- - Wednesday, May 22, 2019

During the summer of 1992, while delivering photographs, I had the privilege of meeting Dianne Mossman. While talking, I noticed a picture of a Navy pilot near her desk. The pilot was her husband, who is missing in action. Shortly after that day, I obtained, and still wear, a bracelet in honor of LTJG Joe R. Mossman.

Dianne mentioned a veterans’ organization called Rolling Thunder and suggested checking them out. I contacted Artie Muller, Rolling Thunder’s executive director, and volunteered my professional photographic services. Since 1993, I have been a part of the First Amendment Demonstration “Ride For Freedom.”

Rolling Thunder’s major function is to publicize the POW/MIA issue — to educate the public of the fact that many American Prisoners Of War were left behind after all past wars, to help correct the past, and to protect future veterans from being left behind should they become Prisoners Of War/Missing In Action.

American Gold Star Mothers are always there with us for our Friday night candlelight vigils at “The Wall,” honoring all of our fallen heroes. Each mother holds our “Flame Of Freedom” as she says the name of a loved one.

On the Saturdays before the Ride, I have gone to Arlington to watch the Changing of the Guard and photographed bikers as they held a wreath-laying ceremony.

On Sundays, the day of the Rides, everyone gets up early to arrive at the North Pentagon parking lot to help organize, sell patches and pins, and stage the thousands of bikes that soon will fill this massive space. At noon, a whistle is blown and the bikes start to leave, heading over Memorial Bridge, going around the White House and other D.C. landmarks, before parking on grassy areas near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

On my first Ride, I was in the back of a pickup truck with some wreaths that we were to place near “The Wall.” There were thousands of people along the way, cheering and waving flags, and I could hear the words, “Welcome Home!” Like so many other vets, I will #NeverForget that day, the day I was thanked for my service to “Our Country.”

This being the last year will be tough, as the Rides are like going to a family reunion and seeing so many old friends who only get this opportunity to meet up once a year. There are so many images — being in the North Pentagon parking lot very early on Sunday morning and seeing the masses of bikes, all types. Going up on the walkway bridge to create a pano of these rows and rows of motorcycles. Leaving to make our way to Memorial Bridge to catch the police escort of these thousands upon thousands of pristine, shiny steel bikes as they roar forward across the river. Capturing Marine Tim Chambers standing and saluting all riders till the very end, up to four hours when the last bike has passed. These will forever be part of my memories.

Over the years, there were Rolling Thunder demonstrations at the communist Vietnamese Embassy with speeches asking, “Where are our live POWs?” Heather Renee French, Miss American 2000, helped in raising awareness of homeless veterans; her father, who was a wounded veteran of the Vietnam War, came to Rolling Thunder XIII.

Rolling Thunder XXI, May 25, 2008, had the amazing experience of riding motorcycles to the White House and awaiting the arrival of President George W. Bush on Marine Helicopter One. This led to our visit to the Rose Garden and the Oval Office, where we personally met with the President.

I have met numerous families of Iraq/Afghanistan POWs, assisting them in pressuring our administration to bring their loved ones home alive. Too many would eventually only receive bone fragments of their beloved family members.

It has been an honor to be a part of this amazing event. When Ray Manzo first came up with this idea, he was shunned by veterans organizations but welcomed by veteran bikers. Growing larger each year, taking over D.C. on Memorial Day weekends, is a tribute to Ray and to both Artie and Elaine Muller for continuing this legacy.

Patrick J. Hughes, a U.S. Marine veteran who served in Vietnam, is a storyteller, using the lens of his camera to build a visual picture that captures history. Follow him at patrickjhughes.com and @Patrickmag12chu.

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