It's hard to imagine that any person or group would ever interfere with a military funeral, or try to make some type of political statement the very day a family is laying their loved one to rest.
But that's exactly what one group plans to do on Saturday morning in North Adams, Massachusetts.
Army PFC Michael DeMarsico was killed in action in Afghanistan on August 16th.
At 10 a.m. on Saturday, the 20-year-old will be laid to rest after a funeral at the First Baptist Church of North Adams at 10 a.m.
And shortly after the news of a possible protest hit the internet, officials from the City of North Adams, the Army, the Massachusetts State Police, and even members of the local flag-flying patriot guard pledged to stand tall and proud to shield and protect mourners from any potential protests.
U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Kenneth Shean is helping the devastated family to get through the extremely difficult final arrangements.
Shean said, "They're (the family is) staying, you know, by themselves, but they're getting through it. It's not an easy scenario to be told early in the morning to be told that your son has been killed in action, so they have been, I think, handling very well."
Across the country, when a local soldier like DeMarsico is killed in action, members of the military person's hometown, all-volunteer group called the Patriot Guard mobilize immediately. They rally, plan, organize and, with the blessing of the victim's family, rally their entire crew to ride and fly the colors at every single funeral.
Bill Schaaf is the Assistant Captain of the Patriot Guard Riders for Eastern New York.
He said, "Our mission is to honor the life and the service of this American hero who lost his life serving his country."
But a protest group out of Kansas called the Westboro Baptist Church is also monitoring U.S. casualty notices carefully.
Like the Patriot Riders, they vow to attend every military funeral, but unlike the proud, flag-flying Americans, Westboro Baptist Church members do not have a mission to comfort the family.
Instead, according to their own handouts, they protest military funerals, making statements like "God hates America, and is killing our troops in his wrath."
Schaaf refuses to even repeat the name of the protest group.
He said, "They often will try to attempt to make themselves a topic of discussion, and we don't discuss them. We prefer never to discuss them."
Schaaf continued, "It's not about them at all. It's about the family. It's about the suffering. It's about the grief. It's about what we can do to demonstrate to them that there are people in their communities who want to show the respect, and the admiration that we have for the service, and (respect for) the loss. It's a tremendous loss to the family. And if we can provide any solace and comfort to the family, then that's what we're about."
But, with the Westboro Baptist Church Protest group threatening to attend, the Patriot Guard is focused on thwarting their efforts, and keeping mourners from noticing any potential disruption.
Schaaf said, "There's more of us than anyone else can throw at these funeral services. And our Patriot Guard riders possess portable flag poles with three by five foot flags and, if appropriate, we will stage our members at any site of any disruption."
Sgt. First Class Shean says the Army is working with local police, state police and city officials to make sure DeMarsico's funeral is dignified.
Shean said, "Our main goal for Saturday is to make the family as comfortable as possible. This has been a very real ordeal for them, and our goal is to get them to the funeral, and make them as comfortable as we can with their son, and for their last moments with their son."
Schaaf says he's ridden at other killed in action military funerals where the protest group had threatened to have a presence before, yet he's never seen one of them show up.
"They often blanket the area with messages saying they will come, and then don't do anything, they don't show up," the proud U.S. military supporter said.
North Adams Mayor Richard J. Alcombright said he didn't want to comment on the protest group in particular, but issued a statement saying, in part, "These plans have been carefully thought out and include provisions to deal with any threat of protest. I am asking that all people refrain from any activity other than the continued outpouring of prayers, support and encouragement for Michael and his family. Please trust that the family and all officials handling services have taken painstaking efforts to ensure that Michael will be properly honored throughout this entire process."
Sgt. First Class Shean further drove that point home by saying, "We have sat down with the city numerous times. We've planned everything out. This is nothing that we're not ready for. We have a plan in place."
He too would not comment directly on the extremists, saying he doesn't want to give the group any attention.
PFC DeMarsico's funeral is at 10 a.m. on Saturday at the First Baptist Church of North Adams, and several groups have organized counter protests to support the family.
Schaaf says other Capital Region motorcycle riders who are interested in joining their effort can meet the Patriot Guard group at Tamarac Elementary School in Brunswick, on Route 2, at 8 a.m.
The Patriot Guard leader says the entire motorcycle brigade will pull out of the parking lot heading for the funeral promptly at 8:30 a.m.