Rolling Thunder to End Annual Memorial Day Ride in DC after 2019

Thousands of motorcycles make their way up Constitution Avenue in Washington on Sunday, May 28, 2017, during the 30th anniversary of Rolling Thunder. (AMANDA L. TRYPANIS/STARS AND STRIPES)
Thousands of motorcycles make their way up Constitution Avenue in Washington on Sunday, May 28, 2017, during the 30th anniversary of Rolling Thunder. (AMANDA L. TRYPANIS/STARS AND STRIPES)

WASHINGTON -- Rolling Thunder will no longer hold its annual Memorial Day motorcycle ride through Washington, D.C., after 2019, organizers announced Thursday.

The nearly 32-year-old tradition is ending because of escalating costs and a lack of cooperation from the Pentagon and metropolitan police departments, according to a letter shared by Artie Muller, a Vietnam veteran and founder of Rolling Thunder. Muller said he plans to send the letter to supporters in January.

"It has been a hard decision to make," the letter reads. "After much discussion and thought over the last six months, Rolling Thunder National Officers have concluded to end our 32-year annual D.C. Memorial weekend event."

Rolling Thunder is a nonprofit organization that honors prisoners of war and servicemembers missing in action. Its "Ride for Freedom" through Washington every Memorial Day weekend draws thousands of riders and onlookers.

Related: Rolling Thunder Rumbles Through DC Raising Awareness for POW and MIA

Costs for this year's ride totaled more than $200,000, Muller said. The nonprofit hasn't been able to recruit a new corporate sponsor, and Rolling Thunder didn't sell enough merchandise, such as patches, pins and flags, Muller wrote.

"Financial factors are draining the organization funds if we continued this major costly annual event in Washington," his letter states.

In addition, participants this year were prevented from entering certain Pentagon parking lots where they typically convene, Muller wrote.

Muller encouraged the 90 individual chapters of Rolling Thunder to host their own Memorial Day demonstrations starting in 2020.

Joe Chenelly, director of AMVETS, a national veterans organization, said the group has "been working to ensure this does not die."

"This is too important to our veterans and really to all Americans to simply let it stop," he said. "These demonstrations and Rolling Thunder's unbelievable work over the past 32 years has made a tremendous impact, keeping the search going for our missing and prisoners of war."

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