Rolling Thunder sues ex-members over patches

The Prince William chapter of Rolling Thunder, the motorcycle-riding veteran’s advocacy group, is asking the Circuit Court to order former members to return their Rolling Thunder patches.

“It’s our reputation at stake, our property, and it’s a registered trademark,” said chapter president Arthur Foss. “We’re either gonna get the patches back or else.”

Rolling Thunder is a national group with headquarters in Neshanic Station, N.J. It is probably best known for the annual parade of bikers to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall on Memorial Day.

“The motorcycles create the sound, like thunder’s coming. That’s how it started in 1987,” Foss said. The group’s name, he added, comes from the name of a bombing campaign in the Vietnam War.

There are about 80 local Rolling Thunder chapters in the United States and Canada, Foss said. The Prince William chapter comprises 76 members.

“Although most of our members have motorcycles, it’s not a requirement,” Foss said. “You just have to have the issues at heart.”

Rolling Thunder members receive a set of three patches to wear on their jackets or vests, Foss said. The first patch issued is worn on the front of the garment, and depicts the Prisoner of War-Missing in Action logo and denotes the member’s state and local chapter. After a year in good standing, the member receives the two back patches: a Rolling Thunder rocker and an eagle with chains over a map of Laos and Cambodia.

Rolling Thunder maintains ownership of the patches it gives out, Foss said. When members join the group, part of the membership application includes a signed agreement to return the patches if the member leaves the group.

A year ago, Foss said, about a dozen members left the group without returning their patches. After receiving certified letters, several members returned the patches. However, seven individuals have yet to return them.

“We’ve asked repeatedly [for them] to try to return the patches, and they haven’t done it despite numerous requests,” said Rolling Thunder’s attorney, Mark Moorstein.

In a legal brief filed Tuesday with the Circuit Court, Rolling Thunder asks Prince William Circuit Court to order Walter Burdick and John Kearns of Richmond, Karen Bricker of Lorton, Gordon Dezulovich and Joe Sciuto of Alexandria, Jeane Placon of Rixleyville and Melissa Gay Kemp of Fredericksburg to return the patches and award legal costs to the local Rolling Thunder chapter.

“It’s unfortunate the situation has to go to this length,” Foss said. “But we’re not going to let anybody jeopardize our standing in the public’s eyes.”

Rolling Thunder is concerned that non members might act in a way that disparages the group. Foss eagerly describes the Prince William’s group’s activities: the annual ride to the Veteran’s Administration hospital in Richmond to serve the patients, hospital staff and their families a cookout, funeral escorts at Quantico and Arlington National cemeteries, donations of holiday food baskets to service members’ families, and donations of POW-MIA flags.

“We constantly hear [we’re] a bunch of dumb bikers,” Foss says of people who don’t know about the group. “Then they hear about what we do and their attitude changes.”