Perfect temperatures, a bright sun and blue sky commanded Sunday’s forecast, but it was the sound of thunder that stood out for the D.C. area, as more than a half-million motorcycles rumbled through the city for the 26th annual Rolling Thunder.
Thousands of locals and visitors lined the roughly 10-mile loop along the Potomac River and across Memorial Bridge, around the Lincoln Memorial and east to the Mall.
“Nobody else loves America the way you love America,” Rolling Thunder founder Artie Muller told hundreds of riders just hours before they assembled in the Pentagon parking lot in Arlington. “Our veterans, our clubs, veterans organization and the public are unbelievable.”
The event got its name from the rumbling sound made by the thousands of motorcycles cruising into the District. The bike ride Sunday was the exclamation point for the weekendlong event, which included speeches and ceremonies to recognize prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action.
As the sun rose on what turned out to be a beautiful day, the parking lot at the Pentagon buzzed with the low rumble of bikes whose riders caught up with old friends, introduced themselves to new acquaintances and jockeyed for parade positions.
Standing alongside his Harley-Davidson, Pete Clark, 65, said this was his first year riding with Rolling Thunder and his first visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
As a Vietnam veteran himself, the McKinney, Texas, resident said he spent several hours at the memorial wall Saturday.
Despite the heartache, Mr. Clark said he was glad he traveled the hundreds of miles to be a part of Rolling Thunder.
“I just texted my wife to tell her I’m going to do this every year now,” he said.
Taking a break from polishing his bike, Boone, N.C., resident Bill Gorman, 56, said this Rolling Thunder was his fifth ride.
“Originally, I came out for my uncles and father, who were Marines,” he said. “Then my daughter joined the National Guard, my son is in Iraq, so I’ve got quite a few reasons to come.”
Mr. Gorman and Mr. Clark were just two riders in an ocean of gleaming chrome and vibrantly painted metal surrounding the Pentagon. The scene at the outset reflected the wide range of participants in the ride, which began a little after noon and concluded around 4 p.m.
American flags, black-and-white POW banners, and a variety of colored signs dotted the mass of people, while the bikes themselves ran the gamut of colors. Some bikes were a midnight black, while others boasted bright orange flames, sparkling swirls, white-walled tires and quirky stuffed animals tied to the frame.
Larry Heaton, 76, made the roughly 2,700 mile trip from Klamath Falls, Ore., with his old college roommate and fellow Army buddy.