldier.
She now fills with emotion when discussing the commitment of her biker brethren.
“I’m gonna get shaky,” Miss Rose said to the assembled crowd when describing the journey and the Patriot Guard Riders. “Thank you for taking care of our son of Maine and letting him know he’s not forgotten. That we’re bringing him home and we’re gonna honor him the way he should be.”
Jewett still has miles to go before he sleeps. Literally.
His remains are in a box that’s snapped into a container on the back of one motorcycle. He headed from Gettysburg to Connecticut Friday.
He’ll cross into Maine by Sunday.
He’ll have a funeral with full military honors September 17 in his native state.
“We’re gonna have the last funeral ever for a member of the 20th Maine,” Desjardin said. “Which is really, really special and not something you get to see in your lifetime.”
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