A relentless sea of chrome and red, white and blue patriotism roared up Constitution Avenue toward the National Mall May 24 as thousands of veterans rode in the 22nd annual Rolling Thunder.
This year, police officials who were directing traffic estimated nearly half a million people participated in the event.
As noon approached, the Rolling Thunder procession crossed the Memorial Bridge and throngs of supporters lined the streets, shouting words of encouragement and rendering honors to POW/MIA flags. From start to finish, it took all of the motorcyclists nearly four hours to make their way through the city.
Robert L. Seltz, a Marine Veteran who served in Vietnam from October 1970 – April 1972, explained that, “The first time I road I considered it my homecoming. We didn’t receive a very good welcome then but it’s a mixed feeling of nostalgia and pride when I come over that hill now and see the crowd. I ride to draw attention and let the government know we haven’t forgotten our brothers from World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The ride is an emotional event for veterans said Bo McCormick, a former Army Green Beret and founder of the Special Forces Motorcycle Club.
“Anything that has to do with the military I have a passion like you wouldn’t believe,” McCormick said. “I will walk down (the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall) and salute each and every name. We are willing to go the extra mile just to show that respect.”
Since its inception in 1987, Rolling Thunder has continued to incorporate new generations of veterans. An excerpt from the official Rolling Thunder Web site explains the significance of this tradition by stating “It might have started out as a limited engagement to focus attention on those unaccounted for after Vietnam, but it's become much, much more. Rolling Thunder picked up the banner of accountability…and carries it with pride and honor into the 21st century.”
Though a common phrase heard on Memorial Day is “happy Memorial Day,” McCormick stressed that Memorial Day is not a celebration, but a day to mourn, reflect and show respect.
“Everyone enjoying our everyday freedoms, which we may sometimes take for granted,” McCormick continued, “should remember that those freedoms are a direct result of those men and women who gave their lives and continue to give their lives.”