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Rolling Thunder to hold final ride this weekend after 31 years

The annual ride by Rolling Thunder as it crosses the Memorial Bridge in Washington D.C., May 24, 2009. (Pulicciano/Flickr)
May 25, 2019

The historic Rolling Thunder motorcycle ride that raises awareness for POW/MIA troops will be hosting its final national ride on Sunday.

In December, the ride organizers made the decision to end the ride after 31 years due to rising costs amounting to more than $200,000 for event clean-up and security, among various other issues, Washington Examiner reported.

The final ride will begin at approximately noon on Sunday following a speech from Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie.

“Reasons which determined our decision were the Pentagon Security Police/Washington Police officials continued lack of cooperation, increased harassment to our supporters and sponsors. As demonstrated this past Rolling Thunder ‘Ride For Freedom’ XXXI many of our supporters were diverted and prevented from entering the South Pentagon/Boundary Lots. Event staging costs have soared to $200,000.00 plus, lack of new Corporate Sponsor funding and the general public declined support of our event product sales (patches/pins/stick flags) in the Pentagon Lots. Financial factors are draining the organization funds if we continued this major costly annual event in Washington,” Rolling Thunder’s executive director, Artie Muller, wrote in a letter to organization members.

The last ride is expected to be their largest, a staggering number since more than 500,000 attended the ride last year. The single-day ride rivals week-long events like Sturgis and Bike Week, with 500,000 to 700,000 participants.

The very first ride in 1988 had 2,000 members.

The Rolling Thunder group was formed with the 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.”

Group officials alleged that the problems came about in the past two to three years with officials at the Pentagon, where the ride originates.

They allege that Pentagon police were turning away riders from the rented parking lot, as well as escorting them to various other locations.

“Participants were turned away from entering the South Pentagon Parking Lot and Boundary Channel Parking Lot, causing our supporters to ride in circles and thus causing them to leave in disgust,” Muller explained in the letter.

Pentagon officials have denied the claims and insisted it supports Rolling Thunder’s demonstration, but must maintain safety and security in the area.

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