‘Rolling Thunder’- An Event to Honor American Prisoners of War, Roars for Last Time

The cyclists usually meet up in the Pentagon parking lot and ride into downtown Washington across the various bridges spanning the Potomac River

rolling thunder
A crowd of motorcyclists is gathered at the Washington National Cathedral for the "Blessing of the Bikes," May 24, 2019, in Washington. The Rolling Thunder First Amendment Demonstration Run, a tradition since 1988, comes to an end this Memorial Day. VOA

Thousands of motorcycles roared into Washington Sunday for what organizers say will be the last Rolling Thunder in the nation’s capital.

The annual Memorial Day tradition is meant to draw attention to more than 83,000 U.S. military personnel still listed as Missing in Action from World War I through the recent fighting in Iraq. They also include 126 people believed missing from operations related to the Cold War.

The first Rolling Thunder was held in 1988. The cyclists usually meet up in the Pentagon parking lot and ride into downtown Washington across the various bridges spanning the Potomac River. But Rolling Thunder Executive Director Artie Muller said this is the last year he will hold the ride in Washington.

Muller said he has grown frustrated with the Pentagon bureaucracy in coordinating the event. Mueller said sponsors, vendors and others have not been given access to parking lots even though Rolling Thunder said it paid “exorbitant permit fees.”

For many people, the group’s decades-long presence with the loud roar of their motorcycle engines has become synonymous with Memorial Day activities in Washington. But President Donald Trump says Rolling Thunder is always welcome in the city.

“The Great Patriots of Rolling Thunder will be coming back to Washington, D.C. next year, and hopefully for many years to come. It is where they want to be and where they should be,” Trump tweeted as he thanked the “great men & women of the Pentagon for working it out.”

rolling thunder
Rolling Thunder executive director Artie Muller, center, is seen with fellow motorcyclists at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Virginia, outside of Washington, May 26, 2019. VOA

Muller has not given any immediate response to Trump’s tweet. In an interview with VOA, Muller said Rolling Thunder is “willing to talk” with the president. But despite the president’s postings on Twitter, Muller said, “I think we really want to go nationwide” with local chapters holding their own observations on Memorial Day.

ALSO READ: Circus Maximus Experience Offers Visitors to Relive Imperial Period of Rome through Virtual Reality

Muller said the annual trek to the nation’s capital is becoming too much for some Rolling Thunder members.”We’re all getting old and can’t ride that far,” he said. For members who come from the West Coast, Muller said, “It a haul. You’re talking 2 to 3,000 miles . . . That takes a lot out of you.”

Pentagon figures show 83,000 American military personnel remain unaccounted for. Most of them — about 73,000 — are from World War II. Upwards of 7,700 are from the Korean War, and more than 1,600 are from the Vietnam War. (VOA)