What makes it worth the risk to participate in the world’s largest group motorcycle ride where the bike overheats, the clutch turns rubbery and Bermuda Triangle-threatening potholes await you on Washington City streets?
It becomes worth it when thousands of people line Memorial Bridge, Constitution and Independence Avenues to cheer, when young children reach out their hands and the procession stops so motorcycllists can stop and shake the hands of two wheelchair-bound veterans — one from Vietnam and one from the current Iraq war.
It becomes worth it when you’re stopped during a lull and a Vietnamese woman your age comes out of the crowd, hands you a flower, kisses you on your gray, bearded cheek and says “thank you” before disappearing back into the crowd.
On this day, on Washington’s teeming streets, America is not divided, America is not partisan and American is not driven by personal interests.
Rolling Thunder began as a public demand for accountability of prisoners of war and missing in action from Vietnam. It remains that, and more. Now it serves as a reminder that we owe so much to those who serve and that all too often we are delinquent on that debt. The rider beside me in that hot parking lot Sunday morning served in Desert Storm and Iraq. The one behind me served in Vietnam. Like all of us, they rode to honor all brothers and sisters who serve and especially to recognize those who did not come home alive.
It took me 11 years to return to Rolling Thunder. It won’t take that long again.