Thousands of bikers filled the Pentagon parking lots before roaring out of the north entrance, driving across the Arlington Memorial Bridge and around the National Mall, before their final stop in West Potomac Park. The bikers carried American flags as well as various veteran-support flags. Although their attire varied, almost every biker wore a vest decorated in different patches, all of which held different meanings. Despite these men and women being from different areas and backgrounds, they all met as one in Arlington to show support for anyone who has served, as part of the annual Rolling Thunder First Amendment Demonstration Run.
The Sunday, May 29, event honored veterans, prisoners of war, and those missing in action.
“Rolling Thunder’s main function is to inform the public with issues of Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action,” said Frank Polidore, part of a Rolling Thunder chapter that came to the event from New Jersey. “Veterans are not treated right. Refugees get an open door while people say ‘to hell with veterans.’ Not enough is done for the veterans.”
Polidore has been going to the event for 15 years and says that not much has changed since it was started. But for others, while the core message has stayed consistent, they've noticed some shifts over the years.
Mike Hawkins came up from Stafford, Va., with the Chapter 540 Christian Motorcycle Association, called the Solid Rock Riders. Hawkins said that over the years, as the event has grown, it's gotten more organized. Hawkins says he's been at the event every year since 2002. “The more centralized organization of the event has helped increase the size and scope,” said Hawkins.
David Humphrey rode up with Hawkins and the two helped provide water and snacks for the attendees. Humphrey said many of the supplies were donated from the excess of local food banks.
“It is much bigger than in the past,”said Humphrey. “There are also a lot more women riding big motorcycles now, rather than just being passengers.”
While many came to the event from across the country, others were local. Alberto Cruz is a D.C. native and a part of the local chapter for the Latin American Motorcycle Association (LAMA). LAMA hosts bike washes, charity events, and scholarship funds locally and internationally, and each chapter comes to Rolling Thunder to ride together. It's Cruz’s 11th year at the event, and like the other long-time attendees, he says the event has changed for the better as it's gotten more organized in recent years.
“We come out here to honor those people who have laid down their lives for our freedom,” said Cruz. “It’s always a great time.”
For Jim and Colleen Pendry, the trip was also a homecoming. Colleen Pentry was born in D.C. and raised in Arlington. The two have ridden together to the event annually for the last 14 years.
“We make this trip every year,” Colleen Pendry said. “This is home for me.”
Jim Pendry is a Vietnam veteran, serving in Vietnam in 1968 as part of the 1st Battalion, 84th artillery attached to the 9th Infantry. He was 21 years old at the time.
“Every year it’s pretty consistent, but it has gotten a lot bigger,” said Jim Pendry. “It’s nice to come here and meet with people that were in my same division during the war.”