Yesterday was my first attendance at Rolling Thunder. Now that I've been to one, I can't imagine any other or more appropriate way to spend Memorial Day.
Before 9/11 my husband had deployed - but that didn't prepare me for a wartime deployment. And it certainly didn't prepare me for the feelings that I found myself having every day as I watched friends and the husbands and wives of friends deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan. That feeling in my stomach - you know, kind of a clenched bottomless feeling - that feeling just never seems to be gone. Sometimes I wonder if it ever will be.
As the child of two veterans, and a father who was a veteran of Vietnam, I've always known what Memorial Day was - a day to honor those who have died in service to our country. Memorial Day was always the day my Dad remembered those he served with who never came home. We would barbecue, yes, but it was also a day of solemn ceremony, wreath laying, and memoriam.
As an adult, I feel challenged to try to convey to my children exactly what this day means. After all, they are living through the same life of a military dependent in war time that I am. And children understand so much more than we give them credit for.
Rolling Thunder was the perfect way for them to understand and see. The perfect way for them to realize the enormity of what this day stands for.
I should also say now that I had a bit of trouble with my time/date stamp on the camera. At some point, the camera switched to 1/1/2006 (obviously not the date the pictures were taken) and I couldn't get it off. So please the annoying dates breaking up the pictures!
Waving at the bikes...
Between this truck and the Gold Star Mothers truck, I found myself doing something I usually mercilessly crush out of myself - crying in public. Luckily I had on dark glasses and just needed a few quiet moments to compose myself. But these trucks were so difficult to watch.
Patriot Guard - a wonderful organization. There were Patriot Guard riders dispersed throughout the parade of bikes and we made a point of cheering loudly for them whenever they passed.
When my son realized that some of the riders would actually give him five as they were going by... Well, he spent a great deal of time trying to get all the contact he could. And the riders were amazingly kind and welcoming of my children (it probably didn't hurt that my son was freshly mohawked and wearing an Airborne shirt from Bragg).
My son is now demanding his own leather vest with patches for next year.
We met these guys walking to the Lincoln Memorial. They were from Ft. Bragg, which meant that I had to explain my son's t-shirt to them. No, we aren't from Bragg, that shirt is actually a present from Sarah and her husband. But my husband DID attend the JFK Special Warfare Center.
It was terribly convoluted, as far as explanations go.
More bikes rolling through...
Reports I read last night had more than 300,000 riders showing up for Rolling Thunder this year, in the twenty first year since its inception.
I'm so glad. And I plan to take my children every year. It's a lesson and a memorial they just can't get anywhere else, I think.