Military Vets Motorcycle to Arlington Cemetery
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 24, 2003 Arlington National Cemetery is a quiet place where military veterans lie in peace among slim, white marble tombstones that in the springtime array like troops in formation across the rolling fields of green.
Today, however, the staccato thunder of legions of motorcycle exhausts echoed across these normally placid environs, as an army of leather- and denim-clad veterans rolled in on their Harleys, Hondas, Kawasakis and BMWs.
"Rolling Thunder" had indeed arrived at the cemetery, a stone's throw across the Potomac River from the nation's capital.
The non-profit group -- accompanied by thousands of other motorcyclists from across the country -- biked to Arlington to participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Rolling Thunder member Bill Newby, 56, a disabled Navy Vietnam veteran from Knoxville, Tenn., noted that the organization was making its 16th annual trek to Washington.
He explained that Rolling Thunder uses motorcycles to publicize the prisoner of war/missing in action issue and to educate the public. He added that the group "is also committed to helping disabled veterans from all wars."
Newby considers the POW-MIA issue a personal one, noting, "I've got friends who've not only died, I've got friends who haven't been accounted for."
In fact, the organization's annual Run for the Wall, Newby pointed out, features thousands of motorcyclist-veterans from Rolling Thunder -- and other motorcycle clubs across the nation who motor to Washington regularly to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and to take part in other activities to raise public consciousness about the POW-MIA issue.
Most biking veterans at Arlington including Newby -- were festooned with military awards earned in previous wars. Now graying and a step or two slower than in their prime, they remain fiercely patriotic and approving of the war against global terrorism.
Newby, for one, emphasized that "we ought to do it and get it over with and not pull back," regarding U.S. and coalition military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq to defeat global terrorism.
To Gail Ferrell, a member of the Southern Cruisers motorcycle club out of Raleigh, N.C., this year's ride to Washington "symbolizes freedom and what we're fighting for -- and all the men and women that have died for our country."
America's service men and women "are doing a wonderful job" in the war on terror, she asserted, adding, "they're fighting for us and we should stand up for them and do whatever we can to help them."
Keith Parker, another Southern Cruisers member, from Willow Spring, N.C., said he was heartened by the successful rescue of Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch and fellow soldiers formerly held as POWs during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"Anytime we have any of our soldiers captured or taken into custody like that we need to go get them," Parker, another Navy Vietnam veteran, noted. The rescue of Lynch and comrades was "a heroic thing for Americans to do and it's heroic for (the former POWs) to survive it and come out."
And concerning the war against terrorism, Parker asserted, "Let's go get them everywhere."
However, "we've got a long ways to go," Parker acknowledged, noting there are "a lot of (people) in the world who'd like to destroy us -- for our freedoms."
Those responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Parker said, were wrong in thinking such an assault would sap Americans' resolve to confront terrorism.
"We're going to make sure they don't go it again," he concluded.