I experienced Rolling Thunder for the first time today; as a spectator, not a rider. It is an awesome event: part demonstration against some government inaction, partly a gray-haired hippie fest, partly a patriotic rally honoring military men and women who gave their lives in the service of their country.
Rolling Thunder began with a conversation between two Vietnam War veterans in a New Jersey diner about their concern that some prisoners of war and ‘missing in action’ were not accounted for and little was being done about it. That conversation grew into a decision to stage a demonstration in Washington DC in which Vietnam vets would announce their arrival with the roar of motorcycles. Approximately 2500 bikers arrived from all over the country for the first rally in 1988, which ended on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Now the ride is an annual event on Memorial Day weekend and the "Ride for Freedom" ends at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Wall, with speeches and music on stage in front of the nearby Lincoln Memorial. One estimate puts the number of participants at more than 250,000.
Nearly anyone with a motorcycle is invited to participate, but it is clear that many riders are veterans of the Vietnam War or that era (1960s through the mid 1970s). My math skills tell me the youngest Vietnam vets would be about 52 now. (I’m a vet on the young end of the ‘era’ but my Army service was mostly in Texas).
Over the years, the event organizers have formed a non-profit organization with this as their mission: “All are united in the cause to bring full accountability for POWs and MIAs of all wars, reminding the government, the media and the public by our watchwords: “We Will Not Forget.”
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Rolling thunder rally site.