I don’t often write about my personal thoughts in this blog. Sure, a lot of bloggers tend to share their opinions, their latest recipe triumph (or failure), a recent how-to project or the trials and tribulations of parenting. I get it. But when I started this I wanted to highlight other things, like fascinating people or noteworthy beers or BBQ events or independent music that some folks might not otherwise be aware of.
This Sunday marks the 30th anniversary of Rolling Thunder®, the Ride for Freedom. Those of us in the metropolitan Washington, DC, area know that means an influx of at least half a million motorcycles into our region. But this year also marks the 20th anniversary of my father-in-law’s passing. These two things are connected because my father-in-law was a multi-tour Vietnam veteran serving in the Navy and flying planes in treacherous situations. He is one of the fortunate ones to come home from battle, although he wasn’t necessarily made welcome upon his return.
For anyone who may not be aware of the purpose of Rolling Thunder, the organization—yes, it’s a national organization with about 90 chapters across the country—was founded in 1987 by Artie Muller and Ray Manzo. Both Vietnam veterans, they were concerned about the thousands of POWs/MIAs from the Vietnam war and the lack of motivation and action by the U.S. government to attempt to bring those soldiers home.
So Muller and Manzo spread the word and organized a peaceful demonstration in DC, held on Memorial Day weekend. They wanted to show lawmakers, the media and American citizens that all soldiers who serve our country should be accounted for and provided support should they need it when they return. Many who came rode on motorcycles. According to the Rolling Thunder organization, “Their arrival would be announced by the roar of their motorcycles, a sound not unlike the 1965 bombing campaign against North Vietnam dubbed Operation Rolling Thunder.” That first year they had an estimated 2,500 participants. It is now estimated that about 900,000 riders and people come to Rolling Thunder’s Ride to Freedom to DC and to the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Wall (aka: Ride to the Wall).
I’ve ridden in Rolling Thunder Ride for Freedom numerous times. It’s inspiring to see people and veterans of all ages lining both sides of the street waving flags, cheering and saying thank you. Once you leave the Pentagon parking lot, loop around the back side of the Lincoln Memorial and prior to making the right turn onto Constitution, there is a United States Marine Corps Staff Sergeant, Tim Chambers, who stands in full dress uniform saluting every…single…biker for more than 4 hours. It sends chills down my spine. I’ve seen bikers stop, stand and return the salute, often wiping tears from their eyes. One year we rode into DC, parked the bikes and watched the procession of bikes very close to where Chambers held his salute. Inspiring. He has been doing this since 2002; there is a great interview with Chambers via HistoryNet. Find it HERE. Amazing story.
I was a member and officer of Fairfax Harley Owners Group (F.H.O.G., sponsored by Patriot Harley-Davidson in Fairfax, VA) for quite a few years, and I have done the Ride of the Patriots many times as well. This is a police-escorted ride of more than 4,000 bikes (and growing) that departs from Patriot H-D at 9:00 am and travels along roads and highways temporarily closed to all other motor vehicles, and meets up with bikers for Rolling Thunder at the Pentagon parking lot. Riders can also safely break away from Ride of the Patriots and head into DC to visit the Wall and other memorials and watch Rolling Thunder—rather than going into the Pentagon parking lot. This year marks the 19th Ride of the Patriots and is the largest open ride to Rolling Thunder. If you live in northern Virginia, grab a coffee and head to one of the overpasses on I-66 from Nutley Street to Rosslyn. It is truly a memorable sight.
The entire ride towards DC is lined with people waving flags, honking horns, clapping and cheering—parents, little kids and even elderly veterans wearing some part of their dress uniforms, camo or hats.
Our country is more divided in recent years than it has been for decades. It’s sad, really. And globally there is a lot of aggression and suffering. But as we enter into the Memorial Day weekend it’s appropriate to not only honor those who died for our freedoms, but to cherish those around us as we fire up our grills or watch NASCAR or head to the beach. I will do just that as we head into DC on Sunday as the thunder rolls.
I toast our veterans (and the memory of my father-in-law, John R. Fanning) as well as those in uniform currently protecting us offshore.
Have a safe weekend.
In 2015 I profiled Nation of Patriots, an organization founded to promote awareness and to provide support for wounded veterans and families (read about it HERE). Their main fundraising event is an annual ride called The Patriot Tour, which is the journey of one American flag across all 48 lower states as a tribute to honor past, present and fallen soldiers. This weekend is the official launch of the flag’s 100-day journey, from Madison Harley-Davidson in Wisconsin. Follow the tour to see if it is coming near you.
Also in 2015 I did a story on Dog Tag Brewing (read about it HERE). Essentially this began as a craft beer company founded by veterans that focused on honoring military members who died in battle. Dog Tag Brewing works with Gold Star Families by printing brief bio’s of fallen soldiers on the side of beer cans (known as“Dedication Cans”), as a way of honoring them. The organization has now grown into a full-fledged foundation (Dog Tag Brewing Foundation), providing financial grants and no-cost services and consulting, honoring the memories of loved ones.
Rolling Thunder, Inc. National, continues to be a voice and advocate for POWs/MIAs and for veterans benefits and issues
Ride of the Patriots, based in Fairfax, VA. There are four days of events at the Patriot Harley-Davidson dealership, and the ride that meets up at the Pentagon occurs Sunday morning of Memorial Day weekend.