Friday, October 15, 2021

Rolling Thunder’s Final Memorial Day Ride into Washington DC

Prisoners of War were left behind. Rolling Thunder (RT) seeks to bring accountability for POWs and MIA soldiers from all past U.S. wars and to bring them home. RT has over 90 chapters in the United States and overseas.

In 1998, on Memorial Day, more than 3,000 RT riders from across the country showed up in Washington DC and rode across the Memorial Bridge by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and past the White House. According to the Washington, DC police, since then, it has grown to be one of the largest one-day motorcycle events in the world with over 800,000 RT participants/spectators in 2018.

Rolling Thunder Demonstration Run or Freedom Ride holds its annual protest run as a reminder that these riders WILL NEVER FORGET. There are 86,532 still unaccounted for.

Rolling Thunder riders at the staging area at a DC parking lot | Photos courtesy of RT Chapter 5

Memorial Day 2019 will be the last nationwide RT participation for the Washington DC Memorial Day Demonstration Run. According to Michael O’Connor, President of Rolling Thunder Florida Chapter 5 (Naples) there will be 225-250 members participating in the 2019 Washington DC protest run from the seven Florida chapters. Starting in 2020, RT local chapters will coordinate similar demonstrations at the local level over Memorial Day weekend.

In 1997, Ray Manzo, a U.S. Marine Corporal and Vietnam Veteran was credited in the creation of Rolling Thunder. He was visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and learned that there were still POWs in Vietnam. “Leave no man behind” was contrary to Manzo’s Marine Corps motto.

Manzo later attended a POW vigil sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club. The idea of a mass motorcycle rally into Washington DC on Memorial Day was born, “with the sound of rolling thunder coming across the bridge.”

RT also had a big influence on American legislation. In 1993, they aided in the passing of the Missing Personnel Act, which stated that an American service member could not be listed as “Killed in Action” without “credible proof of death.”

RT co-authored the 2008 Report for America’s Fallen Heroes Act, a bill designed to prevent protests from happening near military funerals. They lobby extensively for better housing opportunities for veterans and for the POW/MIA flag to be flown at military facilities on national holidays.

RT is a non-profit organization comprised mostly of veterans, many who ride motorcycles; neither qualification is a prerequisite to joining RT. RT Chapter 5 President Michael O’Connor is not a veteran, but a retired police officer from New Jersey. O’Connor has been a member of RT since 2000.

Bill and Marci Gorski of Marco Island are members of RT Chapter 5. They became involved through their daughter, Pam who is a founding member of RT Chapter 5.

RT Chapter 5 supports the Wounded Veteran’s Run and have provided escorts for the Take a Soldier Fishing and Honor Flight events. They support the American Gold Star Mothers and Wreaths Across America and sponsors two veterans’ children to attend the Sheriff’s Youth Ranch every year.

For more information on Rolling Thunder Chapter 5 (Naples), please email President Michael O’Connor at


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