Army veteran Sue Gough untied the American flag on the back of her motorcycle Sunday in preparation for what was to be the last ride of Rolling Thunder — the annual Memorial Day weekend gathering of cyclists honoring prisoners of war and service members killed in action.
Ms. Gough joined hundreds of thousands of riders on the cycles rumbling through the nation’s capital, passing iconic sites such as the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.
As the bikers rode downtown in the District, American flags flapped in the wind and engines growled along roads. Bikes sped under bridges where people waved their hands and flags in support.
“It’s important that we as a society honor and recognize those who were willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice,” said Ms. Gough, who is also the widow of a veteran.
Retired Marine Sgt. Rob Jones, who lost both of legs when he stepped on a landmine in Afghanistan in 2010, paid tribute to fellow veterans Sunday before the opening ride to the District.
“No matter who they are, where they come from, what they did or how they died, what they all had in common is that they died for their comrades left and right,” Mr. Jones said. “They died for the loved ones they left behind. They died for a country they love and we are forever in their debt.”
Since 1988, thousands have ridden through the District for the annual Operation Rolling Thunder rally, but organizers said this year’s ride would be the last because of production costs and logistical challenges.
However, President Trump tweeted Sunday: “The Great Patriots of Rolling Thunder WILL be coming back to Washington, D.C. next year, & hopefully for many years to come. It is where they want to be, & where they should be. Have a wonderful time today. Thank you to our great men & women of the Pentagon for working it out!”
Nonetheless, the Rolling Thunder organization, founded by Army veteran Artie Muller, says it plans on smaller events among its 90 state chapters starting next year.
Vietnam veteran Rodney Coryer, who drove from Plattsburgh, New York, for the rally, said it is awful that this is the end of the rally in Washington. This year was his third year participating in the event.
“It’s a good camaraderie,” Mr. Coryer said. “Veterans get together and see old friends throughout the country and swap tales and everything.”
The former Air Force mechanic drove more than 500 miles to ride in the demonstration.
Kevin Hardy, marketing director of Patriot Harley-Davidson in Fairfax, Virginia, said he doesn’t want Rolling Thunder to end. But he said he’s sure there will be an event next year to commemorate Memorial Day and act as a reminder that the nation cares about its veterans.
“We’re hoping it doesn’t end,” Mr. Hardy said. “We would love to continue it. We will still do something next year in some fashion. I don’t know what that will be yet.”
The motorcycle store sponsored the Ride of the Patriots, the largest opening ride to Rolling Thunder that had an estimated record of 10,000 motorcycles joining this year’s ride.
As Ms. Gough prepared to join the opening ride, her American flag waved in the air above a leather jacket belonging to her husband strapped to the back of her motorcycle.
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