Rolling Thunder is a subset of Vietnam-era and other veterans and their supporters who love motorcycles and any opportunity to ride them.
For many, these motorcycles have become a potent symbol of veteran solidarity and patriotism.
One Rolling Thunder veteran/rider observed that it all began as these veterans reached the age of the mid-life crisis which coincided with the resurgence in the popularity of Harley-Davidson.
Buy a bike, be young again, rediscover your veteran roots and come to D.C. in May.
That same Rolling Thunder veteran also pointed out that many of these riders are “aging out” and that perhaps two-wheeling, at least, was coming to an end, anyway.
Rolling Thunder became a cultural phenomenon which used the war memorials in part as a destination, albeit with a purpose.
But beware when cultural phenomona morph into values shorthand, especially patriotism and love of country; suddenly, failure to be less than fully enthusiastic about Rolling Thunder means you are an enemy of the people.
Most Vietnam veterans don’t ride motorcycles and instead, express their patriotism and sense of duty quietly and privately.
Suggesting that the end of Rolling Thunder is the end of veteran veneration is like suggesting that there is no Thanksgiving without the Macy’s Day Parade.
We all love the giant blow-up figures but the connection ends there.
The true substance of military service should not be reduced to two-wheels and a loud exhaust, in symbol or in fact.
When you see the sorrowful reaction by many to the demise of Rolling Thunder for ostensibly patriotic reasons, it becomes easy to see how a supposedly intelligent society can be led astray with clever symbols and rhetoric.
To those in Rolling Thunder mourning, I have a suggestion.
Gather up your friends, relatives and neighbors and come down to the war memorials most any day and you will likely see one or more Honor Flights, groups of aging veterans from all wars, brought here to see the country they protected and how we collectively say thanks to them.
Take the kids up to one of them and introduce yourselves, they all wear name tags, so it is very easy.
When you shake their hand, hang onto it or drape an arm across their shoulder.
Ask the vet to tell you when and where they served; it might take awhile for them to answer as sometimes, well into their 90’s, memories can be faulty.
Listen to their story.
Take some photos and say “thank you.”
More often than you would think, your kind words and attention will cause that old soldier to dip his head, furrow his brow and cry.
But it’s okay, those are tears of remembrance, pride, and thanks and you were the instrument that made it happen.
That’s patriotism revealed by the genuine interest of a kind heart.
By the way, their rides have two wheels, too – they just have to be pushed.