In 1987, more than two thousand motorcycle enthusiasts from the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club, joined the founder, Corporal Ray Manzo at the Capitol Building in Washington DC to host an exciting motorcycle event dedicated to acknowledge war heroes. The event was named Rolling Thunder I.
Member Bob Schmitt imagined that the motorcycle rally would be like a sound of rolling thunder, giving birth to the rally’s name. Not the most original, but it works, and this isn’t a motorcycle rally to be taken lightly.
Their main goal was to get the US Government’s attention to come up of an action-plan, or at least, give citation to all army servicemen who were deemed as Missing in Action (MIA) and/or Prisoners of War (POW).
Rolling Thunder’s History
The idea started when Corporal Manzo was informed of the fact that there were a number of war servicemen’s remains, POW’s and MIA’s left in Vietnam and no one was looking for them. This reality got his attention and made him think of a way to be able to get everyone’s to look into it as well.
However, he did not have an idea that the District of Columbia had rules to follow and there were standards that needed to be passed, for rallies and motorcycle events. He drafted a call-to-action letter to known motorcycle publications to get the bikers attention and assistance.
Since SSgt. Ted Sampley was very active in DC Rallies, and both Sgt. Major John Holland and 1st Sgt. Walt Sides had a good grasp of knowledge about DC legislation, they all decided to help Corporal Manzo in getting authorization from the District of Columbia. They also came to an agreement that Memorial Day should be the perfect day to host this event. All four veterans were to be considered as the founding fathers of the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally.
The founders’ intentions were only to host the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle rally as a one-time event. However, the motorcycle rally left a very good impression to fellow war-veteran bikers. Also, there were other war veterans who were not able to attend the motorcycle rally who all promised to attend the next year’s event. The Rolling Thunder’s impression gave birth to 90 chapters of membership all throughout US and its neighboring countries.
Rolling Thunder Today
At present, Rolling Thunder is already in its 25 year reign as the largest single-day motorcycle event. They were able to accomplish their purpose to increase POW and MIA awareness. A law was also created that states: “no one will be listed as KIA (Killed in Action) without significant proof”. Improved government treatment was also provided to war veterans who were able to come back to their home country.
Rolling Thunder eventually became a big fundraiser and a non-profit organization to help war servicemen and their families who needed financial assistance. The highest number of Bikers who attended The Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally was an estimated 350,000 participants in 2008. There was also an unconfirmed article in the internet claiming that the motorcycle rally had almost 900,000 participants, including spectators.