There has always been a blood connection between bikers and America’s wars. One of the ironies of America’s Global War on Terror is that that war’s infrastructure and resources have been used to make war on motorcycle clubs. The irony is that for the last 65 years there has been no more hawkish or patriotic group than Harley riders.
The first clubs, for all practical purposes, were founded by World War II veterans. In 1964 Sonny Barger told a writer for the Oakland Tribune that the Oakland charter of the Hells Angels wanted to help in Vietnam. “Our oath of allegiance is to the United States of America,” Barger reportedly said. “If there should be trouble we would jump to enlist and fight. More than 90 percent of our members are veterans. We don’t want no slackers.”
Motorcycle clubs are what they have been for the last 40 years because of Vietnam. The Bandidos, Warlocks, Vagos, Sons of Silence and Mongols were all invented during Vietnam. The “proper” way of the outlaw biker was defined by highly disciplined, profoundly alienated, Vietnam Veterans who had been infected with violence, calloused against mere materialism and greeted upon their return with contempt and scorn.
The largest motorcycle club in the world in numbers of members is the red and black, the two patches that are one club, the Vietnam Vets and Legacy Vets motorcycle club. The largest one-day motorcycle event, Rolling Thunder, was founded by veterans for veterans.
Flair And Ink
The most common icon worn on the leather and denim vests of all bikers, whether they are patch holders, HOG members, loners or RUBS is the POW/MIA symbol designed by commercial artist Newt Heisley in 1971. Some of us wear it on our arms. (You can read a little more about Heisley here). Part of the enduring legacy, and shame, of the late, great, 1960s, Mongolian cluster fuck of wars was the fate of Prisoners and of those Missing in Action.
So it is appropriate for the usual suspects, the known associates, the validated members and the cops, prosecutors and the merely curious who read this page to take a minute to recognize that today, September 21, 2012 is National POW/MIA Recognition Day. This is the day when America honors service members who endured captivity and those whose remains have yet to be recovered.
The official accounting of the unaccounted-for totals 83,414 American souls. An estimated 73,681 of them disappeared in World War II and another 7,946 were lost in Korea. The numbers for those wars were published by government committees in 1951 and 1956. Some of those men may have been buried at sea. One hundred twenty-six soldiers disappeared during the cold war. There are 1,655 combatants still missing in Vietnam and six soldiers are unaccounted for from Iraq and Afghanistan.
This is an election year so the candidates recognized the day by hiring someone to write a few brief words for them.
Republican Mitt Romney issued a release that read: “As we mark National POW/MIA Recognition Day, I am mindful that when America goes to war, we run the risk of losing our servicemen and women to enemy capture. I’m proud to call John McCain, who endured captivity in Vietnam, a friend. He exemplifies those Americans who deserve all honor and respect for enduring hardship and for making sacrifices that we cannot readily imagine. My heart goes out to the families of those who remain missing, often for decades. They deserve to be remembered. And the best way to show our remembrance is by never ceasing in our quest to find them.”
President Barack Obama issued a proclamation that stated: “As long as members of our Armed Forces remain unaccounted for, America will bring our fullest resources to bear in finding them and bringing them home. It is a promise we make not only to the families of our captured and our missing, but to all who have worn the uniform.”
There will be a brief ceremony in Washington today and a handful of Pentagon officials will ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange.
But this day is unlikely to be recognized on television. Most American newspapers including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and Wall Street Journal published nothing about POWs or MIAs this morning. So today will go unnoticed by most Americans. It should not go unnoticed by you.
Fuck ‘em all but nine.