Patriotic salute, road rally cheered by gamegoers

FOXBORO — A convoy of flag-toting motorcyclists and drivers zipped past Gillette Stadium yesterday on Route 1 and were greeted by cheers from Pats nation, as team members inside the stadium stood for the national anthem with their hands over their hearts.

Steven Xiarhos, 58, a Gold Star father whose 21-year-old son, Nicholas Xiarhos, was serving as a Marine when he was killed by a bomb in Afghanistan in 2009, said the reaction by fans donning Patriots jerseys headed to the game was priceless.

“Every single person cheered, pumped their fist, gave a thumbs-up or saluted us,” said Xiarhos of Yarmouth. “To see them perceive what it was, then react was amazing. That’s the spirit of it.”

More than a dozen Pats players knelt on Sept. 24 during the national anthem, after a Twitter challenge from President Trump to stand or be fired. No players knelt yesterday prior to their loss against the Carolina Panthers. But instead, Pats players locked arms in a show of solidarity, while holding their hands over their hearts in the traditional salute to the flag.

Former Marine Sgt. Joe Abasciano, who served two tours in Iraq and helped organize the rally, said yesterday the demonstration was not meant to be negative.

“We just hope to start a conversation. We weren’t anti-Patriots or anti-NFL. Hopefully, we can unify in our living rooms and bar rooms, and watch football again. This is the next first step in bringing us all together,” he said.

Several dozen motorcycles, trucks and vehicles took part in the rally as the group drove north on Route 1 past Gillette Stadium from the American Legion Post 106 in Sharon.

Cindy Bousquet of Easton said the parade gave her chills.

“Just see them pulling together and carrying the flags was an awesome sight,” she said.

Bousquet and Andre Poulin, 55, said their two sons are in Iraq.

“If some of these guys had served, they would understand,” Poulin said of players who chose to kneel last week.

Richard Garvey, 60, of Boston said of the patriotic convoy, “It’s about time somebody did it.”

Participants in the rally returned to the American Legion Post in 106, where Gold Star family members spoke.

Beverly Franklin’s late son Michael completed two tours with the Army in Iraq before taking his life in 2010.

Franklin said, “We stand for the flag, kneel for the fallen. My son went and fought for his country just so you can have the right to do that. But just because you have the right, doesn’t mean you should…

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