There is no better name for an event that resonates with patriotism, deep loyalty and an authentic sense of mission: Rolling Thunder. Oh, yeah. Here they come. They’re rolling, and it is thunderous.
At least a half-million riders were expected for the 26th annual Ride for Freedom.
“Everything about this rally still affects me, no matter how many years we’ve been doing it. And everything we do is meant to remember and honor our POWs, MIAs and all of our veterans,” said former U.S. Army Sgt. Artie Muller, who founded the organization in 1987 and named it for a U.S. bombing campaign over North Vietnam more than two decades earlier.
“I lost a whole lot of guys in that war. I never forget that I made it back but they didn’t,” he said.
Just don’t mention health care reform to Mr. Muller, though.
“Don’t get me started on ‘Obamacare,’” he says.
He is no fan of the incoming Affordable Care Act and is particularly piqued over backlogs on disability claims, military budget cuts and increases in prescription costs for veterans. They are scheduled to rise from $9 to $36, he said.
“Why is that? Many vets can’t even afford their medications now. It’s a disgrace,” Mr. Muller said.
Something else, lingering and persistent, troubles Mr. Muller.
“It’s what we call the ‘live’ issue. Are the men who were left behind after all past wars still alive? We recover the remains of those lost, which is an honorable thing. But little is being done to resolve what happened to those left behind alive,” he said. “Sgt. Bowe R. Bergdahl, captured July 1, 2009, is still missing. What are we doing to get him home? Let’s find him and the others — including those missing soldiers from other countries.”
He also wants to know why the stark POW/MIA flag is not flown over the White House.
“It was in previous administrations,” Mr. Muller said.
He should know. With such allies as chanteuse Nancy Sinatra and others along for the ride, Mr. Muller was warmly welcomed in the White House for years. President George W. Bush made a practice of greeting them in the grand driveway of the presidential residence. The group had a brief but cordial visit with President Obama last year.
When Sunday dawns, the Rolling Thunder ride takes on a life of its own. It takes six hours to assemble all those motorcycles in the only spot big enough to hold them: the Pentagon parking lots. Preparing for the noon ride to grounds near the Lincoln Memorial is no freewheeling occasion.
“No attitudes! Confirmed: Everyone must wear a helmet! No alcoholic beverages in the Pentagon parking lot!” proclaimed an edict sent to the vast membership.
At 67, Mr. Muller has not lost his fervor for the ride or his instinct to guard the interests of the American military.
“Always remember our troops serving,” he said. “Always remember those who have borne the battle and those that gave their lives for us so we can live free.
“The cost of freedom has a flavor the protected will never know.”