‘End of an era’: Rolling Thunder motorcyclists pay tribute to fallen soldiers

It's the final time Rolling Thunder will ride through Washington, D.C. (WTOP/Melissa Howell) (WTOP/Melissa Howell )

Hundreds of thousands of bikers gathered for the 32nd annual Rolling Thunder ride on Sunday. And while the ride is typically a solemn one made to pay tribute for fallen members of the military and those missing in action, Sunday’s event was especially so, as it marked the final time the ride would roll through D.C.

“It’s the last one and it’s kind of an end of an era,” said Larry Williford, from Fayetteville, North Carolina. Rolling Thunder is ending due to concerns around cost and mismanagement. He brought his brother Donald who served in the Air Force for 22 years.

“A lot of people can’t have a hot dog. A lot of people are MIA. A lot of people are just doing what they were called to do and never came home,” Donald said.

Bikers from all over the nation rallied together at the Pentagon early Sunday before riding through the National Mall to West Potomac Park, where they would pay their respects.

LeaAnne Pelfrey rode up from North Carolina to participate in this year’s event. She said the event holds special meaning for her, as both her husband and son deployed with the military. Knowing this was the last event wasn’t easy.

“It’s sad, because this is something people look forward to,” Pelfrey said. “Bikers look forward to coming out here.”

Eldad Moraru, a realtor from D.C., and his wife have been taking part in Rolling Thunder for seven years.

“Everybody’s here honoring and respecting the sacrifice that all our troops have made and continue to make to secure our freedom,” Moraru said. “It’s a feeling you just can’t explain unless you’re here to witness it yourself.”

Leonard “Die Hard” Williams is a Vietnam veteran who has participated in the event for the last 15 years. He is one of many Americans who never got closure on a loved one who went to fight for their country. Williams’ brother is still listed as Missing in Action in Vietnam.

“It’s a joyous weekend and it’s an emotional weekend,” Williams said. “Being a Vietnam vet, obviously, I feel I always have to be here.”

There will be wreath laying ceremonies on Monday, and Memorial Day will conclude with a National Moment of Remembrance.

Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell joined WTOP Radio in March 2018 and is excited to cover stories that matter across D.C., as well as in Maryland and Virginia. 

Zeke Hartner

Zeke Hartner is a digital writer/editor who has been with WTOP since 2017. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University’s Political Science program and an avid news junkie.

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