Rolling Thunder is a United States advocacy group that seeks to bring full accountability for prisoners of war (POWs) and missing in action (MIA) service members of all U.S. wars. The group’s first demonstration was in 1988. It was incorporated in 1995, and has more than 90 chapters throughout the US, as well as overseas.
The main event occurs annually on the Sunday before Memorial Day, in which members make a slow ride on a dedicated, closed off, pre-set route, called Ride to the Wall in Washington DC, referring to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. It is also called the Ride for Freedom, which leaves the Pentagon parking lot at noon, crosses the Memorial Bridge, and ends at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. During the Rolling Thunder weekend, members and supporters spend time at the Thunder Alley (the official vendor site for the event), visit significant areas of Washington D.C., particularly the numerous memorials, and hear speeches given by members, supporters, military officials and politicians.
Ray Manzo, a former United States Marine Corps corporal, U S Army Sergeant Major John Holland, Marine First Sergeant Walt Sides, and Sergeant Ted Sampley are the four men that are credited with starting Rolling Thunder.
In 1987, Ray Manzo visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., talked with fellow veterans, and first learned that American servicemen had been abandoned in Southeast Asia at the end of the Vietnam War. This was counter to his Marine Corps training to leave no man behind, and he became consumed with the idea that he must do something to bring attention to this issue. Manzo attended a POW/MIA vigil sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club when the idea came to him to host a motorcycle rally in the nation’s capital to show the country and the world that U.S. prisoners of war and missing in action (POW/MIA) still mattered to their fellow servicemen and the country for which they sacrificed their freedom.
Manzo drafted a letter for a call to action and began mailing it to motorcycling publications. He enlisted fellow veterans from the Washington D.C. area to help him through the red tape of requirements. Sgt. Major John Holland was experienced in government legislation and included 1st Sgt. Walt Sides, and Washington activist Sgt. Ted Sampley also joined them. These were the founders of Rolling Thunder. Ted Sampley’s colleague, Bob Schmitt, coined the phrase “Rolling Thunder”. While staring at the Memorial Bridge and envisioning Manzo’s dream, he said, “It will be like the sound of rolling thunder coming across the bridge.”
On Memorial Day 1988, Cpl. Manzo recruited 2,500 men and women to attend Rolling Thunder I.
TO THE WALL
Rolling Thunder Ride to the Wall is a motorcycle rally sponsored by the Rolling Thunder organization. It officially begins when motorcycles and riders silently wait in the Pentagon‘s parking lot, and at noon, all the engines are ignited at once in a huge thunderous rumble.
Beginning in 1987 and continuing through the present, Rolling Thunder has conducted the Run to the Wall on the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend to show their continued support for the efforts to find lost service men and women of past conflicts. In May 2001 the estimated number of motorcycles involved in this rally was 200,000. The event drew an estimated 350,000 motorcyclists in May 2008.
Rolling Thunder has 88 chapters covering 29 states all of which are governed by the same constitution and bylaws. Many of Rolling Thunder’s members are veterans; however, that is not a requirement for membership.
Rolling Thunder also allows for the formation of new chapters worldwide. All chapters of Rolling Thunder have their own president and board members and are accountable for fund raising proceeds and tax information. New chapters must have a minimum of 20 members including the president and board members. Each Rolling Thunder chapter is required to have a unique patch specific to only that chapter with no resemblance to another, and without infringing on any trade marks.
Rolling Thunder has expanded its operations to include Rolling Thunder Charities as of 2007, a class 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. This part of the organization adheres to the same laws that govern its parent corporation. Rolling Thunder Charities was designed to help members as well as U.S. Military troops and their families that are in need of financial help. Rolling Thunder Charities sells Rolling Thunder memorabilia and conducts other fundraising activities.
Rolling Thunder was influential in the passing of the Missing Service Personnel Act of 1993. The bill states that a service member cannot be listed as killed in action (KIA) without substantial evidence. In 1995 Rolling Thunder Inc. won approval from the United States Government for a POW/MIA postage stamp to be put in circulation and the organization continues to work with the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives on new bills for the return of, and information about, servicemen and women. Rolling Thunder co-authored the 2006 Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act, which prohibits protests such as those of taking place near funeral proceedings for fallen military personnel. Rolling Thunder Inc’s current legislative effort is attaining passage of House Res 111,[clarification needed] which calls for the immediate formation of a committee to oversee and investigate the whereabouts of all missing POW/MIA from all current and past wars.
We will not forget