Thousands of bikers gather in Washington to honor vets

Mon May 25, 2015 3:48pm EDT
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By John Clarke

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - One week after a gathering of biker gangs in Texas that resulted in nine deaths and 170 arrests, thousands of motorcycle riders roared into the nation's capital Sunday to honor military veterans, prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action.

Rolling Thunder, an annual event that has been bringing motorcyclists and spectators to the National Mall in downtown Washington since 1988, started the "Ride for Freedom" at the Pentagon in Virginia, crossed the Potomac River over the Memorial Bridge and circled the Mall.

Organizers estimated that more than a million bikers and spectators attended, making it the largest one-day motorcycle gathering in the world, Rolling Thunder spokeswoman Nancy Regg said.

There were no reported criminal incidents at the event, Regg said.

"They're not here to party and get drunk," she said of Rolling Thunder, named after a 1965 bombing campaign against North Vietnam. "No fights. No attitudes."

Crowds cheered and waved as bikers throttled their engines and waved back. Many bikers rode with U.S. or Prisoner of War flags. A few rode with Confederate flags.

Bikers and veterans could be found scattered throughout the National Mall. Many gathered at the Vietnam and Korean War memorials. Some relaxed in the shade and drank beer.

A stage below the Lincoln Memorial hosted speakers and musicians, including former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, singer Nancy Sinatra and actor Robert Patrick.   Continued...

Riders take part in the Rolling Thunder First Amendment Demonstration motorcycle run on Memorial Day by crossing the Memorial Bridge leading from Arlington Cemetery into Washington May 24, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst