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Motorcyclists Honor US Military Personnel Missing in Action - 2003-05-25


American war veterans gathered Sunday for an annual motorcycle procession to honor prisoners of war and those missing in action.

Tens of thousands of American war veterans on motorcycles rode around the park in downtown Washington known as the Mall for the 15th annual Memorial Day event called Rolling Thunder.

Rolling Thunder's National Service Officer Michael DePaulo paid homage to U.S. soldiers who fought in the war in Iraq. He credits Rolling Thunder with helping to enact recent legislation designed to reward those who help in the rescue of American prisoners of war.

"That's the law that says any indigenous person in a foreign country, whether we're in a state of belligerent action or not, who causes an American POW or MIA [missing in action] to be found and returned to the custody of the United States or the United States representatives, alive and well, that person is entitled to come to this country as a refugee and to become a citizen to protect that individual and his family members," he said.

Mr. DePaulo added that this is the first war where the United States didn't leave any POW's or MIA's behind.

But Vietnam War veteran Bob Visakay says there are still thousands of American soldiers missing and unaccounted for from World War II and the wars in Korea and Vietnam.

"We have people here, at our age. I'm 58 years old. And if they said for me to get on an airplane to go get some POW's tomorrow, I'd be on that airplane, I'd be the first one. If I had to fly it, I'd fly it and I'd go get them, one way or another. Whatever it took," he said.

U.S. Secretary for Veterans Affairs, Anthony Principi, addressed the crowd wearing a black leather vest, sunglasses and a Rolling Thunder bandanna tied around his head. The secretary thanked the men and women of the American armed forces for what he called their selfless defense of the country. But, he added that the war is not over.

"Today, all of us of this generation face our own fiery trial. We must win the war initiated by terrorists, who envy us our freedom so much they would rather destroy our way of life than to improve their own," he said.

What is the connection between American war veterans and motorcycles? Bob Visakay's wife Dorothy says veterans see motorcycles as symbols of freedom and independence. She says organized activities like the Rolling Thunder procession also give veterans some of the feelings of camaraderie they had when they were in the service.