- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2019

The co-founder of Rolling Thunder says the nonprofit service group is rolling — quietly — into Washington this weekend for its annual conference and to thank lawmakers for legislation related to its mission of community service, and to honor military veterans and prisoners of war who never came home.

“I want to thank Congress for passing the bipartisan National POW/MIA Flag Act, which will require the POW/MIA flag to be displayed alongside the American flag at federal buildings and memorials. All that’s needed is President Trump’s signature,” Artie Muller told The Washington Times.

“The passage of this legislation ensures that the POW/MIA flag remains a potent symbol of our nation’s concern and commitment to resolving as fully as possible the fates of some 82,000 Americans still imprisoned, missing and unaccounted for from all wars. The flag is also a steadfast reminder to the families of our missing and the public that our government has not forgotten those who did not come home,” said Gus Dante, chairman for Rolling Thunder’s government and veteran’s affairs outreach.

Mr. Muller, who co-founded Rolling Thunder in 1987, also addressed the decision to forgo the group’s ride into Washington on Memorial Day weekend, an annual event that has featured hundreds of thousands of motorcyclists traveling from all parts of the country.

Instead, Rolling Thunder will host multiple events around the nation — a practical move that prompted faulty and melodramatic media reports that the ride itself had ended forever.

“We’re not going anywhere. We’re just going nationwide,” Mr. Mueller said, noting that the enormous biker demonstration ran up $200,000 in production costs in May.

He said the intent is to take the focus off a single large event in one city and take it to the heartland, where the energy, effectiveness and purpose of the organization’s mission will multiply at the grassroots level.

“Through the years, people would say, ‘Artie, there are lots more people who want to ride, who want to be with us,’” Mr. Muller said. “Maybe they didn’t have the money to make the trip, or the vacation time.

“We believe that rides staged around the country will get more people involved, draw more attention to the issues and the cause,” he said. “Besides, I can find a better way to spend that $200,000.”

The volunteer nonprofit AMVETS (American Veterans) has announced it will sponsor the next Memorial Day biker rally in Washington to focus attention on the veteran suicide crisis, as well as POWs and troops missing-in-action.

Mr. Muller said that Rolling Thunder, which has 93 chapters across the country, will continue to push for legislation its hundreds of members believe in — among them improving housing and health care for veterans, providing small business opportunities for vets, establishing a congressional select committee on POW/MIA affairs and suicide prevention.

“I’m no genius here. But one of the biggest causes of suicide is straightforward. Vets get out of the service. They have no money coming in. They can’t keep their house, they can’t keep their kids fed. We try to address that in practical, direct ways,” he said, adding that 95% of contributions collected through Rolling Thunder Charities Inc. goes to veterans in need and their families.

A combat veteran who served in the Army’s 4th Infantry Division in the jungles of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, Mr. Muller expressed support for Mr. Trump and criticism of the media.

“It’s unbelievable what good things Trump has done so far. He’s put people back to work. The economy’s on the upswing. He’s gone after ISIS and is the first president to visit North Korea. And yet there are those in the press who kick him. It’s completely disrespectful,” he said. “We weren’t so happy when President Obama was in office. But we respected him, even though we didn’t agree with him.”

He also posed stark questions about the possibility that somewhere, a living POW may still be held in captivity.

“We sincerely hope President Trump will think about this possibility. How do we know that someone who fought for this nation is still out there, years later? We can’t assume this is not the case — and who are we to put somebody in the ground when they’re not dead? If they are left behind, that is sad. Very sad,” Mr. Muller said.

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

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