- - Monday, May 25, 2009

An estimated 500,000 motorcyclists rolled into Washington this year for the 22nd annual Rolling Thunder Ride for Freedom.

Sunday’s ride began about noon from the Pentagon to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and caused the closing of some streets between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

WTOP-FM reported that motorcyclists have come from every state and as far away as Australia.

Artie Muller, a Vietnam veteran and national executive director of Rolling Thunder Inc., said participants were uniting to bring full accountability for prisoners of war and those missing in action from all wars.

“They fought the war so we could live the way we do, and it’s about time our government did something on that issue,” Mr. Muller said.

Members also are calling for better health care for recently returned troops.

Jay Fairlamb, a Vietnam veteran, who rolled in from New Jersey, told the radio station that he participated just as he has done for the past 13 years.

“It’s the same message every year; sooner or later, I hope it gets out,” he said. “I’d rather be home celebrating with my family and grandkids, but not before we bring home all our POWs and MIAs.”

President Bush had met with members of Rolling Thunder in the White House driveway while he was in office, but President Obama was not expected to greet the group this year.

However, on Friday afternoon, he surprised Rolling Thunder and met privately with its representatives, who were meeting with administration officials about veterans’ issues.

Although members are usually thought of as veterans riding motorcycles, they do not have to be either a veteran or a biker. According to the organization, Rolling Thunder members volunteer their time to remind “the government, the media and the public by our watchwords: ‘We will not forget.’ ” Many of the members are veterans of the Vietnam War.

The name comes from Operation Rolling Thunder, a lengthy and dangerous bombing campaign by the U.S. Air Force and Navy and the air force of South Vietnam against North Vietnam from March 2, 1965, to Nov. 1, 1968.

From combined dispatches

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