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At 11:55 a.m. on Sunday, May 24, 2009, a shadow loomed out of the east-southeast. The altitude was 1,000 feet and it was big—very, very, very BIG! Her air brakes were on, she seemed to float across the sky, and she was ominously silent. Normally, the heated pavement of the North and South Pentagon parking lots would send up heat shimmers. Not this day, as motorcycles and other vehicles blanketed the parking lots. It was also normal for the noise volume to be extremely high on the ground. Not today, however, as nearly all looked up in awe as the B-52 flew over the scene below.

As she drew closer, one could hear a whisper: a whisper that grew ever louder and louder. Then her eight massive jet engines screamed as she passed over the throng of the tens of thousands gathered together under her enormous outline 1,000 feet above. The flyover drew a huge roar of approval from the crowd below. It was a mighty roar from the “grassroots folks” gathered below to the turbines powering that B-52 above, and there wasn’t a damn thing “HOLLOW” about any of it!

The next sound was this writer’s whistle as I launched “THE DEMONSTRATION” for the 16th year. Some 250,000 motorcycles, according to a grid count taken from photos, would exit the lot and wind their way to cross the Memorial Bridge and head toward the Lincoln Memorial before turning left to ride past the hundreds of thousands along the run’s route. Some 1 million people— plus or minus 100,000—from all over the nation, and from the appearance of some, the Cosmos as well, were in attendance. It was the tightest squeeze ever for the Rolling Thunder XXII POW/MIA First Amendment Demonstration Run.

Perhaps Bob Smith, who worked for our brother, the late Ted Sampley, and named this run “Rolling Thunder” had an inkling that the response to the “National Disgrace” of writing off our men and women in uniform would, in time, help to reverse this despicable policy. We have gone from 93,316—at least—POWs and MIAs to 1,918 through the Vietnam War to two POW/MIAs from the Gulf Wars combined. Nevertheless, we must remain on our guard to see to it that our government never falls into disgrace in this matter, ever again.

Over the years millions of people have supported the Rolling Thunder First Amendment Demonstration Run Washington, D.C. Inc. Some 300 or so made the “Run to The Wall” (riders who pilgrimage to the event from the West Coast) across the United States last year. Then we had individuals and small groups coming on their own. For many who come, they do so at great personal sacrifice, and save money all year to do so. These good people come from all walks of life, from all over the country and from Australia, Canada, Guam and Europe as well. They make it happen. They are the PEOPLE who have affected change, in our government. These are the PEOPLE that all of us are indebted to, civilian and military alike, for CHANGE that we can indeed live with.

A personal thank you to all for helping to address this NATIONAL DISGRACE, the abandonment of our POWs and our MIAs with a sense of NATIONAL PURPOSE, for a full and accurate accounting of our men and women. We all need to recognize and to remember that America’s veterans and those of our allies are the “Purchasers of Peace” and every veteran has the right—the absolute right—to come home, even if it is to be buried.

See you this year and please all, RIDE SAFE.


Originally published in the June 2010 issue of Vietnam. To subscribe, click here