The riders of veterans group Rolling Thunder began leaving Washington, D.C., Monday amid mixed messages. Though the organization had said that 2019 would be its last Memorial Day ride in the nation's capital, messaging from the White House said they'd be back in 2020 for a 33rd annual motorcycle tribute to those who fell in combat, and POWs and the missing-in-action from America's wars.
"If [President Donald Trump] has anything to do with it, this will not be the last ride of Rolling Thunder," Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said to cheers at a Rolling Thunder rally at the Lincoln Memorial Sunday following the annual ride to the site from the Pentagon.
A comment posted Monday on the Rolling Thunder site spoke for many of the thousands of riders who attended events over the weekend: "Please tells us this is not the last ride."
Their hopes were raised early Sunday by a tweet sent by Trump from Japan, where he met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for talks on trade and North Korea.
"The Great Patriots of Rolling Thunder WILL be coming back to Washington, D.C. next year, & hopefully for many years to come. It is where they want to be, & where they should be," Trump tweeted.
Shortly after Trump's statement, former Army Sgt. Artie Muller, Rolling Thunder's co-founder and executive director, was on C-Span's show Washington Journal and was asked for his reaction to the president's tweet.
"Well, it's not the final Rolling Thunder, it's the final one in Washington, D.C.," said Muller, a Vietnam veteran. "It's getting entirely too expensive, there's too much interference -- running around and everything else."
He estimated the cost of putting on Rolling Thunder at $200,000, and said the money could be spent more wisely on veterans issues and organizing rides by local chapters across the country next Memorial Day.
However, in a speech later Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial, Muller did not entirely rule out a ride in Washington, D.C. in 2020, but said "there'd have to be a lot of discussions and a lot of changes for everybody that comes here."
"That man in the White House is working for us," Muller said of Trump. "We're going to have a meeting" of Rolling Thunder organizers on the prospects for next year, he said, "and "we'll let you know in the future."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.