For many Vietnam War veterans, the hostile reception they received when they returned home from this war remains vivid in their hearts and minds. This past weekend, my husband Bob, now a spry 73, and a former Marine from the Vietnam War Era (February 28, 1961 to May 7, 1975), was just one of about 900,000 motorcycle riders (statistic from: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/gallery/2017/may/29/30th-rolling-thunder-ride-in-pictures), who paraded in the “Ride for Freedom,” through the streets of Washington, DC. on Sunday, May 28, 2017 as part of the annual Rolling Thunder Demonstration Ride.
“Operation Rolling Thunder” was the title of a gradual and sustained aerial bombardment campaign conducted by U.S. and the Republic of Vietnam Militaries against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) during the Vietnam War (from March 2, 1965 until November 2 1968). Who knows, this might have been the origin for this now 30 year old gradual but sustained demonstration held annually in Washington, DC on the Sunday before Memorial Day each year.
I usually don’t write about Bob in my posts, but I thought I would say a little something about this 30-year-old commemorative ride because it is so near and dear to his heart. In fact, at least one of his motorcycle riding buddies (from the Skipjack Chapter of the Nam Knights of America Benevolent Organization), has ridden in this parade every year since 1988–the first year of the “Rolling Thunder” demonstration ride. Further, the Nam Knights Motorcycle Club formed in New Jersey in 1989 just shortly after New Jerseyan and 1968 Bronze Star Medal recipient Ray Manzo (a combat engineer from Company B, 7th Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division), first visited Washington, DC to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. There, Ray experienced an all-consuming drive to right an unfathomable wrong–Our country had reneged on its sacred vow to its warriors “to leave no man behind”.
The Rolling Thunder Concept: 1987
In September 1987, Manzo heard about a Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club prisoners of war, “POW Vigil,” being held in Asbury Park, N.J. And, there, in Manzo’s mind, he crystallized a concept for a massive demonstration by thousands of bikers to stir the country to not forget about POWs and MIAs left behind in Vietnam. Ray went home and wrote hundreds of letters to military and veterans organizations, congressmen, senators, newspapers and magazines, and a handful of biker magazines. Then, on Memorial Day in 1988, Manzo’s dream of thousands of bikers assembling in the Pentagon Parking Lot, crossing the Arlington Cemetery Memorial Bridge to the Lincoln Memorial, riding past the White House and Capitol and then back to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall became a reality. On that Sunday before Memorial Day in 1988, there were an estimated 2,500 bikers who had been inspired by Manzo’s call. By 1992 there were over 40,000 bikers and now 30 years later–there were one million bikers and spectators!
In 2002, Tim Chambers, Marine Corps Staff Sgt. (retired), first wore his dress blues to the Rolling Thunder demonstration. “I was going to go around, shake some hands, tell these veterans ‘Thank you,’ he told Vietnam Magazine. “Then I saw all these vets zooming by on motorcycles. I popped out and started saluting.” He’s been the “Saluting Marine” at Rolling Thunder, and other events, ever since, holding his salute for the approximate four hours as bikers roll by. And, in 2016’s event, he married his bride right where he has stood and honored fellow veterans for the past 15 years, and together they stood there until the last biker had passed them.
Now Rolling Thunder has evolved into an emotional display of patriotism and respect for all who defend our country.
Another MIA Just Returned . . .
On May 10, 2017, just days before this now infamous motorcycle riders’ demonstration to keep the memories of our Vietnam warriors ever present, my husband Bob and nearly 100 fellow bikers proudly escorted the remains of Marine Corps Reserve 1st Lt. William (Billy) Ryan, of Bogota, N.J., from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware where he arrived back in America to Arlington National Cemetery.
The Defense Department’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency had conducted DNA tests to confirm his identity. On May 11, 1969, the day Ryan’s plane crashed while he was on board during a combat mission in southern Laos near the Vietnam border, Ryan was just 25 years old. This day was also just one day after his baby son Michael had celebrated his first birthday, 48 years ago. Lt. Ryan’s aircraft was pulling out of a bombing run when it was hit by enemy fire. The pilot bailed out and was rescued. According to military investigators who went to the Laos crash site in 1990, they found and identified Ryan’s plane seat. Investigators went back to the site six more times from May 2012 to January 2016 continuing their search for Ryan’s remains. And in April 2017, they identified Ryan’s remains through DNA tests and notified his son Michael immediately. Unfortunately, the next day Ryan’s widow, Judith, was diagnosed with stage-4 stomach cancer. But, finally on May 10th, 2017, on the eve of the 48th anniversary of his plane’s crash, Billy Ryan was returned back to his country’s land and was finally laid to rest–one soldier less who had been left behind!
After 30 years, progress has been made but the mission endures for Rolling Thunder . . .
Soldiers of Wars Still Unaccounted for: 82,545
Source: http://www.dpaa.mil/Our-Missing/Past-Conflicts (5/23/17)
Cold War: 126
Gulf Wars: 5
El Dorado Canyon: 1
Names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, DC: 58,318
(As of Memorial Day 2017)