As thousands of motorcyclist rumble into the D.C. area this weekend for Rolling Thunder’s 28th annual Ride for Freedom, they will be demonstrating their commitment to help veterans and to account for missing soldiers from past and current wars. Rolling Thunder has much more to offer than motorcycles on Memorial Day: The nonprofit group provides year-round aid to veterans and their families to help pay for meals, mortgages and other bills to prevent homelessness.
The group’s officials say their charity work has become even more necessary due to budget cuts in the Department of Veterans Affairs that have limited the agency’s resources and benefits to those who have served their country. Recent controversy surrounding VA Hospital practices has further inspired growth of the Rolling Thunder Memorial Weekend event.
According to the Rolling Thunder Run website:
“The Rolling Thunder Run mission is to educate, facilitate, and never forget by means of a demonstration for service members that were abandoned after the Vietnam War. Rolling Thunder has also evolved into a display of patriotism and respect for all who defend our country.”
Brief History of Rolling Thunder Run and its Mission
Rolling Thunder and its mission began as a demonstration following the era of the Vietnam War, which was a difficult time in our history. Many of America’s military were killed or missing in action (MIA) and their remains were not being returned home or respectfully buried. There were also reports of live prisoners of war (POW) who were left behind when the war ended. In 1987, Vietnam veteran Ray Manzo, bothered by these accounts, came to DC with his idea and enlisted the help of fellow veterans Holland, Sides, and Sampley, to organize a motorcycle demonstration to bring attention to the POW/MIA situation. Choosing Memorial Day weekend for the event, they envisioned the arrival of the motorcycles coming across the Memorial Bridge, and thought it would sound like “Rolling Thunder”. The first Run in 1988, had roughly 2500 motorcycles and riders demanding that the U.S. government account for all POW/MIA’s; it continues to grow every year, becoming the world’s largest single-day motorcycle event. Now with over a million riders and spectators combined, Rolling Thunder has evolved into an emotional display of patriotism and respect for all who defend our country.