Members of a local motorcycle group, Rolling Thunder Missouri Chapter #3, will take part in the annual "Ride to the Wall" to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., starting on May 23.
This year marks the 25th anniversary for the ride, with each year bringing more participation and heightening awareness of the Vietnam-era veterans and their ongoing issues.
"They are anticipating over a million bikers and spectators this year," said John Williams, president of Rolling Thunder Missouri. "This is a peaceful demonstration to support our prisoners of war and missing in action (POW/MIAs) and veterans issues.
"We ride for those who can't," Williams said. "This is way past enormous. Most of the politicians leave town."
The group is formed of veterans, supporters, family members and even some of the Vietnamese immigrants who relocated to America following the Vietnam War.
"People either love us or hate us," Williams said. "We take a strong stand on behalf of our POWs and MIAs."
Williams and his comrades will leave Monett on the morning of May 23, joining with other Rolling Thunder members from other states and chapters along the way to the nation's capitol.
On Friday, May 25, participants will hold a candlelight vigil at the Vietnam Memorial.
On Saturday, May 26, Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band will perform at Thunder Alley. Other special guests will be announced. The unveiling of the Rolling Thunder XXV Tribute bikes will also take place, with a custom built bike honoring each branch of the military.
On Sunday, May 27, the 25th annual First Amendment Demonstration ride will find riders rallying in the West Potomac Park and convening at the Washington Mall to honor their fallen brothers and sisters.
Returning bikers will once again see the familiar figure of Tim Chambers, the Saluting Marine, who will be positioned at 23rd Street, saluting bikers as they ride past him on their way to Potomac Park. Chambers holds the salute from the time the first bike appears until the last one passes -- sometimes a three- to four-hour commitment. Chambers has honored Rolling Thunder participants for their service to their country for the past 10 years.
On May 28, Memorial Day, events kick off with the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
The annual Memorial Day observance at the Vietnam Memorial will include a special ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.
The national parade will begin at 2 p.m., followed by the national moment of silence at 3 p.m., closing out the demonstration.
Rolling Thunder, Inc., the national headquarters for the organization, provides statis-tics that indicate a total of 3,344 POW/MIA's remain unaccounted from World War I, 78,537 from World War II, 120 from the Cold War, 8,099 from the Korean War, 1,702 from the Vietnam War, one from the Iraq War and one from the Afghanistan War.
"This will be my seventh year to participate in the Ride to the Wall," Williams said. "It's an awesome sight. As long as there is one soldier who has not been returned to this country, we will continue these demonstrations.
"We will never forget."
Those participating in the annual Ride to the Wall do not have to be members of Rolling Thunder.
For more information, contact Williams at 417-849-8964.