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A Motorcycle Mama & the Zen of Rolling Thunder

Posted by chippywarren on


By LaDonna Hale Curzon

~Rolling Thunder roared into town, once more for the 19th time, during the Memorial Day weekend…all 450,000 plus motorcyclists from across the country, to pay tribute to the soldiers who are Prisoners of War (POWs) and/or Missing in Action (MIAs) from WW I, WW II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War, War Against Terrorism and Iraqi Freedom and I was there.

Since I live only four miles from the Pentagon, the staging area for this massive pro-American love-fest, I had no excuse to shy away from it especially when thousands of other Americans biked in from all corners of the country…There was no reason at all to avoid participating in what perhaps has developed into the largest gathering of Americans supporting our troops and military ever…in American history. And what a trip it was.

As an almost fifty-something, stay-at-home mom, dare I say, desperate housewife, I felt just a tad bit out of my element as a participant in Rolling Thunder XIX but only for a brief time. As I heard numerous times while I waited patiently among the throng of chrome and leather in 90-degree weather on the hot, asphalt parking lot…This was an act of love; an act of love for our country and the soldiers who have and are sacrificing to protect American freedom. The whole concept of a motorcycle is basically about freedom and so I found the idea of a huge mass, motorcycle ride through the avenues of our nation’s capital most fitting and appropriate. It was time to let our freak flags fly and fly they did.

As I left my safe, suburban home in Alexandria with my husband and two, teenage daughters sound asleep, early on that Sunday morning…it was just me and my Shadow…my 23-year-old Honda 500 cc Shadow. Before I knew it, I was rumbling through Old Town and the leader of the pack of some serious Harley riders complete with a mammoth American flag flying off the back of a Fat Boy (Harley motorcycle). It was completely ridiculous-looking that I was the point for this group of unlikely compadres, but a fact of circumstance nevertheless. I relished my moment of power.

However, before too long, the pack parted ways with me probably due to sheer embarrassment and I found myself in line at the Pentagon’s north parking lot. Within 15 minutes, I was parked among the thousands of other bikers with several hours to kill. There was no escaping now. I was committed.

Surprisingly, the time flew by due to the sheer spectacle of the event. Every kind of motorcycle and then some were represented in that huge parking lot. I saw vintage WW I Indian motorcycles, custom-built works of art (no kidding), hybrid bikes that were half car/half motorcycle…If you can imagine it, you’ll see it at this event. It is really unbelievable what people can dream up and actually build.

And the people-watching was the best part. It definitely looked like an outdoor, biker bar except there was no alcohol or bar-room brawls. I never heard one obscenity although some of the messages on some peoples’ t-shirts were outlandish. Everyone was completely cool and mindful of their manners. This gathering was the most organized event of that size that I’ve ever seen or heard about. The participants were respectful due to the events’ purpose and mission.

I went to Rolling Thunder this year to honor my Dad who died five months ago at Christmastime. He was a decorated WW II veteran who served as an Army Combat Engineer (they blew up bridges with explosives) and he landed on Utah Beach on D-Day on June 6, 1944. He earned four Purple Hearts and was awarded numerous citations and medals including the Silver Star. For this occasion, I wore his formal, Army jacket (now 61-years-old) complete with his ribbons and pins. I got lots of comments and compliments from other riders about that jacket. A lot of riders recognized it for what it is and what it stands for and I felt honored, as a daughter, to wear my Dad’s Army  jacket especially on that day and on that motorcycle ride.

The ride itself is almost indescribable…it was so surreal to be riding down Independence Avenue toward the US Capitol non-stop with thousands of people on the sidelines cheering, clapping, high-fiving my hand as I drove by. The streets were shut down for the parade as almost half a million bikers roared over Memorial Bridge, down Independence Avenue and up Constitution Avenue. The sound alone was deafening. It did, in fact sound like Rolling Thunder. It also sounded like a jet taking off for five, solid hours. After a while, I got used to it and it became background noise. A lot of bikers wore ear plugs. I figured if I could take a ZZ Top concert without ear plugs, I could handle the sound of Rolling Thunder.

Lots of my comrades complained about the lack of media coverage about Rolling Thunder and I noticed, after the fact, that they were completely justified. Never mind the lack of national broadcast coverage….that’s to be expected but the slight coverage provided by the local newspapers was just pathetic especially The Washington Post. The people with passion who bothered to make this trek to honor American soldiers are from outside the Beltway and they most decidedly have an outside the Beltway mentality and I thank them and God for that.

Next year, Rolling Thunder will celebrate it’s 20th year in operation. Each year, this event gets bigger and better. I witnessed a bringing together of Americans that made me especially proud to be an American. It’s a shame that it isn’t embraced more boldly by the media but that hasn’t appeared to be a hindrance…perhaps it’s a badge of honor. I highly recommend to anyone to participate as a biker or as a supporter along the parade route next year for Rolling Thunder XX.

Thousands of bikers congregate near the Pentagon in preparation for Rolling Thunder XIX.

A couple of biker dudes waiting for the start of Rolling Thunder.

LaDonna Hale Curzon at the start of Rolling Thunder XIX.

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