Sounds like I am talking about a train or possibly dark billowing thunder clouds planning their onslaught, doesn’t it? No, not trains or clouds, but motorcycles making their annual run to the wall on Memorial Day weekend in Washington, DC.
We left last Thursday for Washington, D.C. Each year we return at this time to honor those veterans left behind and continue a demonstration that was started back in 1988.
In 1987 former Marine, Corporal Manco learned at the Viet Nam Wall that many POW’s and MIA’s were left behind during the Viet Nam War. He attended a POW/MIA vigil sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club. The idea came to him then that he should host a motorcycle rally in the nation’s capitol to show the world that the U.S. prisoners or war and missing in action should never be forgotten.
With U.S. Army Sergeant Major John Holland (ret), Marine First Sergeant Walt Sides (ret), and Sergeant Ted Sampley (ret), Manco started the first protest ride to the wall.
That first rally in 1988 was attended by 25000 men and women.
The May 2001 rally received an estimated count of 200,000 motorcyclists.
In 2008 there were 350,000 motorcycles on the ride to the wall
Last year (2012) was the 25th anniversary of Rolling Thunder which hosted 500,000 motorcyclists.
So this year we eagerly returned. I give up my seat and my helmet so that a mother of a fallen soldier can ride with John in the parade. We have met people from all over America: from the four corners of our country, veteran and not. Each year it grows. Rolling Thunder has turned into a venerable Memorial Day Event.
Bikes stage in two or three Pentagon lots sometimes spilling over into a third overflow lot. The wait starts at 5 a.m. in the morning until kickstands up at noon.
At the start there is a rolling thunder as the pipes sing their powerful music. The parade begins with the history of the protest shown through banners and flags as well as decorated bikes. The event managers and coordinators plus special guests are in the front. Soon after come the Gold Star Mothers riding with Patriot Guard Motorcyclists. The streets are cleared for safety.
As the motorcycles rumble down Constitution Avenue people are lined up on both sides of the street waving small American Flags and enjoying the motorcycles.
We return to our hotel exhausted and happy. One veteran rider claims, “Mission Accomplished”, and we raise our glasses in salute to our fallen heroes.