Thousands of motorcycles descend on Washington, D.C., each Memorial Day weekend to honor military veterans, missing servicemen and women, and prisoners of war. But after 2019, Rolling Thunder will stop holding its annual "Ride for Freedom" event.
Citing exorbitant costs and communication/coordination issues with the Pentagon police, Rolling Thunder organizers are calling it quits on the iconic national motorcycle rally they put on every Memorial Day weekend.
Held since 1988, Rolling Thunder's annual "Ride for Freedom" event has seen hundreds of thousands of motorcycle riders come together in Washington, D.C., over the years in support of United States military veterans, as well as to call attention to soldiers who are missing or have been held as prisoners or war.
The group will ride one last time, when they convene in D.C. for the four-day event (May 24–27, 2019) and ride down Constitution Avenue before dispersing and visiting various memorials in the area.
So why is the "world’s largest single-day motorcycle event" on the outs?
Rolling Thunder Vice President Pete Zaleski says that the $200,000 cost is the biggest reason. Security, porta-potties, and event cleanup make up a large part of it, but even more frustrating seems to be the coordination needed with the Pentagon.
Courtesy of stayarlington.com
“We had so many problems in the last two or three years with the [Pentagon Police] and the parking facilities after we leave the Pentagon parking lot,” Gus Dante, a board member for Rolling Thunder, told WTOP.
Even though the group had planned a stage event at the Lincoln Memorial, police directed cyclists to other areas in the National Mall instead. And though they had paid $60,000 to reserve the Pentagon parking lot, riders were being turned away from there, too.
And with the lack of press coverage in recent years, Rolling Thunder organizers have finally come to the conclusion that, sadly, it's just not worth the energy and resources to plan a national event. The 90 regional chapters across the country will continue to hold their own events, however.
Here is an excerpt from the letter that Rolling Thunder, Inc. plans to send to the group's members in January:
“Rolling Thunder® XXXII, “Ride for Freedom” will take place on May 26, 2019 in Washington, D.C. — the final Thunder Run in D.C. This will be the last demonstration the organization does as a unit in Washington. It has been a hard decision to make, after much discussion and thought over the last six months Rolling Thunder National Officers have concluded to end our 32 year annual D.C. Memorial Weekend event.
As a result of changing times the organization and Mission needed to be reorganized and reevaluated. Reasons which determined our decision were the Pentagon Security Police/Washington Police officials continued lack of cooperation, increased harassment to our supporters and sponsors. As demonstrated this past Rolling Thunder “Ride for Freedom” XXXI many of our supporters were diverted and prevented from entering the South Pentagon/Boundary Lots. Event staging costs have soared to $200,000.00 plus, lack of new Corporate Sponsor funding and the general public declined support of our event product sales (patches/pins/stick flags) in the Pentagon Lots. Financial factors are draining the organization funds if we continued this major costly annual event in Washington.
We will continue the POW/MIA Mission through our ninety Rolling Thunder State Chapters across America coordinating demonstrations starting 2020 Memorial Weekend in their own states, or joining forces with other state chapters. Hopefully, many supporters who could not make the trip to DC can participate in their state and we may get more media coverage on the state level on the POW/MIA issue than we received in DC. This will be the final mailing of our Rolling Thunder “Ride for Freedom” Washington, DC. See our website rollingthunder1.com periodically for updates regarding 2020 State Chapter “Ride for Freedom” demonstrations. Remember our POWs/MIAs, our Troops serving and God Bless the United States of America! Hope to see you at Rolling Thunder XXXII, “Ride for Freedom” the last thunder demonstration in Washington, DC.”
Rolling Thunder first began as a demonstration by Vietnam veteran Ray Manzo (CPL, USMC), in an effort to raise awareness regarding the thousands of POW and MIA still unaccounted for, more than a decade after the Vietnam War ended.
The organization's website states:
"Choosing Memorial Day weekend for the event, they envisioned the arrival of the motorcycles coming across the Memorial Bridge, and thought it would sound like 'Rolling Thunder.' The first Run in 1988 had roughly 2500 motorcycles and riders demanding that the U.S. government account for all POW/MIA’s. It continues to grow every year, becoming the world’s largest single-day motorcycle event. Now with over a million riders and spectators combined, Rolling Thunder has evolved into an emotional display of patriotism and respect for all who defend our country."
According to Rolling Thunder, there are still 86,590 soldiers unaccounted for.
What are your thoughts? Are you sad to see this iconic event go? What could have authorities done to better assist the Rolling Thunder organizers in a smoother event? Tell us in the comments below!