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Saga of the Saluting Marine

By Roger L. Vance 
Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: April 26, 2012 
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Tim Chambers holds his salute for up to four hours as bikes parade past him. (Photo Christopher Kamsler)
Tim Chambers holds his salute for up to four hours as bikes parade past him. (Photo Christopher Kamsler)

Chambers learned about discipline and hard work on his grandfather's 500-acre strawberry farm in Oregon

Tim Chambers admits to an "overabundance of enthusiasm." In his 15-year Marine Corps career, that enthusiasm served him well, leading to his series of Forrest Gump–like experiences. "You can get anywhere with enthusiasm," said Chambers. Like onto the median of Washington's 23rd Street in Marine dress blues during Rolling Thunder in 2002, snapping a salute to the bikers rolling by. Despite myriad challenges, Chambers hasn't missed a Rolling Thunder since, becoming somewhat of a legend who is recognized by millions.

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The eldest of six children, Chambers learned about discipline and hard work on his grandfather's 500-acre strawberry farm in Silverton, Ore. "My grampa showed me how to be courteous, treat all people with respect and use common sense," Chambers said. "And because he always kept his hoe close to my behind, it made the Marine Corps seem easy."

Chambers joined the Marines after high school in 1994. From Parris Island on, he credits his energy and enthusiasm with helping him land many interesting jobs, including protocol chief to a general stationed in Japan and assistant to the chief defense counsel for the Marines in Washington.

Sergeant Chambers was also an ardent volunteer for organizations such as Special Olympics and the Muscular Dsytrophy Association. While stationed in Washington from 2000 to 2003, he participated in the World War II Memorial groundbreaking ceremony and the Korean War Commemoration Committee's ceremonies for veterans who never received their medals. In 2003 Chambers' volunteer work earned him recognition as one of five "Very Important Patriots" by the National Military Family Association—and because of that, his face appeared on the Kellogg's Frosted Flakes cereal box.

On September 11, 2001, however, his energy and enthusiasm took a more dramatic turn in Washington. When the Pentagon was hit, he raced to the scene with other Marines and helped in the rescue efforts, entering the building to look for survivors and bodies. Two months later, Chambers and 10 other Marines were awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal. "The whole ordeal reminded me of why the Marine Corps exists," said Chambers. "We are trained to react. It was a gut check and helped me decide to reenlist." For his heroics, he was invited to the 2002 Rose Bowl parade to ride on a float with other 9/11 first responders.

Chambers first became aware of Rolling Thunder while he was stationed in Washington, and in 2002 the Marine decided to don his dress uniform and spend the day thanking veterans. But he didn't think that was enough. He'd attended many funerals on behalf of the Marines, but felt giving a salute at a vet's funeral was really too late. "That was it," he said of his impulsive gesture. "I just jumped out there as the parade was happening and popped up a salute. Then I started thinking, 'Can I make it to the end? If I fall out will I look like a complete idiot?'"

"I just got caught up in the moment," he said, not thinking it would be more than just a one-time thing. The next year, though, Chambers began his salute at the very beginning of the motorcycle run and held it to the end.

Transferred to California in 2004, Chambers said his run might have ended then. Soon, though, he received validation of his Rolling Thunder salute in the form of a letter from Marine Commandant General Michael Hagee, who wrote about the letters he'd received praising Chambers' action and congratulating him "for serving as a superb representative of our Marine Corps."

"I was just floored," Chambers said—and he felt determined to get back the next year. He arranged to take leave to get to Rolling Thunder each year after that, and he has even taken his mother and grandmother with him a few times. Three times he's accompanied riders from the Run for the Wall or Carry the Flame groups.

By 2008 the Marine sergeant had become a Rolling Thunder fixture. That year, after giving the salute, Chambers got a call from an aide to President George W. Bush. He told Chambers the president had seen him that day, was very impressed, and invited him to a Memorial Day breakfast at the White House the next morning. Chambers took his grandmother along, and they met the family of Army Staff Sgt. Matt Maupin, who had been a POW in Iraq and whose remains had just been recently returned. Chambers recalled the Marine Commandant General James Conway's reaction to seeing him: "He came up to me and said, 'What are you doing here, Marine? Who invited you?' I said, 'The president did, sir!' That was fun."

Chambers at 2011 Rolling Thunder. (Photo: Christopher Kamsler)
Chambers at 2011 Rolling Thunder. (Photo: Christopher Kamsler)
While Tim Chambers' annual salute, which lasts three to four hours, is a feat in itself, a serious medical condition has made the last three years especially challenging for him. After surgery in 2005, he contracted a serious bacterial infection caused by Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). In Chambers' case, the bacteria invaded his back muscles and causes flare-ups that require intense therapy and can leave him bedridden for months at a time.

The recurring illness contributed to Chambers' decision to leave the Marines in 2009. "The Marine Corps has been my whole life since high school," he said, "but I knew I could no longer serve. I miss it a lot."

For the last three years, Chambers has suffered flare-ups just prior to Rolling Thunder. In 2011 he was hospitalized for several months before the Memorial Day weekend. Added to that, Chambers also had a broken right wrist.

"The first hour is always hell and I have to fight mentally to keep from falling out," he said. "Over the years, it hasn't gotten easier. I really thought I was going to fall out last year." But even though he was clearly struggling, Chambers held his salute until the last bike passed.

"I'll be in better shape this year," Chambers said in March, noting that the MRSA infection had not returned. "The biggest concern I have is fitting into my uniform," he said. "I'm 36 now and have been so sick the past few years that I haven't had much opportunity to work out. But, really it's more of a mental thing. I'm always thinking, 'If I drop my salute, can I find a rock I can crawl under?'"

What mostly runs through Chambers' mind during the salute are thoughts about what he is representing and who he is reaching. "Service members truly have compassion and love for each other," he said. "The country needs to see this, and Rolling Thunder brings it to life. I feel the need to thank them for doing it."

"I'm floored any time I hear that I've touched someone," said Chambers. "Whenever a mother says I remind them of a son who died—be it in Desert Storm, Iraq, Afghanistan or even Vietnam—it completely blows me away. And when they tell me their stories, I will then tell them to others. Mission accomplished."

And it's not just a one-way experience for Chambers, who never served in combat. "When the vets stop and salute me, or when active duty soldiers and Marines get off their bikes, it validates me—even though they see what's not on my chest," he said. "As long as I am honoring and emulating them and helping people to remember their service and sacrifice, I hope that I will be accepted."

While Tim Chambers admitted to having a few mental tricks to sustain him through the salute, he said he's found something else that gets him through it. "It's amazing," he said. "When the bikes come right by me, the vibrations of the engines run through my body, and it takes away the pain in my arm. I especially love it when they rev up their engines and look me right in the eye and say, 'Looking good, Tim!' It means so much to be remembered and respected. There's nothing better than that."


56 Responses to “Saga of the Saluting Marine”


  1. 1
    Patricia Shifflett says:

    Thank you Sgt Chambers,you can tell you were raise to respect others & treat others the way you want them to treat you.I like to Thank You for the time you serve in the Marines to help keep our Country safe.It's people like you that makes me say I'm glad to be an American.Thank you again and may God Bless you & your family.
    pattyshifflett57@yahoo.com

  2. 2
    Mila Lyons says:

    I watched Rolling Thunder a few years back, it was the first time, I saw it, and watched Sgt. Chambers standing there for 3 hrs so proud. tears came to my eyes, to see this man standing giving respect to his fellow commrads., I was listening to what the commentator was saying and I began to pray for him and those who rode and served this country. GOD BLESS YOU ALL, AND TO YOUR FAMILIES, for they also serve. It makes me PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN. GOD BLESS AMERICA.

  3. 3
    Gerry Corbin says:

    Hi! Sgt Chambers, it your brother at arms from north of the Border, member of the Veterans UN Nato Canada. Question I'm I wrong to but I heard rumors that you would be at our version of Rolling Thunder II. "To never forget who we are".

  4. 4
    Danny Lewis says:

    First time i went to the wall in 09. At that time i didnt know much about Rolling Thunder. But now im a member. I want to meet Tim

  5. 5
    Rebel says:

    I have been inspired by this American Hero for many years when I ride in Rolling Thunder.

    Thank You Sergeant Chambers, I'm looking forward to saluting you this year!!!

  6. 6
    Paul/Kathy Knapp says:

    We have been priviledged to be able to ride in the Run for the Wall – Rolling Thunder group and what a sight to see but this dedicated Marine saluting us all a rode by him. God Bless him ! We have also been inspired by Sergeant Chambers – looking forward to another ride and a salute. Thank you.

  7. 7
    CWO3 Anders Dillner USMCR (Ret.) says:

    Semper Fidelis!

  8. 8
    Jim Judson says:

    Sgt Jim Judson,
    US Army VietNam Vet
    MOPH wounded 30Mar68

    Thank you Sgt Chambers, I rode to the wall in 2011,, stopped my bike and rendered my salute to you, for all the VN Vets unable too.
    Bless you my brother

  9. 9
    Michal Reed says:

    That is so awesome, especially when Vets feel like they've been washed to the side & forgotten for their contribution for the freedom of all!

  10. 10
    Michelle Wilcox says:

    This old Navy corpsman looks forward to saluting you again this year. Thank you for your dedication and service to this wonderful country.

  11. 11
    John Fillius says:

    You don't have to have medals on you chest to be a respected MARINE. If there is a address where i could send a coin for you please let me know. You are a true AMERICAN GOD BLESS YOU SON.

  12. 12
    Stan Ruiz - USMC 70-73 MOS 7141/8662/0311 says:

    Sgt. Chambers I was asked how does a man hold a salute that long. My answer was it comes natural for a UNITED STATES MARINE. Semper Fi Brother! You are making all veterans proud. May God give you the strength to continue. Once a Marine always a Marine!

  13. 13
    Cindyd says:

    I have not been to "Rolling Thunder" But one of our friends came back and told us about his experience riding in this awesome tribute. The one thing that I remembered was about this Marine standing there the entire time from the first bike to the last. For me that was what I remember the most. Now I thought it was the Marines that required a soldier to stand at attention. I hadn't realized it was the actions of one man. Outstanding

  14. 14
    Danny Lewis says:

    I'm with Rolling Thunder Tn. 6 ive only seen pics. Of this fine Marine. SEMPER FI

  15. 15
    Carol says:

    Sgt. Chambers, as a person who has had a family member serve in the Armed Forces in almost every war, I'd like to say Thank you to a man who inspires so many of us to be proud to be American's. I work when Rolling Thunder happens and am unable to get to Washington to salute each of you who have kept our country safe. I will keep you and all of our other Military men and women in my prayers as I always have. Thank you for keeping us safe.

  16. 16
    Ann Yergin says:

    THANK you Sgt. chambers. I've ridden my bike in Rolling Thunder several times and it is awesome to see you standing there saluting. I have had a family member in every branch of the armed services. My son has just returned from Afghanistan. Thank you for honoring all of them! SEMPER FI

  17. 17
    Louise Vargas says:

    Thank you Sgt. Chambers for all you have done and continue to do. This was my first Rolling Thunder. I was so taken by the pride this country has and the dedication to each other. Thank you once again for standing there and honoring those who serve/served.
    God Bless you and The United States of America.

  18. 18

    [...] Saga of the Saluting Marine Tim Chambers admits to an "overabundance of enthusiasm." In his 15-year Marine Corps career, that enthusiasm served him well, leading to his series of Forrest Gump–like experiences. "You can get anywhere with enthusiasm," said Chambers. Like onto the median of Washington's 23rd Street in Marine dress blues during Rolling Thunder in 2002, snapping a salute to the bikers rolling by. Despite myriad challenges, Chambers hasn't missed a Rolling Thunder since, becoming somewhat of a legend who is recognized by millions. [...]

  19. 19
    james e. jones says:

    the saying is once a Marine always a Marine, that is so true.I've been out of the Corps for many years and have ridden in many Rolling Thunders events at D.C.The first time I saw Sgt.Chambers I told myself that I had to met this Marine.5/28/2012 was the day that got to met him and I'll say this,he is one hell of a Marine and a man.Job well done Sgt. Chambers

  20. 20
    Suprsnake says:

    Sgt. Chambers has added a new layer of tradition to an event already steeped in tradition. A silent tribute has NEVER spoken Louder. Thank you for your service and commitment. We have been going to Thunder since 2000 and will be there I hope, for many more years. We have seen it grow, seen the high security after 9/11 and the year of the dedication of the WW I I Memorial and Have witnessed the Sgt. at his chosen post. All this because some dedicated veterans wanted to salute their brethren and bring attention to the POW/MIA cause

  21. 21
    Michael Galloway says:

    I agree, Steve. Anyone who calls it "Happy" has obviously never been in our shoes, or even thought about it before

  22. 22

    [...] of the most moving moments along the ride was seeing Tim Chambers standing in full salute knowing that by the time we passed him he had already been standing there [...]

  23. 23
    Kathy Sims says:

    I have ridden my bike in Rolling Thunder three times now….cry the whole way, and almost sob when I see you. Thank you so much for what you do and for what it means to all who see what you do.

  24. 24
    Dick and Patty DeSantis says:

    We always knew you were and are someone special,Tim. We are very proud to call you, cousin! God bless you!!!

  25. 25
    Steve O'Brien says:

    I was so touched by this photo and story, I wrote this poem in his honor.

    I SALUTE THEE

    Every year

    At this time

    I salute

    These men of mine

    As they roll

    And thunder by

    My right hand raised

    To my eye

    Does it hurt?

    Is what they ask

    In your honor

    I accept this task

    Thru the heat

    The blazing sun

    I stand here proud

    For every last one

    I cannot drop

    My arm, My hand

    I will not rest

    I only stand

    On iron horses

    A steel cavalry

    My eyes forward

    I salute thee

    http://www.sobnyc.wordpress.com

    -Peace

  26. 26
    Tim Chambers says:

    I am the Saluting Marine from Rolling Thunder.

    I want to apologize upfront if this is not acceptable. I created a T-Shirt to honor all Veterans if you go to my website you can see it first hand. This will unite and honor Citizens of all walks of life.

    Please visit my website http://www.leavenowarriorbehind.org

  27. 27
    Dean Webb Sgt. USMC 1977-1984 says:

    Job well done Marine. I have no doubt that you would always hold your salute because a Marine always will. Semper Fi

  28. 28
    Lisa Keel says:

    Thank you for all you do, and have done, Sgt. chambers. You will always have my respect and admiration. Bless you and your family.

  29. 29
    Mary Coon says:

    Tim,

    Thank you for doing what you do. For those of us who weren't able to ride or are/were not in the military, you and the rest are not forgotten. Our hearts were with you all.

    I look forward to looking at the site but it says that you have to login to launch it. I would also like to speak to you about promoting your site on my site and online radio station. http://truthforsurvival.com I truly believe that everyone would like to hear you put into your own words directly from you speaking for all of our military (present, past and future). I would like to interview you for Truth for Survival radio and website. If you would like more information and to speak to me directly, connect with me in Skype as heartfeltglobal (please let me know it is you as I would like to try to avoid those who phish the internet). I don't normally put my contact info in public but I believe in this enough to make it an exception. If you all can serve to protect me then I can give you direct contact to me regardless of others. I am an internet marketer and would like to offer my help if you would like for anything you might need to build and market your website.

    Semper Fi and may blessings shower all who serve. Again, thank you all for everything you do.

  30. 30
    Dennis Woblick says:

    I just want to way to go Marine you were a insporation on Dec 7 2013 in
    arizona when I rode by you and saluted semper fi.

  31. 31
    Dona Scheffee says:

    2014 and what you did and do is still going around, I'm Canadian but still so proud for what you stand for and you stand for.

  32. 32
    oscar C pritchard says:

    God bless you sgt chambers,you are a credit to your family and a credit to your uniform and your country,,You ,Sir are a true American hero,and Are deserving to be among the ranks of our great patriots,Sgt Alvin c York, and Gunny carlos hathcock. .
    Simper Fi,Do or die

  33. 33
    oscar C pritchard says:

    God Bless you,you are a true American hero,belonging to the list of our heros past,Present and future,among the ranks of suchy as Alvin C York,and gunny carlos hathcock and our founding fathers one and all

  34. 34
    Anonymous says:

    [...] fallen for us all. Remember them, share this with your friends. Saga of the Saluting Marine Saga of the Saluting Marine Tim Chambers admits to an "overabundance of enthusiasm." In his 15-year Marine Corps [...]

  35. 35
    Paul Gormley says:

    Respect.

    Such an amazing tribute – you are truly a credit to the Corps, and an inspiration to all men and women in the profession of Arms. We must always remember those who gave their today, so that we may have a tomorrow.

    Thank you for your Service.

    \They shall grow not old
    As we that are left grow old.
    Age shall not weary them
    Nor the years condemn
    At the going down of the sun
    And in the morning
    We Will Remember Them"

    LEST WE FORGET

    Gormo
    Veterans MC Australia
    (Adelaide Chapter)

  36. 36
    Jay Pillo says:

    Sgt. Chambers;

    I am positive that you do not do this for your own personal recognition nor attention; you do this to honor the memory of all of your fallen brothers and sisters, and for all of us that have been protected by them, so we will never forget their sacrifices.

    Simply put, you are not just a Marine, but you are truly an American Hero. Thank you and may God Bless you and all military personnel forever.

  37. 37
    Carol says:

    I can't say anymore than, I cry every time I see these videos! I'm so touched by you especially for the respect you give others and for starting a tradition for others to follow. Thank YOU and the others that are TRULY heroes!

  38. 38
    Susan says:

    Thank you, sir, for the depth of honor expressed and for the pain you are willing to endure to give that honor. I have been deeply affected by your service and it creates a deep yearning in me for an unknown something. I hope that I can find an expression to match that yearning as you have found on the median of 23rd street.
    God bless you

  39. 39
    Ronald Hammer says:

    I trust in the Military that they will not dishonor our Constitution and Bill of Rights for they give body and soul for US!

  40. 40
    deb byington says:

    he is one tough marine maygod bless him through out the rest of his life.

  41. 41
    Adrian says:

    Tim is one of the most respectful, honest and sincere people I have ever met. Not only did he serve this country and protect us as a marine, I was able to spend 1 week a year for 5 or 6 summers with him as a volunteer for a Muscular Dystrophy Camp. I remember how much he was respected and looked up to by the kids and other counselors! Every camper wanted a picture and a handshake or a hug when he showed up on dance night with his dress blues.
    Here's to you Tim!

  42. 42
    Patricia says:

    Semper Fi! You are the embodiment that makes a Marine. You truly are a great Marine. Medals don't make a Marine, it is who you are on the inside, that shines through to the outside for everyone to see!
    Every branch of the service has been represented by my family. I have a son who recently returned to his wife and son in Germany from Afghanistan. He also did a tour of duty in Iraq. My sisters two children are active duty soldiers as well. My niece is a Flight Medic, and she served a tour of duty in Iraq and two in Afghanistan, her brother is now a Warrant Officer, served a tour in Afghanistan. Both my husband and I were in the Marines, so once again I say SEMPER FI and thank you for what you do! You exemplify what the spirit and dedication of being a Marine is all about!

  43. 43
    DALENE TREADWELL says:

    You make me PROUD to be an American!! THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE AND FOR YOU CONSTANT LOYALTY AND LOVE FOR THIS NATION! GOD BLESS YOU!!

    SEMPER FI

  44. 44
    Beatrice says:

    Thank you for your tribute to all who has served, and are still serving. Your strength and valor says allot without words! To honor and recognize all our military. Your dedication to stand and salute every one who's served. It is a true tribute to them.
    MAY WE NEVER FORGET!!!
    THANK YOU & GOD BLESS YOU!

  45. 45
    Larry says:

    Ssgt, you stated in the article that you weren't wearing anything on your chest to validate you as of serving in combat or other theaters. Ssgt Chambers you have served your country and the Marines Proudly no matter that don't have a bunch of ribbons on your chest, for what you do at Rolling Thunder in my book if I could make it possible would make you welcome in the rolls of Veterans that I know. I am a Viet Nam combat Marine and what I saw that one day made me the Proud even more when I tell people I am a Former Marine. I know we have never met but I would be proud to call you Brother. Semper Fidelis

  46. 46
    LINDA says:

    Carol, I'm like you – no matter how many time I watch these videos, the tears flow. I'm married to a Marine (Viet Nam 67-68) and am
    so proud of the corps and what it represents…Proud of my Marine and all the service personnel which he was a part of.

    God Bless Sgt. Chambers for what he does and God Bless all our veterans and the Rolling Thunder for showing the world that we do respect our veterans…

  47. 47
    judy spell says:

    I just saw the video and as I watched it tears rolled down my face. Thank you so very much Tim for your service to this country. We must stand tall and be proud of being an American and having superb young men like yourself protecting us. God bless you from the wife of a veteran who served from 1957-1960.

  48. 48
    Cindy Williams says:

    Sgt. Chambers, you are amazing as all of our veterans!! God bless you for your honor!! I would love to be able to make it to Rolling Thunder one year and be able to witness your salute in person!! My best friend just lost her Marine husband 19 months ago and I am so honored that I had the chance to have him in my life. I thank all of our service men and women for their service and sacrifices for my freedom!! God bless you all!! Hoorah!! I also like to thank their families as well, because of THEIR service and sacrifices!! Love to all!! Freedom isn't free!! God Bless America!! Proud to be an American!! AMEN and AMEN!!

  49. 49
    Joyce Ferkler says:

    God Bless You, Sgt. Chambers and the cycle riders who came to also pay their respects to those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

    I commend you for standing in place and saluting for the 3-4 hours to the end.
    May God Bless America

  50. 50
    Jose E. Vasquez Sr. says:

    As a veteran I am pleased and proud to see people like you who have the heart to show how you feel about our servicemen and women. SEMPER FI !!!!!
    God bless you and God bless America!

  51. 51
    Charles Wheeler Sp/4 U.S. Armu says:

    Sgt. Chambers, you are everything that stands good in our soldiers. This vet thanks you and all who gave some and those who gave all.

    Signed: Sp/4 Charles Wheeler Sr. U. S. Army Medic.

  52. 52
    CPL Ezra Olomon says:

    SEMPER FI Brother, You are the Poster MAN for the MARINE CORPS Never forget it



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