WASHINGTON, D.C. | To celebrate Memorial Day, members of the Osage American Legion Riders made a pilgrimage to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, D.C., to pay homage to the fallen.
While there, the Legion Riders had an opportunity to witness the changing of the guard and the precision of the ceremony involved, as well as attend the 30th anniversary of Rolling Thunder, an event which takes place the Sunday before Memorial Day.
Rolling Thunder is an annual ride that starts in the Pentagon parking lot and rolls into the heart of Washington D.C. and past several historical monuments. The parade route is lined with people from all over the world waving flags, flashing peace signs, cheering and reaching out in the hopes of high-fiving the riders.
The ride, which totaled 1,200 miles, took the riders across six states from Wednesday, May 23 to Wednesday, May 30.
“Being able to come here and honor all of the heroes who sacrificed is why coming to Arlington was so important,” said Legion Rider Jeff Buseman, who served in the U.S. Army.
Standing in solemn witness to the passing of the orders from one guard to the next, the Legion Riders were among a large, silent crowd with a backdrop of white marble reflecting the blinding sun. Looking out over the balcony towards the fields of stones, in the distance, each one with a name and a story. They were the reason for the journey.
“I thought Rolling Thunder sounded like a neat experience, very patriotic,” said U.S. Army Veteran Tim Noble, Riceville and when I found out other Legion Riders from our post were doing it, I wanted to go along.”
“I was curious,” said Legion Rider Richard Burcham. “I saw the footage of Rolling Thunder and I wanted to run with it. I booked my hotel less than a month after we started talking about it, but we discussed and planned the trip out for nine months.”
The Riders pulled out of Charles City on Wednesday, led by U.S. Navy veteran Don Koob, the road captain for the trip, who also drove the support vehicle, which towed his VW Trike. Four bikes and an additional Trike trailed behind him. In addition, one more rider, U.S. Army Veteran Pat Bouillon, followed two days later, joining his Legion brothers for the event.
“To me, it’s a tribute to my fellow brothers and sisters,” said Buseman, “being a veteran myself.”
For three days, the riders made their way towards D.C., making over 500 miles of the trek in the first day before experiencing bike issues, traffic, high heat and humidity and a few wrong turns. The group eventually arrived at their destination on Friday, May 25, exhausted but excited to visit Arlington.
Over the course of the journey, the riders shared meals, conversation and memories on the trek east with the ultimate goal being to represent their American Legion Riders Chapter.
“I came out for the experience,” said Koob. “This was on my bucket list as soon as I saw it on YouTube.
“It was chaos, and humbling. I was very awed, especially when the bikes started up.”
Created to serve as a reminder to never forget those American soldiers who remain unaccounted for as POWs and MIAs, the event is an amazing display of brotherhood, patriotism, love, support and pride. Over 900,000 motorcycles filled the three lots set aside for the staging of the event, and the sound, as the bikes roared to life, was indeed as thunderous as the name suggested it would be.
“The most impactful thing was after the first rider started, the line of Gold Star mothers, who were riding along was very touching to me,” said Noble. “It was so impressive when they started firing up the bikes. I could feel it in my chest. Rolling Thunder is a very apt name.”
“Seeing all those bikes in the Pentagon parking lot was amazing,” said Bouillon. “Just looking out at all of those different styles of bikes and the people who turned out was something to see. It was a great atmosphere to meet new people and just a lot of fun.”
During the ride, one moment that stood out for each of the Legion Riders, was seeing the U.S. Marine in his dress uniform standing at rapt attention, hand frozen in a salute as all of the bikes roared towards him. Each year, one Marine stands at that spot, holding his salute through until the last rider passes, no matter the weather conditions.
“It gave me chills and goosebumps, seeing that Marine standing there saluting,” Koob said.
While they waited in the heat, the Legion Riders met with Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, along with her husband and daughter, Libby, who greeted them with hugs and handshakes. The Riders even presented her with a vest from their chapter, which Ernst donned before posing for photos with the Riders.
“It was great to have gotten to meet her and taIk to her for a bit,” said Legion Rider Jason Proffitt, who’s journey to Rolling Thunder was the longest motorcycle run he’d ever been on. “She was extremely humble and excited to meet us.”
“The ride out and the Rolling Thunder ride were fantastic,” said Burcham. “Nothing I could ever even dream about.”