‘Rolling Thunder’ biker tribute to Vietnam War veterans to end this year

US Marine Tim Chambers salutes to participants in the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally, ahead of Memorial Day in Washington. (AP pic)

WASHINGTON: Motorcyclists will rumble into Washington DC for the final time this Memorial Day weekend, ending a noisy three-decade tribute to fallen soldiers following animosity over costs and permits.

“Rolling Thunder” started showing up in the US capital in 1987 to honor prisoners and those missing in action after the Vietnam War, but now honors all fallen soldiers. The bikers roll through Washington and end up at the Pentagon in Virginia.

Former Army Sergeant Artie Muller, a Vietnam veteran and co-founder of the event, told the website military.com that logistics and costs were getting too out of hand. Riders also complained of harassment by Pentagon security and the Washington police. A Pentagon spokeswoman denied the riders had been harassed.

President Donald Trump offered to help keep the event going.

“It’s just a lot of money,” said Muller, 73. The event costs about US$200,000, including installing portable toilets and paying US$30,000 for parking at the Pentagon before the Sunday ride to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall.

Trump, in a Saturday morning tweet from Japan, called the riders “great Patriots” and pledged to help the organization, “if I can!”

Muller, in an interview with WTOP Radio, cited several other reasons to end the D.C. ride: many of the founders are older and can’t ride long distances. That’s an issue that’s resonated in recent years with motorcycle makers including iconic Harley-Davidson Inc. Some participants also can’t get time off work or can’t afford long-distance trips, Muller added.

The annual motorcycle memorial will be held next year by local chapters, organizers said. Rolling Thunder was the operational name of the U.S. bombing campaign approved by President Lyndon B. Johnson over North Vietnam from March 1965 through October 1968.