The Washington Times - May 25, 2012, 03:29PM

Rolling Thunder made it to the White House this year. But the experience for the motorcycle-riding patriots was more clinical photo op than heartfelt meeting with President Obama, members of the group said Friday.

“Well, we had a good meeting with [Mr. Obama’s] staff and a defense official. But we were supposed to have time with the president,” founder and Executive National Director Artie Muller told The Washington Times in an interview after the meeting.


“When we were there in the past, the president himself talked to us about the issues that concern us — veterans’ health care, the fate of prisoners of war, and those missing in action. This was more or less a handshake and a photo op for the White House — and that’s all it was,” Mr. Muller said.

During his time in office, former President George W. Bush made a point of meeting with Mr. Muller, Rolling Thunder officers and Nancy Sinatra, the iconic pop singer who has long supported the groups causes. In 2004, for example, Mr. Bush brought the group to the Oval Office and accepted and wore a leather vest emblazoned with the Rolling Thunder logo.

“We went to the White House with all good intentions. We tried. But you know what? This is our country, and we’re tired of veterans getting overlooked and treated badly,” Mr. Muller said.

“The President was pleased to meet with members of Rolling Thunder today at the White House. This Administration is committed to the POW/MIA mission as well as to our veterans and their families. The members of Rolling Thunder also received a briefing on POW/MIA and veterans issues from National Security Staff and the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Affairs,” a senior administration official told The Times.

This year’s 25th annual “Ride for Freedom,” scheduled for Sunday, has drawn some 500,000 riders to the nation’s capital this year.

According to Nancy Regg, who handled the group’s communications, Rolling Thunder representatives arrived at the White House in mid-morning, took a brief tour of the executive mansion and ultimately met with retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Montague Winfield, deputy assistant director at the Pentagon for prisoners of war and missing personnel. A photo session with Mr. Obama followed, then the group was ushered out.

Mr. Obama did issue a proclamation recognizing the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War on Friday.

“Let us renew our sacred commitment to those who answered our country’s call in Vietnam and those who waited their safe return.” Mr. Obama said in a statement.

“While no words will ever be fully worthy of their service, nor any honor truly befitting their sacrifice, let us remember that it is never too late to pay tribute to the men and women who answered the call of duty with courage and valor.”

Mr. Muller said he is troubled by the difficulties veterans still encounter buying prescription medicines, obtaining affordable health care and navigating the government bureaucracy. He is also concerned about the greater implications of as the new national health care law is rolled out.

“Will our vets have to pay more? Will they be paying $36 for a prescription when they should be paying $9? And why should they have to wait forever to get a claim filed?” he asked. “Senators and representatives in both parties are pretty rich, but they’re getting better care than our vets.”

Still, Mr. Muller, an Army vet himself, has a message for those arriving in Washington from all 50 states for the Memorial Day weekend of events and for all Americans.

“I want to tell people that this is a heartwarming thing to see the turnout we get here. And here in the capital, Memorial Day is back. It’s real. This a patriotic event for everybody,” he said. “Maybe folks think we’re just dirtbags on motorcycles, but most of us are vets. We love this country and would do anything for it.”