End of an era: Rolling Thunder sets last Memorial Day event

by WorldTribune Staff, May 23, 2019

Riders from around the USA will drive hundreds of thousands of motorcycles into Washington, D.C. starting on May 24 for the annual Memorial Day weekend Rolling Thunder tribute to veterans, a tradition since 1988.

The 2019 event, however, will be the last.

Ray Weaver, of Lancaster, Pa., supports Rolling Thunder 2017. / U.S. Air Force photo by Joshua L. DeMotts

Former Army Sgt. Artie Muller, a 73-year-old Vietnam veteran and co-founder of Rolling Thunder, told Military.com in a May 21 report that the logistics and costs of staging the event for Memorial Day, which falls on May 27 this year, were getting too out of hand.

“It’s just a lot of money,” said Muller, who served with the 4th Infantry Division in Vietnam.

Muller, who runs the event out of his home in Neshanic, New Jersey, said this year’s Rolling Thunder will cost about $200,000.

The costs, the Military.com report noted, include installations for porta-potties and the $30,000 fee charged by the Defense Department for parking at the Pentagon before the annual Sunday ride from there across the Memorial Bridge, four-abreast, to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall.

The Rolling Thunder tradition, Muller said, will continue next year with events planned by local chapters. But this year’s national event, he said, will be the last.

Muller said last year’s Rolling Thunder drew about a half million people.

Muller said the decision to make this year’s Rolling Thunder the last came in December after he consulted with local chapters who noted a decrease in sponsor contributions and other difficulties.

“They were ready to drop it. Let’s face it: Everybody loves the military when there’s a war going on,” but veterans issues can fade into the background in the aftermath, Muller said.

Muller also said riders have increasingly complained of harassment by Pentagon security and the Washington, D.C., police.

A Pentagon spokeswoman said in a statement that the Defense Department has “full confidence and trust in the competence and professionalism of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency and is prepared to support the 2019 Rolling Thunder ride, as we have for the past 31 years.”

This year’s Rolling Thunder will begin with the annual “Blessing of the Bikes” at Washington National Cathedral on May 24 and a candlelight vigil at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, according to a Rolling Thunder press release.

Full schedule of events

Friday, May 24
5 PM – Washington National Cathedral – ‘Blessing of the Bikes’
9 PM – Candle Light Vigil at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Saturday, May 25
9 AM – 9 PM Thunder Alley The official vendor site for Rolling Thunder XXXII is on 22nd Street and Constitution Avenue Northwest. Official Rolling Thunder patches, pins and T-shirts are on sale in Thunder Alley, along with food and biker related goods.

Sunday, May 26
6 AM – Reveille – Vietnam Veterans Memorial – Wake-up call for all riders taking part in the Rolling Thunder XXXII First Amendment Demonstration Run. Bikers rally in the North and South Pentagon parking lots at 7 AM for a noon departure.
9 AM – Thunder Alley Opens: Location: 22nd and Constitution Ave NW
12 PM – Rolling Thunder XXXII First Amendment Demonstration Run
First Amendment Demonstration Run – Bikes leave the North Pentagon parking lot to begin their run through the Mall area. After the run, police will direct riders to West Potomac Park, where they will pay tribute to their fallen brothers and sisters.
1:30 PM – Rolling Thunder Speakers Program (Lincoln Memorial)
3 PM – Musical tribute to Veterans
8 PM – Memorial Day Concert – at the Capitol.

Monday, May 27 – Memorial Day
9 AM – 5 PM – Thunder Alley is Open at 22nd and Constitution Ave
9 AM – WWII Memorial Wreath Laying Ceremony
11 AM – Wreath Laying Ceremony – Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery.
1 PM – Vietnam Veterans Wreath laying ceremony
2 PM – Annual Memorial Day Observance at Vietnam Veterans Memorial – Honoring the fallen service men and women of the Vietnam War.
2 PM – National Memorial Day Parade – Marching bands and veterans’ units from all 50 states. Begins at the corner of Constitution Avenue and Seventh Street Northwest.
3 PM – National Moment of Remembrance
Following the ride to the National Mall on May 26, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie will address a Rolling Thunder rally at the Lincoln Memorial.
On Memorial Day, May 27, “Thunder Alley” will be open at 22nd and Constitution Ave. from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
A National Moment of Remembrance will be held at 3 p.m.


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