- The Washington Times - Monday, May 28, 2001

Veteran Bob Brazier of Ohio still remembers the days when he watched his fellow soldiers loading rows of wooden caskets — some carrying the remains of his friends — onto planes heading home during the Vietnam War.
Mr. Brazier was only 22 at the time, but he said he felt like he had already lived a lifetime during his two years in Vietnam in the late 1960s. The 59-year-old retired Air Force senior master sergeant saw 10 of his high school friends die in enemy fire and many more crippled.
"I either cant remember or dont want to remember what it was like," Mr. Brazier said yesterday as he stood along Constitution Avenue. "All I know is I saw a lot. Too much at times."
Yesterday, Mr. Brazier and thousands like him rolled into Washington on their motorcycles to pay tribute to the men and women who fought in American wars.
The event was part of the 14th annual Memorial Weekend Rolling Thunder Motorcycle POW/MIA Demonstration. The daylong rally is named for "Operation Rolling Thunder," one of the last bombing campaigns carried out in Vietnam.
The bikers, many of them men and women in their 40s and 50s, rode into town shortly after noon, kicking up smoke and a lot of cheer. People lined Constitution Avenue to welcome them, grabbing quick handshakes or posing for photographs with veterans who slowly rode past them on their Harleys.
For William Vega of New York, the rally was about showing support and saying thanks to the soldiers and veterans for their courage to fight for their country.
"They fought for us," Mr. Vega said as he waited for the bikers to drive by. "By fighting, they gave us our freedom that makes our lives easier today."
Greg Toth, a biker from Westminster, Md., agreed. "Coming here is my way of thanking the troops," he said as he sat next to his Harley along Constitution Avenue. "I feel that the government doesnt show enough support for its military, so we do it."
For Lou Hernandez, a retired Marine from New York, it was a time to reflect on war experiences and reminisce with old friends.
"This is really about camaraderie," said Mr. Hernandez, who returned home from Vietnam as the only survivor of his platoon. "Its about showing my support for my brothers and sisters who were over there. A lot of those guys never made it home."
Some veterans, including Mr. Brazier, turned out to remember the American soldiers who are missing in action in Southeast Asia. An estimated 2,025 American soldiers are still missing in action in Vietnam, and 8,000 are still missing in Korea, veterans said.
"Weve got to show our support for them and let them know that we havent forgotten about them," Mr. Brazier said.
A rough-and-rugged brand of patriotism seemed to color much of the days events and comments. Most of the bikers leather jackets were accessorized with American flags. Some wore the flag as a bandanna, a necktie or a shirt. Others placed flags on the backs of their motorcycles, next to the black-and-white MIA banners.
Stickers and T-shirts reading "Missing but Not Forgotten" or "Proud to be an American" also were on display, along with badges carrying messages such as, "We ride for those who do not speak for themselves."
Some veterans wore beads signifying their hearts were still with soldiers missing in action. Some beads signified the colors of the Vietnamese flag.
Throughout the day, veterans lined up to pay tribute at the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial, placing gifts of bouquets, cards or cigars along the base of the wall to say thank you to the 58,000 Americans who lost their lives in Vietnam.
Bill Howe, a retired Marine from Mississippi, came to pay his respects to an old high school friend, Jim Jenson, who died in combat. "It always hits me straight in the heart when I come here," Mr. Howe said as he placed a cigar on the ground below Mr. Jensons name. "It can get pretty emotional."


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