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Memorial Day weekend motorcycle ride gets a new starting location at RFK Stadium

Participants in the 2005 Rolling Thunder rally gather at the Pentagon. This year's event, under the auspices of AMVETS, will begin on the other side of the nation's capital, at RFK Stadium.

STARS AND STRIPES

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 17, 2021

WASHINGTON — After weeks of uncertainty, the veterans group organizing the popular Memorial Day weekend motorcycle ride through the nation’s capital has secured a new starting point.

Tens of thousands of motorcyclists will gather at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in northeast Washington on May 30 before and after the traditional ride around the National Mall. Muriel Bowser, the mayor of Washington, D.C., granted the stadium permission to host the riders.

AMVETS, a national veterans organization, is organizing the ride, which has typically started at the Pentagon parking lots. However, the Defense Department barred the motorcyclists from gathering at the Pentagon this year, citing the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the size of the expected crowd. Organizers are preparing for up to 100,000 motorcycles and nearly twice as many people.

After the Pentagon’s rejection, organizers scrambled to find a new starting point. They announced May 10 that riders would stage on the streets around the National Mall, shutting down the area for about 15 hours.

After the announcement, the group was told that Bowser authorized the use of RFK Stadium. AMVETS spokesman Miles Migliara said Monday that the group was “locked into” using the stadium as the starting point and wasn’t expecting any more changes.

The stadium, in the city’s northeast quadrant, is much farther from the National Mall than the Pentagon. Hosting riders there will require the city to shut down a busy section of the Capitol Beltway, an interstate highway surrounding Washington, from noon to 5 p.m. Other roads will also be closed for long stretches of time, including Pennsylvania Avenue and the streets surrounding the National Mall. Full details of the route will be announced later this week, AMVETS said.

The ride, called Rolling to Remember, aims to raise awareness for prisoners of war and troops still missing in action, as well as the issue of veteran suicide. It was planned as a replacement for the annual Rolling Thunder event, which was held every Memorial Day weekend for 32 consecutive years before ending in 2019.

Last year’s event was canceled because of the pandemic. Organizers said that they’re working to make this year’s event safe, despite ongoing risks.

Motorcyclists will be staged six feet apart, and riders will be asked to wear masks in situations where socially distancing isn’t possible, AMVETS said. The group is also training “COVID marshals” who will encourage social distancing and mask wearing. AMVETS has about 200,000 masks to give away the day of the event.

wentling.nikki@stripes.com
Twitter: @nikkiwentling