Once scared young soldiers with callow faces, the wave of men and women in rough denim and rugged leather stormed the Pentagon and paraded the Vietnam Memorial downtown for the Rolling Thunder’s annual Memorial Day Ride to the Wall.
Before the storm, more than 2,000 bikers gathered outside of Classic Iron and East Coast Harley motorcycle shops in Dumfries as a staging area — the largest in Virginia — for the journey to Washington, D.C.
Adopting Dumfries as their “east coast home,” the Missing But Not Forgotten riders from Albuquerque, N.M., joined the swarm of bikers in the town before riding to the Pentagon after picking up other groups en route to Virginia.
At the gathering of the old and young, bearing an array of veteran service patches and dingy camouflage shirts, the site was bittersweet for some.
“It’s an emotional thing to watch the reunions and the camaraderie,” said Dale Terry, owner of Classic Iron in Dumfries. “It allows veterans, past, present and future, to symbolize their importance in this country and give them the honor they have not received.”
Rolling Thunder was organized several years ago to bring to light issues surrounding missing prisoners of war. Its emblem, an eagle chained to a map of Vietnam, speaks volumes.
While Dumfries has been a staging area for the event for about ten years, Sunday was the first time the town officially sponsored the event.
Lake Ridge resident William Winford, a 20-year Army veteran, said recent events made Sunday’s ride more special. “There’s a new sense of patriotism.”
Comparable to Sept. 11’s burst of nationalism, Dumfries neighbors and passerby cheered and cars honked as the motorcade paraded the streets of Dumfries and made its way onto Interstate 95, in a gleam of American and black Prisoner of War/Missing In Action flags streaming from the bikes.
The parking lot at the Pentagon was a sea of chrome and steel with license plates from all parts of the United States, setting the scene for veterans and friends with common sentiments — remember the dead, question the lost.
Bobby Biers, a retired Marine Corps master gunnery sergeant from Arizona, said he thinks about the 109 of his buddies who died in Vietnam. “Real Marines cry, it wears me out but I ride for them,” he said while sitting on his bike, painted in metallic red and yellow to honor the Marine Corps.
Julian Martinez, an Army veteran with Missing But Not Forgotten riders, said he wants to keep the memories of his brothers alive. “There are thousands who never came home and until they’re home we won’t be satisfied.”
As riders continuously poured into Washington, D.C., throughout Sunday afternoon, some parked and walked to the Wall — through the crowds, with little to say and tears in their eyes.
Staff writer Louise Cannon can be reached at (703) 368-3101, Ext. 123.