Rolling Thunder 2012 – In anticipation of being a part of the Rolling Thunder Ride for Freedom, I set my alarm for 5 AM. At 5 AM exactly I started to hear the rumble of motorcycle engines revving up outside my hotel window. I stayed at the Hyatt, Crystal City which becomes the headquarters for Rolling Thunder National during the event and the motorcycles start lining up outside the hotel early Sunday morning preparing for the Ride for Freedom.
At 6:45 AM exactly, Rolling Thunder members mount their bikes and begin the ride to the Pentagon parking lot. Our hotel is not the only one where this is happening, bikes are rolling from hotels all over the area. At the Pentagon, hundreds of thousands of motorcyclists from all over the US (and some from Canada) are waiting patiently to park their bikes – the ride begins at noon and it takes roughly five hours to get everyone ready. We are parked by 7:30 AM (one of the perks of being up early) and we make our way to an area shaded by trees. Honestly, I was dreading the 4.5 hour wait but time actually flew by. By 8 AM there were already thousands of motorcycles in the parking lot; a veritable sea of motorcycles, American Flags, MIA/POW flags and Rolling Thunder supporters old and new. I met a lot of new people, joked with old friends and was very grateful for the Christian Motorcyclists Association – they were giving away free water to everyone in the parking lot. 4.5 hours went by quickly.
At noon we are on our bikes and the ride begins. I don’t know if I can describe in words what a great event this is. People line the streets to see the motorcycles go by, they are waving flags and holding signs ‘thanking’ those that have served this great Nation. The ‘Ride’ takes us across the Arlington Memorial Bridge, down Constitution Avenue and heads towards the Capitol Building then around the National Mall and ending near the Lincoln Memorial where we park our bikes and head to the days events.
I wandered towards the Vietnam War Memorial to take pictures and watched as a former Vietnam Vet was leaving a package of cigarettes and a note to his friend who’s name is on the wall. His name is Ron Shouse and he was a Marine who fought in the Vietnam War and survived the Siege of Khe Sanh, a battle that took the lives of 1,267 U.S. soldiers. Ron comes to the Vietnam War Memorial every year, and every year he brings a dry pack of Salem Cigarettes, a lighter and a personalized note. The note says “Dempsey, at least these are dry.” “Unless you had a plastic container for your cigarettes it was next to impossible to keep them dry in Vietnam,” he explains to me.
Ron, I hope to see you next year. I’ll meet you at the same place along the Vietnam War Memorial and I’ll bring a package of Salem’s for Dempsey too…dry ones.