On May 29, the country will join together to remember those who died serving our nation in the armed forces. Memorial Day originally began as Decoration Day, which was organized by Civil War veterans in 1868.
Many Americans will gather at cemeteries, monuments, and memorials to commemorate this occasion, reconnect with family and friends, and share a meal together. But one group, in particular, will be holding a special rally. May 2017 is the 30th anniversary of Rolling Thunder’s “Ride to the Wall.”
Rolling Thunder is an advocacy group whose mission statement is “to educate the public that many American Prisoners of War were left behind.. and to help correct the past.” The group seeks to bring accountability for POWs and MIA soldiers from all past U.S. wars. The group was formed in 1987 and has since grown to over 90 chapters in the United States and overseas.
Rolling Thunder’s activities culminate in an annual “Ride to the Wall,” also known as the Ride for Freedom, wherein the members of Rolling Thunder will ride from the Pentagon to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The weekend is also marked by visits to various memorials and historical sites throughout Washington, D.C.
How Rolling Thunder Began
The creation of Rolling Thunder is credited to Ray Manzo, a U.S. Marine corporal, along with Sergeant Major John Holland, Marine First Sergeant Walt Sides, and Sergeant Ted Sampley. The idea for Rolling Thunder came to Manzo when he visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and learned that U.S. soldiers still remained in Vietnam as prisoners of war, contrary to the Marine motto of “leave no man behind.”
Later, Manzo attended a vigil for POWs sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club, and initiated a letter-writing campaign to motorcycling magazines and newsletters to get the help of other veterans and advocates. As the story goes, Ted Sampley’s associate Bob Schmitt coined the name of the organization as he looked at the Memorial Bridge and said “it will be like the sound of rolling thunder coming across the bridge.”
Rolling Thunder Now
Every year since 1987, Rolling Thunder has held the Ride to the Wall on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. In 2008, the number of motorcycle-riding attendees numbered over 350,000. Rolling Thunder is a certified non-profit organization. 2007 saw the founding of Rolling Thunder Charities, which aims to help U.S. troops and their families who suffer financial hardship. Thousands of Rolling Thunder members donate their time and money to provide food and clothing to veterans, toys for children, and aid to women’s’ crisis centers, among other charitable causes.
Since its founding, Rolling Thunder has had a major impact on American legislation: in 1993, their actions aided the passing of the Missing Personnel Act, which stated an American service member could not be listed as KIA without “credible proof of death”. They also co-authored the 2008 Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act, a bill designed to prevent protests from happening near military funerals. They’ve also lobbied extensively for better housing opportunities and benefits for veterans, and to see the POW / MIA flag flown at military facilities on national holidays.
Though the Ride to the Wall is what Rolling Thunder is most famous for, the group holds events year round from Virginia to New Jersey. The events for Rolling Thunder 2017 kicked off on May 24 and continue through Memorial Day weekend, including an open house, food trucks, live music, and more.
The 30th anniversary of the Ride to the Wall promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime event for veterans, patriots, and anyone who support our nation’s service members. If you want to attend Rolling Thunder’s events next year, call us at 1-866-556-3545 or contact us today for a free quote.