The 30th Annual event in Washington, D.C. was absolutely incredible.
Story & pics by Pastor Z.
We arrived at the KOA Campground on Friday afternoon, and got our bikes and bags unpacked, and those who were camping were setting up their tents.
Later that afternoon a handful of us headed for downtown D.C. – where we attended a very special ceremony… The Friday Candlelight Vigil at the Vietnam Veterans Wall. BFC Brother Dennis Reynolds and I were invited by NY Myke Shelby who is a well-respected member of “Rolling Thunder” to participate in this amazingly beautiful and very touching event. It is something that we will never forget. NY Myke has actually ridden his Harley’s to every Rolling Thunder event – since its inception.
As we were waking past a huge group of those who came to watch the event – Dennis and I realized that we were in a large procession of “Rolling Thunder” leaders, that were escorting approximately two dozen Gold Star Moms (a group of Moms whose sons or daughters paid the “Ultimate Sacrifice” by giving their lives in combat – to protect our freedoms). It was truly an honor to be included in this great procession.
They stopped along the way to different areas of this beautiful Memorial to pray, and to thank God for both the sacrifices that were made, and to also thank God for all of the freedoms that we get to enjoy as citizens of the United States of America. The three different areas are:
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall is actually made up of two identical walls that each stretch 246 feet and 9 inches and contain over 58,000 names of the casualties inscribed on it. The Vietnam Women’s Memorial that represents the 265,000 women were served during the Vietnam War many of whom were nurses – the 2,000 pound statue is 15 feet high, and depicts three women attending to a soldier, reflecting the unity required during the conflict. And The Three Soldiers Statue depicts another moving reminder of the different men that fought in the war together, they are arranged as they are gazing upon the wall with the names of their comrades.
At the last stop – The Three Soldiers Statue, Artie Muller passes the torch to each of the Gold Star Mom’s who recite the name, rank, branch of service, and dates of service of their fallen son or daughter. It of course is an extremely emotional moment and brings tears to the eyes of the attendees of this amazing ceremony. So thankful that we were able to attend the Vigil.
On Saturday we spent the morning at the Campground, and then later headed back downtown. We hit “Thunder Alley” where there were dozens of Vendors, and thousands of people. We also saw lots of cool bikes, and welcomed a lot of Vets back home, as many Vietnam Era Vets never received a “Welcome Home” or a “Thank you for your Service” from anyone… Many thanked us for those kind words.
We also went by the Vietnam Wall – where we saw people taking pencil & paper shadow images, and also pictures of the names of friends or family members off the wall. It was beautiful and very moving. Then we went to the Lincoln Memorial (a really beautiful building) – and we took some group pictures on the steps. I also got a few clean pics of the Washington Monument from a distance across a beautiful pool of water. We went back to the KOA campground and BFC Dennis officiated an awesome Bike Blessing for the people who camp there every year. Dennis has been staying there for many years, and he has built some amazing relationships with the folks there.
Sunday morning of the “Big Day” we started off at Dunkin’ Donuts… Tossing back a couple of coffees, and eating a breakfast croissant… Then we rolled out into the cool weather toward D.C. – the closer that we got, the more bikes that we saw… until the highway became more like a parking lot. The bikes slowed down to a crawl – as they rolled in aisle by aisle (as tightly as possible) into the one of the 5 Pentagon Parking Lots. We rolled up toward the front of our respective aisles then parked the bikes in our spots. It was amazing to see how many tens – to hundreds of thousands of bikes that were rolling into their spots.
We knew that it would be hours before anyone moved anywhere… so a few of us decided to head for a visit to Arlington Cemetery. It was again, my first visit to D.C., and Arlington Cemetery was an amazing site. We actually boarded a row of train seats for a guided tour of the entire cemetery. The cemetery is comprised of 624 acres, and over 400,000 gravestones of many notable people including: John F. Kennedy, Audie Murphy, John Glen, Lee Marvin, and many others. It was actually such a huge place, it’s impossible to try to cram it all in a few short hours. We also got to witness the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
We started making our way back to the bikes, and I got to meet Artie Muller, and David J. Shulkin the Secretary of Veterans Affairs as he pulled up. Also in attendance for the Rolling Thunder Ride was Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on a Harley Davidson along with two Secret Servicemen also on Harleys. I also got to see my friend actor Robert Patrick who made the long journey from California.
As the bikes began to roll out aisle by aisle it began raining really hard, and yes we all got drenched. Yet we all continued to roll out until the 900,000+ motorcycles made their way through the entire ride. We rode past the Saluting Marine as he saluted each one of the 900,000 bikes who rolled past him. After the ride – we ended up parking across from “Thunder Alley” and making one last pass through there to buy a few more items to remind us of the amazing time that we all had together. It was clearly one of the most amazing motorcycle experiences that I’ve ever had.
As we were getting ready to leave – I saw my friend Tim Chamber’s “The Saluting Marine” shaking hands with people. After an entire day of saluting every bike that went by – he took the time to shake every hand that was offered to him. Rolling Thunder was an incredible experience that I hope to take part in again. * Story & pics by Pastor Z.