Rolling Thunder is celebrating progress made to reunite remains of soldiers with their families and changes in attitudes toward Vietnam vets. But the group remains steadfast in its goal to bring home prisoners of war and U.S. service members missing in action.
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.”
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.
Glynis Kazanjian has been a freelance writer covering Maryland politics and government on the local, state and federal for the last 11 years. Her work is published in Maryland Matters, the Baltimore Post Examiner, Bethesda Beat and Md. Reporter. She has also worked as a true crime researcher.