Post & Images by Jack McIntyre. Info provided by Mark Schultz.
It’s always Sunny in Philadelphia, right? Well for this terrific parade it was. Being a former Marine, I was able to move in and about the parade talking with WWII Marine Vets. Wow, one Marine was at the Battle of Tarawa in 1943 and still in Asia for the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. Just incredible, today’s youngsters couldn’t even imagine what that must have been like. Continue reading THE 2018 PHILADELPHIA VETERANS DAY PARADE→
Today was a special day for me. Being a former Marine, joining ten thousand of my Military brothers, especially bringing hundreds of Motorcycles into the mix, is right up my alley. We all gathered in Center City Philly , the weather called for morning rain, but God had other ideas in mind & sent us some sun & warmer winds as the hours passed by. It was a gathering that involved motorcycles obviously, but what aren’t in my images are the large groups of veteran’s organizations, prior military, marching bands, and more. I can only post just so many images, so please enjoy what I have shared and visit our great city, we do these types of events all the time, and because of that I love living in Philadelphia. For lot’s of details on this organization, please visit: http://www.phillyveteransparade.org/
The Rolling Thunder organization presented a powerful presence in Washington D.C. over Memorial Day weekend this year, as it’s done for 27 straight years. Coincidentally the 2014 Run was bookended by two news events that may have raised the organization’s visibility even more so: the revelations of mismanagement in the Department of Veterans Affairs and the release of Afghanistan POW Bowe Bergdahl.
Though those events may have further increased general awareness of U.S. military veterans, neither altered the massive motorcycle ride from the Pentagon into Washington D.C. on Sunday May 25th; it was as spirited and compelling as ever with radical patriotism and blatant emotion boldly on display. And there was a full house at Rolling Thunder’s hospitality gathering the night before, too, with Executive Director Artie Muller reiterating the mission: we’re not giving up until everyone is back home and accounted for. Further, he added that an unresponsive government makes the need for Rolling Thunder even greater. “We have to keep going, we have to keep making a lot of noise,” he said.
Initially formed to bring attention to the POWs and MIAs from Vietnam, RT also advocates for veteran’s rights for all military people. The more I interact with Rolling Thunder the more I learn. This year I noticed more younger members, veterans of recent conflicts, attending Rolling Thunder in force. That’s good because the future of the Rolling Thunder organization depends on new members to insure that veterans’ issues stay relevant to all Americans. And I was lucky to meet Chris Noel, a one-time starlet who appeared in Elvis Presley films before making veterans concerns her personal mission—a cause for which she’s worked tirelessly for decades. It was heartening to learn, too, that funds from RT are distributed directly to recipients: active, retired or disabled military people and their families. RT chapters provide wheel chairs, build access ramps, and do home repairs. It’s the kind of giving that makes a tangible difference.
The day before the demonstration ride this year a group of Rolling Thunder members visited residents at a Maryland vet’s hospital as they usually do, a visit that was planned well ahead of time but made more poignant by the news of poor treatment at America’s veteran’s hospitals. Said one participant, “That visit made the entire weekend for me. It put things in perspective.”
Over the years, the Rolling Thunder event has expanded to incorporate the larger D.C. metro area with activities spreading well beyond Constitution Avenue. Regional Harley-Davidson dealers such as Fort Washington hold open house events and host their own rides into the city on Sunday. One American Legion in Greenbelt, Maryland hosts a breakfast followed by a group ride into D.C. via the Baltimore-Washington Parkway escorted by the National Park Police. In a city of this size, how often do you think ramp restrictions and lane closures occur simply for the convenience of motorcycle riders? The answer: once a year and this is it. Thanks to Roy and Margaret of C&C Cycle, we rode with this group. The Park Police got us into the District in record time and parked us in a secret spot easily walkable to the Lincoln Memorial. (See Sidebar.)
Of course, people rode to Washington from all over the country, many traveling in one of the three planned rides that RT sanctioned. But smaller, free form groups are quite typical and it’s common to find groups of friends who have made RT an annual pilgrimage. I met up with some folks who have traveled to RT for many years, first riding as a group from New England, now meeting there from various points due to life changes over the years. Steve’s brother John was one of the original riders who gathered up his buddy Gumby and a few others to make the trip to D.C. from Massachusetts in the late ‘80s. They were mainly military men who saw the trip as a show of respect for lost brothers and an affirmation of their camaraderie.
Just within this small group, years passed as riders fell out and joined in; though John passed away a few years ago, the pilgrimage continues. This year, telling lies and stories around the fire at their campground HQ, were Steve and Gumby plus Steve’s nephew Paulie from Florida, and niece Bailey, in the Navy and recently posted to a base in southern Maryland. Being there among them as an observer gave me a window on authentic friendship, with all its warts and flaws, the kind that weathers well and becomes more than friendship, a family of choice. That said, pranking runs rampant with these guys, so you have to learn fast, and don’t turn your back for a second.
These people, their stories, the traditions they perpetuate are emblematic of Rolling Thunder. It’s this kind of goofing around, silly stories and habitual customs that resonate everywhere at Rolling Thunder, in small groups and large. The kind of antics you might find at any biker rally where people congregate habitually but here there’s another layer. At Rolling Thunder the good-natured camaraderie is salted with echoes of regret, memory and tragedy restlessly rumbling ever so barely under the surface. It’s personal and private while also being so very public in scope and reach.
That’s just how Rolling Thunder is, and that’s the way it will remain. As long as people continue to remember and to care.
How to Get a National Park Police Escort (without the ticket)
Now retired and loving life, Ronnie Gould worked as a mechanic for the National Park Police for several decades. One day 15 or more years ago, Ronnie thought it would be a good idea to start a ride into D.C. from the Greenbelt, MD American Legion where he hung out. “It was the ninth or tenth year of Rolling Thunder,” he said. “Before long, when the group had grown to over 300 bikes, I sent a formal letter requesting a Park Police escort.”
Since then, the ride has become a regional favorite, starting with breakfast at the Legion followed by a Park Police escorted ride on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. And there’s no fooling around when the Park Police are involved. “We have to beat Fort Washington H-D into the city with their 25,000 bikes,” said Ronnie. “One year we left late and it was a long wait till they went by.”
Ronnie rode his ’76 Shovelhead, a refurbished Park Police bike he calls the Rose Tattoo that he built up in his basement, “like Johnny Cash’s Cadillac, one piece at a time.” He changed it from electric start to a kicker as a safety measure, he explained, “because after drinking at the Legion if I couldn’t start it myself I shouldn’t ride it.” He’s ridden the bike to Daytona since 1979 where he parks on the beach and gets pretty girls to pose with it. He’s got the photo album to prove it, too, right in the saddlebag. Wearing his flamed Chucks and with a leather bota bag of his homemade wine available for tasting, Ronnie is a rolling sideshow—and a helluva good hearted guy.
Ronnie’s buddy Mark, a.k.a. Shamrock, another of the trio who started the Legion ride, was on hand this year, too. Mark rides a first year trike built by Lehman for Harley-Davidson with custom details that represent his Irish heritage. He also has a ‘76 Shovel similar to Ronnie’s and just finished restoring a ‘34 Ford.
Why go to this trouble all these years to organize the ride? “The names on that wall are buddies of mine, guys that I went to school with,” said Ronnie. “It’s just to say thank you.”
Rolling Thunder XXVII this year, like every year, resulted in stirring images, emotions, and realizations, just as you’d expect from an event of this import and magnitude. But for me it was how the weekend ended that properly framed the experience and connected Rolling Thunder’s mission to something larger—much larger—than any single event or any single conflict. Here’s how.
Heading south from Washington D.C. on I-95, I saw a sign for the National Museum of the Marine Corps and recalled a conversation with Carlos Roman at the Indian Larry block party last year. Carlos told me not to miss this museum next time I was close by and I promised I wouldn’t. So I followed the exit sign and minutes later was walking up the museum’s broad impressive entrance plaza.
It was early in the day and there were few people about, making me feel like I almost had the place to myself. The main space is a bright, prism-like centerpiece designed to be reminiscent of the raising of the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima in WWII, as I later read. It felt impressive; I felt small.
I walked the circle, reading the quotes from military men and presidents that were carved around the top of the rotunda’s promontory, then climbed the steps to the second deck to take it all in. But once I passed through a doorway marked “galleries,” the atmosphere changed dramatically.
Most immediately, it was darker. I must have looked disoriented because a volunteer docent asked if he could help me and explained how the exhibits ran chronologically, with sections for each major U.S. conflict. I started along, pausing here and there to read a panel or view artifacts but what stopped me in my tracks was a mural showing Abraham Lincoln giving his brief but memorable address at Gettysburg.
There were Marines at Gettysburg? I was taken aback by this fact and sat down on a bench to listen to the recording of Lincoln’s speech that was playing on a loop. “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation…” If you went to middle school you know how it goes.
But hearing it this time, suddenly the words held new meaning. This time they made sense. This time, on the backdrop of Rolling Thunder, they connected in a way they never had before.
In November of 1863 not Lincoln, not the Marines, not any person present in Gettysburg then or since would have guessed how his brief speech that day would resonate through the decades, incorporating due recognition to all soldiers who step into the line of fire to protect American freedoms. But even more vital was the task Lincoln assigned to the rest of us, a job we are still duty bound to perform.
As applicable today as they were then, Lincoln’s words honor “the last full measure of devotion” that United States service people have pledged and delivered, as bravely in these times at Fallujah or Helmand as at Guadalcanal or Chosin Reservoir. Lincoln’s words frankly and simply recognize the sacrifice made in warfare by those who wage war, and admit that the rest of us can’t know that sacrifice, we can only be grateful. Then he goes further, placing a responsibility upon those who benefit from the actions of “those brave men…who struggled.” We, he said, must be dedicated to the unfinished work, we must take increased devotion to the cause, we must never forget.
Never forgetting means telling the story; then telling it again and again. It means being humbled by the courage of others and giving credit where it’s due. It means welcoming service men and women from all conflicts into organizations like Rolling Thunder. It means paying respect to those who serve. It means invoking the spirit of those lost in battle and pledging that their loss will not be in vain. It means saying thank you.
I’ve attended Rolling Thunder sporadically through the years, and I confess I got a late start. But I won’t miss it again. As Abraham Lincoln said, “It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.” As the Marines say, Semper Fidelis.
Editor’s Note: Watch for additional articles to follow about Rolling Thunder XXVII here at Iron Trader News.