After 32 years, the Memorial Day event can no longer afford to run.
From the rumbling of 10,000 motorcycles making their way through Washington, D.C. to the unwavering salute of Marine Corps Veteran Staff Sergeant Tim Chambers, Rolling Thunder has long been a fixture of Memorial Day remembrances in the nation's capital. Even former President George W. Bush was a member of the organization. However, 2019 will mark Rolling Thunder's final event, at least in its current form.
It seems that Rolling Thunder has become too big for its own good over the years. The event to raise funds and awareness of military members who were prisoners of war or are missing in action has grown far more than the organizers could have ever imagined when it began in 1988.
Costs have ballooned dramatically as well. Last year's event cost more than $200,000 to put on, with the need for parking, porta-potties, security, and cleanup. Donations and product sales have exclusively covered these costs in the past. Without larger corporate sponsors the expenses have become too high.
Another reason for ending the event has been a lack of communication and cooperation between Rolling Thunder and, ironically, the Pentagon Police Department. A whopping $60,000 of the budget goes toward renting the Pentagon's parking lot. Last year motorcycles were turned away from the south lot, which was supposed to be used for staging bikes before the ride. Additionally, riders were supposed to form up at the Lincoln Memorial for post-ride ceremonies, but instead, police escorted bikes to park all around the National Mall rather than the central location they had expected. This splitting up before and after the ride made coordinating groups of riders particularly difficult.
Rather than one large ride in the nation's capital, Rolling Thunder is directing its 90 chapters to coordinate smaller local events of their own. In the long run, this may actually be for the better.
"It's a demonstration ride, not a parade," Pete Zaleski, the vice president of Rolling Thunder, told NBC4. "We've kind of lost the reason why we're there."
“Let’s face it, we got coverage for a few seconds in D.C. and that was the end of it,” Rolling Thunder board member Gus Dante told WTOP.
The saluting Marine may need to find a new place to salute, but perhaps bringing the ride and awareness to a more local level will be more effective that one big ride in D.C.