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Maryland Chapter 1 is also one of the few chapters to include junior members, often teenagers. Its leaders are also quick to point out that riding a motorcycle isn’t a prerequisite to join. Neither is being a veteran.

It’s that cross-section of people, brought together by their gratitude and concern for veterans, that gives Rolling Thunder an appeal that now extends beyond the borders of the U.S.

“It brings people from all walks of life together to honor America’s heroes. You have lawyers, diplomats, poor people, rich people, and it was Rolling Thunder that has brought them all together,” said Euripides L. Evriviades, Cyprus’ former ambassador to the U.S., who rode in the annual rallies during his time in Washington from 2003 to 2006.

“The moving part for me is that [Rolling Thunder members] don’t always necessarily agree with the policies that got them into the wars in the first place, but they distinguish that and still support the troops. I find that very moving,” he said.

As riders from across the country descend on D.C., the Rolling Thunder rally’s charter members aren’t basking in the glory of what they’ve built. Instead, they’re focused on using the influence they’ve built, along with their vast network of veterans, motorcycle lovers and others, for another 25 years.

“As Vietnam vets, we’ve stuck together over the years. It’s because we didn’t want what happened to us to ever happen again. We’re here, and we want people on Capitol Hill to know that we’re not going away,” said Mr. Shpak.