- - Wednesday, May 22, 2019

During my 14 years with Rolling Thunder, I’ve participated in many of its activities including the annual Memorial Weekend Washington D.C. “Demonstration Run.”

Many people view this gathering, particularly the caravan of hundreds of thousands of motorcycles on Sunday, as simply a parade of motorcycles. I believe that those who are instrumental in making the annual “RUN” happen view Rolling Thunder XXXII as having the very same objective as the 1988 Run — to cry out, so all the world can hear, that many of America’s military combatants have been sent to foreign places never to be seen nor heard from again by moms and dads, siblings, spouses and children.

Why can’t there be a complete accounting of those who were sent to foreign places as members of this country’s armed forces never to be seen nor heard from again?

To me, this is personal. I had an uncle who joined the Army and was sent to fight in the Korean conflict. He went missing and my grandmother was notified that he was missing and presumed dead. Years later, as she lay on her deathbed, she cried for the one who didn’t come home.

Participating in the Memorial Weekend Rolling Thunder effort gives me the opportunity to demonstrate my belief in its mission. And according to my mind’s eye, if one believes in something, one must be willing to participate in some meaningful way in “making it happen.” So, for a number of years I’ve been responsible for providing transportation for the Gold Star Mothers and to a lesser extent Gold Star Wives and Daughters.

The Minnieland Academy has graciously allowed Rolling Thunder to use some of its 14-passenger “Minnie buses” during the Memorial Weekend. My task is to secure a team of drivers to fulfill the transportation requirements of a schedule that I develop prior to the Memorial Weekend.

The schedule begins Friday afternoon with the pickup of the Minnie buses from the Academy’s Woodbridge and Manassas locations, then providing transportation to the Friday night “Candle Light Vigil” and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. On Saturday morning, there’s a visit to the Naval Memorial followed by the visit to the Washington VA, then to the Rolling Thunder Banquet for the Saturday night activities.

The Sunday morning transportation includes gathering Gold Stars from various locations to rendezvous at Spates Community Club on Fort Myer where an Arlington County Police Department escort leads them to the starting point of the Demonstration Run. The Minnie buses follow in the procession behind the motorcycle-escorted Gold Stars (in the event a mom became distressed).

My day doesn’t end until the Minnie buses are returned to their storage locations. Early Monday morning, I depart D.C., making the trek back home to New Jersey with a sense of satisfaction that comes with a job well done and with a sense of pride in knowing I did my part in making the weekend event happen.

The Rolling Thunder Memorial Weekend activities in Washington D.C., have attracted public notice due to press coverage in D.C., the East Coast and elsewhere in the nation. However, since its issues are national in scope, how effective has it been in reaching “Hometown America”? I submit to you that there are probably many small towns in America that have given their sons to this country’s war efforts but may not even be aware of or don’t feel touched by the one large Memorial Weekend event in Washington D.C.

I’ve often heard that all politics is local. Applying this to the question of how to better reach the four corners of America with Rolling Thunder’s Memorial Weekend message, maybe we can get a better bang for our efforts by ending the one big Memorial Weekend “blast” and organizing smaller “blasts” strategically happening around the country. So, in 2020, rather than having one large Rolling Thunder Memorial Weekend event in Washington D.C., let’s replace it with 10 — or 16 or more — regional Memorial Weekend events. We can partner with other organizations that believe in and are willing to step up and support such efforts. In my mind’s eye, this has potential. Whether it happens, only time will tell. Think of the change being the beginning of a metamorphosis.

Bob Rivers is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran (1966-1970) serving a tour in Vietnam. He is a member of Rolling Thunder, Inc. and has served on its National Board of Directors.

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