- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sometimes momentous events happen without much notice in Washington.

Such was the case of Rolling Thunder and the White House. At 3:30 p.m. Friday, President Obama met privately with representatives of the group famous for its support of active-duty military, veterans and prisoners of war not to mention its distinctive blend of patriotism that includes Old Glory and motorcycles.

The moment was totally unexpected.

“The president stopped by while members of Rolling Thunder were meeting with administration officials about veterans’ issues,” said White House spokesman Nick Shapiro.

“He was very happy to meet with them,” he added.

The group included Rolling Thunder founder Artie Muller, national vice president Lynne Jenks and national president Gary Scheffmeyer.

The situation has been somewhat of a cliffhanger.

In past years, former President George W. Bush welcomed Rolling Thunder members Harley Davidson choppers and all in the driveway of the White House. The event became somewhat of a ritual; last year Mr. Bush was inducted into Rolling Thunder as an honorary member and accepted a cowhide biker vest. Bush administration officials and top military brass made a regular practice of riding with Rolling Thunder, tricked out in biker gear.

Things did not seem quite so friendly with the new administration, however. The culture of the White House appeared to have changed.

Last week, Mr. Muller told The Washington Times that he received word from the White House that Mr. Obama would not follow suit.

“They said he was too busy,” Mr. Muller said at the time.

But the situation began to evolve. Mr. Muller a Vietnam-era Army veteran and Harley rider learned a few days later that “someone” from the White House would at least be there to accept a letter from Rolling Thunder that outlined the group’s concerns about veterans, soldiers and POWs.

Who was this “someone?” An official? A Cabinet member? Bo, the White House pooch? No one knew.

In the end, it was the president. Mr. Obama came through at the close of a busy week that included a meeting with wounded soldiers, several major policy speeches and commencement ceremonies at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.

The meeting was brief but cordial.

“This is an unbelievable, great, wonderful start to our weekend. We are excited, and elated,” said Rolling Thunder spokeswoman Nancy Regg.

The 22nd-annual Rolling Thunder event includes three days of activities this Memorial Day weekend, capped off by a “Ride for Freedom” Sunday, from the Pentagon to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Possibly half a million motorcycles will roar down the route.

“We’re here for the veterans, for our military, for America. And we want them to know we will never forget them,” Ms. Regg added.

As for Mr. Obama, he’ll get a rest with the wife and children at Camp David this weekend.

• Jennifer Harper can be reached at jharper@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide