As a soldier who recently returned from Iraq, Sgt. Jackie Christian of Akron, Ohio, recognized the greater meaning in the gathering of the hundreds of bikers who rallied in support of veterans.
"It's great. The camaraderie reminds me of my friends and fellow soldiers back in Baghdad," said Christian, who served in the U.S. Army.
Christian was one of five soldiers who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan and left their stay at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington to witness the sixth annual Ride of the Patriots in Fairfax. Hundreds of riders from the area and across the nation gathered to participate in the annual drive, which honors veterans from all wars, but particularly Vietnam veterans who were prisoners of war or are missing in action.
The riders, who assembled early Sunday morning during Memorial Day weekend, would later meet up with other riders at the Pentagon to ride in Rolling Thunder as it enters the Washington, D.C. Mall.
Before the ride, many riders watched the opening ceremony, which featured a rousing speech from guest speaker Tom Zine, a state senator from Wisconsin.
"It's very good. All the people, getting to drive down to Constitution Avenue," said Glen Moyer of Spring, Texas, who has ridden with Rolling Thunder once before. He was participating in both Rolling Thunder and the Ride of the Patriots with his brother, who lives in the area. "It's fun. It's a lot of fun. The main thing is remembering the MIAs and POWs."
ALTHOUGH MANY of the riders were veterans, many of the non-veteran riders wanted to remember the veterans during Memorial Day. By day, Mary Peters of Fairfax dons a business suit and is known as a federal highway administrator within the U.S. Department of Transportation. On Sunday, however, she was a biker showing her support of veterans.
"I think it's a good opportunity to show patriotism and respect for veterans," said Peters, who was clad in black leather and reading a newspaper before the ride started.
The Ride of the Patriots and Rolling Thunder coincided with services celebrating the dedication of the World War II Memorial on the Mall. With World War II veterans coming to Washington from around the country in one final reunion of remembrance, those who rode or watched also wanted to honor their fathers and mothers who lived during that time.
"For a historian and a son of a World War II veteran, it was the mountain top. It was the ultimate," said Fairfax American Legion member Tom Hovis of the World War II Memorial, as he was passing out pins to bikers. "It's a reality check for our younger generations to know how our freedom was preserved. Our world would've been a lot different if it were not for our veterans."