Hundreds of thousands of motor-bikers from across the United States converged on Washington on sunny Sunday for the annual “Rolling Thunder” memorial ride to honor America’s war veterans.
The motorcycle parade comes one day before the Memorial Day holiday honoring all U.S. military war dead.
The bikers, wearing vests, black T-shirts and leather jackets with Vietnam pins and American flags, gathered at a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. An hour later, they rumbled toward the national mall for a wreath-laying ceremony at the Vietnam War Memorial.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force General Richard Myers, joined the cruise, making the ride with his wife, Mary Jo, behind him. Later, he addressed the "Rolling Thunder" rally on the national mall.
Myers told the crowd that “Rolling Thunder” and other such groups "helped Americans realize that no matter where they are sent overseas, we have to respect our military."
At the Lincoln Memorial, bikers heard from several speakers, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Mr. Rumsfeld said the veterans' sacrifices "have helped make Iraq, Afghanistan and several other countries free.”
A lso at the Lincoln Memorial, singers and entertainers Paul Revere and the Raiders, Bill Medley, Nancy Sinatra, daughter of the legendary Frank Sinatra, and others performed in a musical tribute to veterans.
President Bush is scheduled on Monday to visit Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, where more than 260,000 U.S. military veterans are buried.
Supporters of the effort say their focus is on veterans’ benefits and the need to determine the fate of U.S. service members missing in action (MIA) and prisoners of war (POW).
The ride draws hundreds of thousands of bikers each year since it started in 1988, the majority of them middle-aged veterans of the Vietnam and Gulf wars.
An estimated 300,000 motorcycles and 500,000 riders took part in “Rolling Thunder” motorcycle rally last year.