Rolling Thunder Takes Its Last Ride into Washington, D.C.
After 31 years, long-standing tradition rides off into the sunset due to budget concerns, logistics, and harassment complaints.
Memorial Day weekend is a lot of things to a lot of people. For all, it’s the start of summer. For most, it’s a time for cookouts, vacations, road trips, and more. And for a few, it’s the weekend where both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 roar into our homes (and for those who get up early enough, there’s the Grand Prix of Monaco, too).
For those who’ve served, however, Memorial Day weekend is a time to remember those who’ve fallen in defending our country. One such tribute, Rolling Thunder, brought hundreds of Harleys and other motorcycles into our nation’s capital every year for the past three decades. Alas, Military.com reported this year’s act of patriotism was the last.
“It’s just a lot of money,” Rolling Thunder founder Artie Muller told Military.com. The former U.S. Army sergeant, who served during the Vietnam War, said the average cost to hold the affair ran upwards of $200,000, including a $30,000 fee charged by the U.S. Department of Defense to allow riders to gather on the parking lot of the Pentagon before riding through the streets of Washington, D.C.
“They were ready to drop it. Let’s face it: Everybody loves the military when there’s a war going on, [but veterans issues can fade into the background in the aftermath],” Muller said.
The group came to its decision to end the affair in December of 2018 over issues of declining sponsorships and increased complaints of harassment from both Pentagon security and the city’s police. The Pentagon pushed back on the harassment claim, however.
“The department supports the peaceful, lawful exercise of American citizens’ First Amendment rights, and remains focused on ensuring the safety and security of the demonstrators and the Pentagon Reservation,” Pentagon representative Sue Gough told ABC News. “The department is prepared to support the 2019 Rolling Thunder ride, as we have for the last 31 years.”
Over 90 Rolling Thunder chapters brought their Harleys into Washington’s National Mall for the final time Sunday, May 26 at noon. There was also a rally for members at the Lincoln Memorial.
Next year, the Rolling Thunder chapters will host gatherings in their hometowns. Meanwhile, the only Harleys coming into D.C. will likely be those passing through the capital on the way to wherever the road takes them.
Photos: ABC News and Military.com