Coast Guards, Faith J. H. McDonnell, Institute on Religion and Democracy, IRD Blog, Memorial Day, motorcycles, New London, parades, Rolling Thunder, Submarine base, The Salvation Army, The Scorpion, Veterans, Vietnam
Reprinted from Breitbart’s Big Peace. Originally posted, May 2011.
Friday night we had a quite a storm in Washington, DC. It knocked out the electricity, so for entertainment we watched lightning and listened to thunder. It was an appropriate opening to the weekend. You may know that every Memorial Day weekend, a different type of thunder rolls through town.
Rolling Thunder, named after the 1965-68 bombing campaign against North Vietnam, began in 1987 when four Vietnam Veterans organized 2500 motorcycles to ride through the streets of Washington, DC to demand U.S. government accountability for POW’s and MIA‘s. At that time there had been 10,000 possible sightings of live Americans living in captivity in Vietnam, but these sightings were frequently ignored by the government and by the media.
Today, over 250,000 bikes participate in Rolling Thunder, though not all the bikers are war veterans. Particularly since 9/11, Rolling Thunder is not just about POW/MIA issues, but a display of patriotism and respect for all soldiers and veterans. Still, whenever the bikes roll into town, ridden largely by bandana-coiffed, leather-vested men prominently displaying American flags, I remember my brief childhood experience with U.S. forces that fought in the Vietnam War. These may be middle-aged men with paunches, but I see the young, extremely clean cut young men of forty-four years ago.
In 1967, I was ten years old. My father was the chaplain/director of The Salvation Army’s “Red Shield” club for servicemen – sailors and coast guards, mostly – in New London, Connecticut. The club was a storefront building close to the top of State Street, that ran from the big public library (1889) down to the waterfront — which was far more sketchy than it was trendy then.
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