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Rolling Thunder to hold final ride in 2019 after 32 years

The annual ride by Rolling Thunder as it crosses the Memorial Bridge in Washington D.C., May 24, 2009. (Pulicciano/Flickr)
December 13, 2018

The historic Rolling Thunder motorcycle ride will be hosting its final parade next year, on May 26, 2019.

Rising costs have reportedly made the ride unsustainable, causing organizers to make the decision to discontinue the ride, which has been held annually for more than 30 years in honor of veteran causes, as well as prisoners of war and missing in action (POW/MIA), Army Times reported.

The Rolling Thunder group was formed in 1987 and embraces its mission, “To educate the public that many American Prisoners of War were left behind after all previous wars and to help correct the past and to protect future Veterans from being left behind should they become Prisoners of War-Missing In Action. We are also committed to helping American Veterans from all wars.”

The ride has been a typical Memorial Day event on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. each May. However, the costs have risen to more than $200,000 for event clean-up and security, a number that the group can no longer afford.

“It really has exploded to beyond what we can support,” Rolling Thunder Inc. Vice President Pete Zaleski told Military Times. “These costs didn’t exist 10 years ago.”

Now the ride has become so large – featuring approximately one million riders and spectators – that security concerns have expanded.

The problems are primarily with officials at the Pentagon, where the ride originates.

“We had so many problems in the last two or three years with the [Pentagon Police] and the parking facilities after we leave the Pentagon parking lot,” Rolling Thunder, Inc. board member Gus Dante told WTOP.

“It cost us $60,000 just to rent the Pentagon parking lot,” Dante explained, adding that Pentagon police were turning away riders from the rented parking lot, as well as escorting them to various other locations.

The group says rides will be held locally or regionally among their 90 chapters in 33 states.

“We still have 90 chapters in 33 states, and we’re going to help them coordinate their own rides on a smaller scale,” Zaleski said. “The group is not going under, and our message is not going away. We’re just not going to be doing it in Washington anymore.”

Dante is hopeful that a greater number of smaller riders will bring more attention to veterans issue than a single national ride.

“Let’s face it, we got coverage for a few seconds in D.C. and that was the end of it,” he said.

Zaleski believes the final event will also help draw attention to the mission.

“When word gets out that this is the last one, it’s going to draw even more people,” he said. “The next ride ought to be huge.”