Veterans group plans to continue what Rolling Thunder started in DC

Rolling Thunder’s 30-plus-years in D.C. ended last Memorial Day weekend, but efforts are underway to continue the motorcycle ride and demonstration into next year and beyond.

American Veterans (AMVETS) has filed applications for permits to hold similar events from May 22-24, 2020.

The group initially spoke up in December, after Rolling Thunder announced it would end its large annual gathering in D.C. in favor of smaller, regional events.

“AMVETS said right away that this is something we need to continue in some form or fashion,” said executive director Joe Chenelly.

“We believe very much in the mission of keeping the awareness on those who are still missing in action. This is a very serious matter. We’re talking about more than 80,000 U.S. service members who are still unaccounted for, dating all the way back to World War II, which is the beginning of our organization.”

Chenelly also wants to shine a brighter light on the suicide epidemic among veterans.

“We have more than 20 veterans per day dying by suicide,” Chenelly said. “That’s a travesty and it’s something that we, as an entire nation, need to come together, understand and look for ways to stop.”

His group filed an eight-page application with the National Park Service for a permit to gather on the National Mall.

The plan outlined in the application includes a 24 feet by 32 feet stage between the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool, and predicts a crowd of as many as 50,000 plus 30 vehicles and motorcycles.

“We’ve been told by thousands of people that they want to continue coming out, that they want a meaningful demonstration,” Chenelly said.

AMVETS also filed a separate permit asking for permission to gather in the Pentagon’s parking lots.

“We have been working now with National Park Service and with the Pentagon Police, and it would seem to be a very smooth process so far,” Chenelly said.

But there is a lot of work ahead, including efforts to gather people and funds.

“To do this one year, that’s something that we could do without much fundraising if it became necessary; but we want this to be sustainable. We want this to be the beginning of a new chapter, not just one page,” Chenelly said.

He said they’re working on partnering with companies and other organizations, but they don’t want to commercialize the event.

Those interested in donating to the effort can do so online at the AMVETS website.

Michelle Basch

Michelle Basch is a reporter turned morning anchor at WTOP News.

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