After 30 years, progress made but mission endures for Rolling Thunder

A saluting member of theMarine Corps honors a fallen comrade at the 25th annual demonstration Rolling Thunder demonstration in D.C. The group remains resolved to help bring home prisoners of war and those missing in action. (Courtesy Rolling Thunder)
A saluting member of the Marine Corps honors a fallen comrade at the 25th annual Rolling Thunder demonstration in D.C. The group remains resolved to help bring home prisoners of war and those missing in action. (Courtesy Rolling Thunder) (Courtesy Rolling Thunder)
Participants take part in the 25th annual Rolling Thunder demonstration along Constitution Avenue. (Courtesy Rolling Thunder) (Photography by Lee Stalsworth, R/Lee Stalsworth/Rolling Thunder)
Nancy Sinatra holds the Flame of Freedom that honors and remembers Mia-POWs and service members who died serving their country during a candlelight vigil at the Vietnam Wall in D.C. during the 25th annual Rolling Thunder. The group is celebrating its 30th annual demonstration this year. (Courtesy Rolling Thunder) (Photography by Lee Stalsworth, R/Lee Stalsworth/Rolling Thunder)
Gerald McCullar, depicting a prisoner of war, is carried by North Carolina Chapter 5 members of Rolling Thunder in this file photo. (Courtesy Rolling Thunder) (Courtesy Rolling Thunder)
American and POW/MIA flags fly as members of Rolling Thunder cross the Memorial Bridge riding from Virginia into Washington Sunday, May 24, 1998.  Bikers from around the world converged in Washington for the 11th Annual Memorial Weekend "Rolling Thunder" Rally to protest what they see as the government's failure to recognize and locate POWs and MIAs of the Vietnam and other American wars. In the background is the Robert E. Lee House in Arlington National Cemetery.   (AP Photo/George Bridges)
American and POW/MIA flags fly as members of Rolling Thunder cross the Memorial Bridge riding from Virginia into Washington Sunday, May 24, 1998. Bikers from around the world converged in Washington for the 11th Annual Memorial Weekend “Rolling Thunder” Rally to protest what they see as the government’s failure to recognize and locate POWs and MIAs of the Vietnam and other American wars. In the background is the Robert E. Lee House in Arlington National Cemetery. The group is celebrating its 30th annual demonstration this year. (AP Photo/George Bridges) (ASSOCIATED PRESS/GEORGE BRIDGES)
Some of an estimated 250,000 bikers descend upon Washington to take part in the 12th Annual "Rolling Thunder" memorial honoring POW's and MIA's Sunday, May 30, 1999.  In the background is Arlington National Cemetery. (AP Photo/Khue Bui)
Some of an estimated 250,000 bikers descend upon Washington to take part in the 12th Annual “Rolling Thunder” memorial honoring POW’s and MIA’s Sunday, May 30, 1999. In the background is Arlington National Cemetery. The group is celebrating its 30th annual demonstration this year. (AP Photo/Khue Bui) (Associated Press/KHUE BUI)
Hundreds of motorcycles arrive at Arlington National Cemetery as part of a "Rolling Thunder" ceremony for Vietnam Veterans on Saturday, May 29, 2004 in Arlington, Va.  The groups leaders will meet with President Bush on Sunday.  (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Hundreds of motorcycles arrive at Arlington National Cemetery as part of a “Rolling Thunder” ceremony for Vietnam Veterans on Saturday, May 29, 2004 in Arlington, Va. The groups leaders will meet with President Bush on Sunday. The group is celebrating its 30th annual demonstration this year. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (AP/EVAN VUCCI)
The annual Rolling Thunder demonstration will take place from Friday through Monday, with several activities scheduled around the D.C. and Arlington. The demonstration run itself —as illustrated in this 2006 file photo — is set for noon on Sunday and will affect traffic. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson, file)
Tens of thousands of motorcycles roar across the Memorial Bridge as a part of the annual “Rolling Thunder” motorcycle ride, Sunday May 28, 2006, in Washington. The ride, which honors the nation’s veterans, circles through downtown Washington and ends at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The group is celebrating its 30th annual demonstration this year. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson) (AP/Lawrence Jackson, file)
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A saluting member of theMarine Corps honors a fallen comrade at the 25th annual demonstration Rolling Thunder demonstration in D.C. The group remains resolved to help bring home prisoners of war and those missing in action. (Courtesy Rolling Thunder)
American and POW/MIA flags fly as members of Rolling Thunder cross the Memorial Bridge riding from Virginia into Washington Sunday, May 24, 1998.  Bikers from around the world converged in Washington for the 11th Annual Memorial Weekend "Rolling Thunder" Rally to protest what they see as the government's failure to recognize and locate POWs and MIAs of the Vietnam and other American wars. In the background is the Robert E. Lee House in Arlington National Cemetery.   (AP Photo/George Bridges)
Some of an estimated 250,000 bikers descend upon Washington to take part in the 12th Annual "Rolling Thunder" memorial honoring POW's and MIA's Sunday, May 30, 1999.  In the background is Arlington National Cemetery. (AP Photo/Khue Bui)
Hundreds of motorcycles arrive at Arlington National Cemetery as part of a "Rolling Thunder" ceremony for Vietnam Veterans on Saturday, May 29, 2004 in Arlington, Va.  The groups leaders will meet with President Bush on Sunday.  (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
The annual Rolling Thunder demonstration will take place from Friday through Monday, with several activities scheduled around the D.C. and Arlington. The demonstration run itself —as illustrated in this 2006 file photo — is set for noon on Sunday and will affect traffic. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson, file)

WASHINGTON — Hundreds of thousands of people are pouring into the D.C. region for the 30th anniversary Rolling Thunder demonstration on Sunday.

The first Ride for Freedom in 1988 attracted just a few thousand participants on motorcycles demanding a full accounting of all prisoners of war and service members missing in action. Now the group has 90 chartered U.S. chapters, but its mission is unchanged.

“It’s amazing, it’s just amazing,” Don Schiable said of the crowds that gather along the ride’s route. “It says something about our country and the pride that a lot of people have.”

Schiable is a Vietnam veteran, a retired New Jersey state trooper and a national member of the group for 22 years.

“I’ve been coming back every year, but it doesn’t get any less emotional,” Schiable said.

Noting that many Vietnam Veterans returning home didn’t feel appreciated, Schiable now revels in the enthusiasm of the crowds and individual encounters involving kids, for example, coming up to thank him for his service.

“It shows people do care,” he said.

The event’s ability to get the attention of Congress, Schiable believes, is the most pronounced way it has changed over the years.

“I think they realize, that we weren’t going to go away,” he said. “Congress doesn’t like squeaky wheels.”

Over the years Rolling Thunder has celebrated efforts that provide families closure as remains of service members are recovered and returned to the U.S. from World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

But the group still demands accountability.

Current federal legislation under consideration includes a measure that calls on the Department of Defense and the U.S. government to intensify efforts “to investigate, recover and identify all missing and unaccounted for U.S. personnel.” It also asks foreign governments “to provide the fullest possible accounting for all missing U.S. personnel.”

Introduced in February, the measures now are in the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations and referred to the U.S. House subcommittee on Military Personnel.

More than 82,000 service members remain unaccounted for including those lost in World War II, according to Rolling Thunder’s count.

“As long as I’m alive and in the United States of America I will be in Washington, D.C. on Memorial Day,” Schiable vowed. “Let them know we’re still alive and still here. And, we’re not going to quit while we still have breath.”

See the schedule of events on the Rolling Thunder 2017 website.

See the list of road closures for the event here.

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