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Rolling Thunder Rumbles Into Nation’s Capital

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 27, 2007 – A chrome convoy of about 300,000 motorcycles driven by Vietnam veterans and their supporters blazed across the nation’s capital today in a deafening roar of solidarity.

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Spectators watch and show their support as motorcycle riders rumble by near the National Mall in Washington, D.C., during the 20th Rolling Thunder Ride for Freedom, May 27, 2007. The bikers ride to raise awareness about prisoners of war, troops missing in action and veterans’ benefits. Defense Dept. photo by John J. Kruzel
  

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On the 20th anniversary of Rolling Thunder Ride for Freedom, current and former military personnel, family members and other spectators cheered riders on as the legion rumbled from the Pentagon to the National Mall here.

The ride is held every year by the non-profit group as a demonstration to raise awareness about prisoners of war, troops missing in action and veterans’ benefits. The event also offers vets the chance to reconnect with their brothers-in-arms.

“We were over there together in Vietnam, we’re real tight here. I don’t think any other generation of veterans ever had that,” said Artie Muller, founder and executive director of Rolling Thunder.

Muller and other Rolling Thunder leaders took their hogs on a detour to the White House today where President Bush invited them to share their views on issues concerning veterans of all U.S. wars.

“We have a very tight relationship with veterans from the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan because we have a brotherhood,” Muller told American Forces Press Service after his meeting with Bush.

Rolling Thunder’s designated route brought bikers whizzing past national landmarks including the Vietnam Memorial, the Washington Monument and the Capitol.

For rider Kenneth Pezewski, today marked the 15th year that he’s rallied riders from his home state of Wisconsin, to pound the pavement here.

“My brother died from Agent Orange in Vietnam,” Pezewski said. “I do this in a tribute to him.”

Pezewski said his participation is his way of paying homage to former and current servicemembers.

“I’ve got son-in-laws who are still in the service,” he said, “That’s the only way I can honor their rank and their respect, so that’s why I do it.”

Despite encountering light rain May 24, Pezewski called the nearly 800-mile journey from Milwaukee, “a beautiful ride.” Since 1992, Pezewski has designed and printed shirts for fellow riders – a task made more difficult by the 200 riders who joined him this year.

One such rider was retired Army Sgt. Tom Boisbert, known to fellow riders as “Top Hat.”

“I do this because I love my country,” Boisbert said.

“That’s why I fly the flags,” he said, pointing to the stars and stripes mounted on the back of his bike.

Retired Army Spc. George Rusiewicz rides to show support for his brother, who fought in Vietnam and was riding in Rolling Thunder today for the fourth straight year.

“You’ve gotta support the troops, and I think this is a great way to do it,” Rusiewicz said. “We need people to defend this nation, and like they say, ‘Freedom isn’t free.’”

The 350-mile trek here from New London, N.C., is one of the few rides under Rusiewicz’s belt. He recently bought his first motorcycle – a brand new Harley Davidson cruiser – but Rusiewicz has found himself immediately addicted to Rolling Thunder.

“I love it,” he said. “I’m going to keep coming back every year until I can’t do it anymore.”

Retired Navy field hospital corpsman Jim Enos, who leads the Wilmington, N.C., Rolling Thunder chapter, doesn’t miss too many Freedom Rides, he said.

“I love coming up here,” he said. “I have not come to an event up here yet where I have not run into somebody that I knew in Vietnam.

“Last year over here I ran into a fellow that I served with about 30 years ago, and it was pretty awesome,” he said. “I kept looking at this guy, and all of a sudden I said, ‘I know him,’”

Thirty years before, Enos and the man had served in the same company, he recalled.

“And I went over and spoke to him and when he heard my voice – evidently my voice hasn’t changed, though the rest of me has – he knew who I was and he said, ‘Doc!’” Enos said.

“I said, ‘Damn, you got old boy!’” Enos recalled with a jovial laugh.

Earlier today, a Marine Purple Heart recipient who Enos never met reached out to him, he said.

“I saw he had been with the 9th Marines and he was a Purple Heart recipient,” Enos said. “And when he saw my caduceus here, and he saw 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, he hugged me – the guy’s about 6’4”, about 300 pounds, when he hugged me I thought he was going to crush me!”

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageThe Rolling Thunder Ride for Freedom is made up Vietnam veterans and their supporters who are dedicated to ensuring that those who are missing or killed in action are accounted for. Defense Dept. photo by John J. Kruzel  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMotorcycle riders cruise through Washington, D.C., during the 20th Rolling Thunder Ride for Freedom, May 27, 2007. The bikers ride to raise awareness about prisoners of war, troops missing in action and veterans’ benefits. Defense Dept. photo by John J. Kruzel  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMembers of the Wilmington, N.C., chapter of Rolling Thunder set up their float on May 27, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by John J. Kruzel  
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