On Saturday, November 1, the Warriors’ Watch Riders escorted Marine Corps Iraq War Vet Ryan Wilno on his Welcome Home celebration. The entire town of Marlton New Jersey turned out, it seemed. We had 60 riders, the Yellow Ribbon Club, the Mayor of Marlton along with other dignitaries. It was a glorious homecoming celebration for a local hero. Ryan’s mom and dad, Betsy and Ron, in particular, were as proud as proud can be.  Ron and Besty had suffered some tragedy with their younger son, Ryan’s brother, a couple of years ago and it was only by the grace of God that the younger son is now still living. As a result their fear for Ryan’s safety in Iraq was magnified, and they were so very grateful for his safe homecoming now. There was much celebration that day, Warriors’ Watch Riders motorcycle escorts, Yellow Ribbon Club cheers and honors, and an official proclamation honoring Ryan. We shook Ryan’s hand, hugged Ryan’s mom, and slapped the back of Ryan’s dad.

Six hours later Ryan’s dad was dead.

At the end of this happiest of all days, as Ron was preparing to retire, he suffered a massive heart attack and was gone – at age 43. In the blink of an eye, a day of unbridled joy was turned into a day of stunning, tragic loss and shock and sorrow. USMC Ryan Wilno’s happiness was snatched away from him, leaving emptiness. Betsy’s relief at the safe return of her son was turned to the mourning of sudden loss.

To me, a true friend is one who is there not only in times of celebration, but also, just as reliably, in times of mourning.  The Warriors’ Watch Riders who had helped to celebrate Ryan’s homecoming could not be kept away from the observance of his darkest time.  FIVE short days after escorting Ryan home, we found ourselves escorting his father’s funeral procession.  The memorial service was held at the Bradley funeral home in Marlton, and the family and we both were given unprecidented support from the Evesham Township police department and local government. The Mayor of Marlton, Randy Brown, was there for the homecoming, and to his everlasting credit he was there for the funeral as well. A good guy, that Mayor, a good friend of the Wilno Family and of the Warriors’ Watch Riders. (This proved to me that he is a man who will be there for more than mere photo-ops. That is worth something to me.)

The Wilno family became a part of the Warriors’ Watch family that day. The experience of sharing greatest joy and deepest sorrow in so short a time was one that made us family. We will never forget that.

The Wilno family is left without a breadwinner, very suddenly. Please help the Warriors’ Watch Riders to help them. Donations can be made to:

Ronald Wilno Memorial Fund

C/O The Bank

195 Greentree Road

Marlton, NJ 08053