Rolling Thunder XVII
May 30, 2004
Have you ever heard of the phrase “grown men don’t cry?” Like most American males, we tend to take this statement to heart and we never show our emotions or at the least in the public eye. If you have not cried in public then you have probably have not participated in one of the greatest motorcycle rides in the United States. one of the most emotional times of my life was participating in the annual Rolling Thunder Rally in Washington D.C. Every year the rally grows by leaps and bounds, and this year was by no means any exception. With over 400,000 motorcycles gathering in the pentagon parking lot, I knew this year was going to be one to remember.
“Rolling Thunder® the Run for the wall”, was started in 1987. Without going into too much detail, here is the brief history of the Rally. Ray Manzo and Artie Muler met just before Veterans Day, and at the time wanted to do something about the POW/MIA awareness issue. They wanted to wake up the American public and educate them on the numerous American POW’s who left behind in Vietnam. They wanted to pressure the United States government to let them know we were not satisfied with their inaction on the POW/MIA issue. They wanted to shake the hell out of the United States government and expose the cover-up, lies and corruption of this great government that destroys trust. Ray came up with the idea to do a run, a motorcycle run for the issue at hand. Rolling Thunder® Ride for Freedom of all POW/MIA’s was born.
I became involved in Rolling Thunder in 2002. to accompany my father in honoring his fellow servicemen on Memorial Day weekend. My father is a former Vietnam Veteran, who served in the United States Army in 1966-1967. He was initially in the 11th Armored Cavalry and later in the 1st Battalion 69th Armor.
The day begins close to 6am as we head off to eat breakfast. First we park in the staging area with a group of near 40 plus. We head to the Pentagon around 7am, (note to self, always get to the Pentagon around 7am, otherwise you wait forever to get in and you are last to leave.) Even though we get there at 7am, we are still around 10 rows in. Next begins the waiting process, as the parade does not begin until noon. When we leave we will take a route thru D.C. which will eventually end at the Vietnam Memorial. Little did I know that the 45 minute ride to the Wall would be one of the greatest moments of my short life.*
This year was a very special year for the Rally, as the unveiling of the WWII Memorial was also happening this weekend. This brought more Americans to D.C. than any of the previous Rolling Thunder rides and the made the parade even more of a special event. I was fortunate enough to speak with a few of our WWII veterans and I personally thanked them for all that they sacrificed in order to make the United States the country it is today.
If you have never experienced the Rolling Thunder ride, either as a spectator or as a participant, I strongly suggest you do. I can only tell you, I have never felt more pride in our country than I did riding my motorcycle through memorial park in Washington D.C. on my way to the Vietnam Memorial. I have never serviced in our military, but yet I was accepted as though I did just for supporting the cause of making everyone aware of POW/MIA situation. I had veterans shaking my hand and thanking ME for being a participant. I was given several “high-fives” by my fellow Americans who were also supporting the cause lined up on the parade route. I witnessed people waving our stars and stripes flag and once while we stopped briefly in congestion during the parade, people thanked my father for his service. He proudly displays on his vest all of his patches which represent all his units and veteran status.
At this point in the ride it becomes too overwhelming and your throat starts to swell and tears well up in your eyes. It truly makes you proud to be an American to see the overwhelming support our country gave to us. If there were 400,000 motorcycles, then there had to be almost as many people standing in the rain, cheering, waving flags, high-fiving the riders and saluting us. Yes that was the straw that broke the camels back for me and will be something I will never forget. A US Veteran was sitting in his wheelchair along the parade route and one of the times we happened to stop in congestion, I was saluted and thanked for riding today as he was unable. I promptly saluted him back and I told him, “No, thank you for all that you have sacrificed for me to be able to ride.”
It might have started out as a limited engagement to focus on those unaccounted for after Vietnam, but it has become much, much more. We now support all wars, and not just Vietnam, and you will see someone from every major conflict, war or operation we have been a part of. Rolling Thunder picked up the banner of accountability its government dropped and carries it with pride and honor into the 21st Century.
Note: Since the publishing of this article, I have attended the Rolling Thunder Rally a total of total of four times. Rolling Thunder XIV, XVI, XVII, XIX, in 2001, 2003, 2004 & 2006.
* Also a side note that every year the route has been different and better every time.