Rolling Thunder to end annual Memorial Day ride in DC after 2019
By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 13, 2018
WASHINGTON – Rolling Thunder will no longer hold its annual Memorial Day motorcycle ride through Washington, D.C., after 2019, the group’s founder announced Thursday.
The tradition is ending because of escalating costs and a lack of cooperation from the Pentagon and metropolitan police departments, said Artie Muller, a Vietnam veteran and founder of Rolling Thunder, Inc.
“It has been a hard decision to make,” Muller wrote in a letter that he plans to send to supporters in January. “After much discussion and thought over the last six months, Rolling Thunder National Officers have concluded to end our 32-year annual D.C. Memorial weekend event.”
Rolling Thunder is a nonprofit organization that honors prisoners of war and servicemembers missing in action. Its “Ride for Freedom” through Washington every Memorial Day weekend draws thousands of riders and onlookers.
The ride started in 1988 with about 2,000 riders, Muller said. In 2018, there were more than 500,000.
Costs for the 2018 ride totaled more than $200,000, Muller said. The nonprofit hasn’t been able to recruit a new corporate sponsor, and Rolling Thunder didn’t sell enough merchandise, such as patches, pins and flags.
The money that Rolling Thunder does collect should be going toward the group’s community service branch, which offers financial help to veterans, servicemembers and their families, Muller said.
“We’re collecting money to help veterans, troops and their families, and spending $200,000 on a run? I can’t justify that,” he said.
In addition, working with Pentagon police and the city police department to organize the event has become more difficult, Muller said. Participants this year were prevented from entering certain Pentagon parking lots where they typically convene.
In place of the national event, Muller encouraged the 90 individual chapters of Rolling Thunder to host their own Memorial Day demonstrations starting in 2020.
The announcement Thursday prompted disappointment from some riders and fans of the event, according to Muller.
“I’m not surprised, I knew some would be upset about it,” he said of the calls that he has received. “But sometimes you got to change, and I think we do have to change.”
Joe Chenelly, director of AMVETS, a national veterans organization, said his group has “been working to ensure this does not die.”
“This is too important to our veterans and really to all Americans to simply let it stop,” Chenelly said. “These demonstrations and Rolling Thunder’s unbelievable work over the past 32 years has made a tremendous impact, keeping the search going for our missing and prisoners of war.”