A quiet standoff at Fargo soldier's funeral

Soldiers carried Michael Hermanson's casket from the Fargo church where his service was held.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

Michael Hermanson died last week in Iraq when his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb, a rocket-propelled grenade and rifle fire.

Several hundred people filled First Lutheran church in Fargo for his funeral Friday.

A half dozen protesters from Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas waved signs across the street from the church, where a memorial service was held for Michael Hermanson, who was killed last week in Iraq.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

Pastor Craig Hanson told mourners everyone faces wolves, something fearful in life. He remembered Hermanson as a patriot who faced the wolf in his life.

"The other night when I stood by his casket, I laid my hands on his casket and the flag and I said, 'Thank you. Thank you, Michael, from the bottom of my broken heart that you were willing to face the wolf, and you did not run,'" said Hanson.

As part of the funeral service, North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven helped present several awards, including a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart to Hermanson's parents. "Every day that all Americans draw a free breath, we recognize we owe that freedom to Michael Hermanson, an American hero, and all of our veterans who've paid such a dear price for us," said Hoeven.

Dozens of motorcycle riders with flags lined the street to shield the church entrance from protesters, including this man who calls himself Tank.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

While mourners gathered inside the church in Fargo, aross the street a half dozen protesters from Westboro Baptist church in Kansas waved signs.

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The group claims the deaths of Michael Hermanson and other soldiers are divine retribution for what they say is America's ungodly behavior -- tolerance toward homosexuality.

There's no law in North Dakota restricting such protests. Gov. Hoeven says he will propose such a law in the next legislative session.

More than 150 bikers from the Patriot Guard Riders stood between the protesters and the church.

A burly, bearded and pierced man, who says his name is Tank, drove from Detroit Lakes to stand with his back to the protesters.

U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., thanked counter-protesters outside the Fargo church.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

"I'm here to help the family out, keep people with negative attitudes away from them so they can bury their son," said Tank. "I believe in freedom of speech, but I also believe in it being a little bit more ethical than I'm seeing here today."

North Dakota U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad personally thanked each member of the motorcycle club. Conrad said states should restrict protests at funerals.

"This family is suffering, and they deserve respect. I'm so glad this overwhelming turnout here is showing that respect," said Conrad. "The North Dakota people, the Minnesota people, they're outstanding. These other people, this small group from out of state, they're very sadly misguided people."

The Kansas protesters plan to bring their signs to the funeral of Marine Lance Cpl. Robert Posivio in Welcome, Minnesota, Saturday.

The Kansas group says it will observe Minnesota's new law restricting funeral protests.