WASHINGTON, May 24, 2009 – Pam Crane sat peacefully in a patch of freshly mowed grass along Highway 27 here in the nation’s capital, remembering her husband, his patriotism and his cause.
Bikers from all across the country pull into the Pentagon's north parking lot May 24, 2009, to participate in the 22nd Annual Rolling Thunder rally in Washington, D.C., to remind the nation that many American servicemembers who were prisoners of war or missing in action are still unaccounted for. DoD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
She overlooked a sea of motorcycles and bandana-wearing war veterans gathered today in the Pentagon’s north parking lot for the 22nd Annual Rolling Thunder rally. Each and every one of them, she said, share her husband Warren’s passion to never let the nation forget that some of their battle buddies and brothers in arms never came home.
“It was his passion,” Crane said. “He was the most patriotic man I’d ever met.”
Warren was one of the lucky ones to make it home after serving in Vietnam, but after years of struggling with post-traumatic stress, he took his own life on May 20, 2006. The next day his widow joined Rolling Thunder and has made the trip from Knoxville, Tenn., each year since for the Memorial Day weekend ride through the nation’s capitol.
The event kicked off at noon today with riders filing out of the Pentagon parking lot in pairs in a parade that led them from the Lincoln Memorial, past the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Wall, to the U.S. Capitol building and back.
“It’s such a wonderful, overwhelming experience to be here and to see the flags and patriotism and all these veterans together,” Crane said. “We’re doing everything we can to make sure the public doesn’t forget our POWs and MIAs and certainly to take care of our veterans from all the different wars that are still here.”
“It’s such a moving event to see so many veterans gathered together, and everyone is here to honor our fallen comrades and soldiers serving now,” added Army Sgt. 1st Class (ret.) Frank Lesnefsky, from Scranton, Penn., who’s participating in his fifth Rolling Thunder rally.
Rolling Thunder, Inc., is a non-profit organization with more than 88 chapters in all 50 states, which work year round to ensure the nation never forgets that American prisoners of war and missing in action still remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia. The organization raises funds to help veterans and serves as legislative advocates on veterans' issues. Members volunteer to visit local veterans hospitals and educate people about the POW/MIA issue.
Crane said Rolling Thunder’s hard work over the years is evident, as they’ve impacted citizens from all across the country to join and take part in advocating their cause. Bikers, such as Danny Kang, from Richmond, Va., participated in Rolling Thunder for the past two years, but unlike many of the others, he’s not a veteran and doesn’t come from a military family, he said.
An American pilot in the Korean War saved his grandfather, Kang said. And if it weren't for servicemembers like that pilot, who risked his own life to protect Kang’s grandfather and other South Korean nationals, the world might be a lesser place, he added.
“I’m here to pay my respect and show my appreciation for all those troops who never came back,” Kang said. “It’s hard to imagine that troops from past wars are still not accounted for.”
Dale Recker, a Vietnam War veteran from Beaver Creek, Minn., participated in his sixth Rolling Thunder today, and said it’s an event he looks forward to every year. He’s a founding father of the Rolling Thunder Chapter 1 in South Dakota, he said.
Recker said he will be here in Washington for Rolling Thunder every year until he’s physically unable. His cousin’s name is engraved on the Vietnam Veterans’ War Memorial Wall, and Recker wants to ensure his cousin and others like him will always be remembered for their sacrifice.
“We don’t want anyone to ever forget, and we don’t want the servicemembers coming back today to be forgotten either,” Recker said. “We want all our troops home, and we won’t rest until every last POW and MIA is accounted for.”