The Mourning That Roars

May 27, 2012

All Posts, News

At least as early as 1867, the grieving survivors of the men and boys who died in the Civil War set aside a Sunday afternoon each Spring to clean and decorate their graves – to picnic, to remember and to tell stories. This “Decoration Day” spontaneously emerged in both the North and the South during Reconstruction. And a century after it began, after the Tet Offensive in 1967, Congress made Decoration Day an official federal holiday called Memorial Day.

Twenty years after that, three Vietnam Veterans named Ray Manzo, John Holland and Walt Sides rode their motorcycles to the national gravestone that remembers the dead from their war. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington – The Wall on the Mall – had been completed five years before that. It was still a controversial edifice. It became a target of the contempt much of America felt for men who, as Joan Baez put it, “lacked the courage to just refuse to murder” and the Wall was vandalized.

That first run to the Wall by Manzo, Holland and Sides echoed the earliest Decoration Days. Twenty-five years later that simple act of both remembrance and contempt for prevailing opinion has, as Joan Baez might now put it, evolved.

Rolling Thunder

In 1988, 2,000 Vietnam Vets and their supporters and survivors rode to Washington from the four corners of America. They assembled in Virginia and rode to the Wall as one large pack. The riders called their big pack Rolling Thunder and there was a sort of a picnic at the end. One of the speakers at that gathering, a veteran named Marshall Colt, humbly asked his countryman to separate “the war from the warriors” and try to understand that “Vietnam Veterans honored a commitment to the country.” Colt’s humility was one of two main strategies Vietnam Veterans adopted during their reintegration into America.

A biker from Pittsburgh named Robert Wagner represented the other strategy. He was less humble and more blunt than Colt had been. The Wall had been defaced again that Spring and Wagner called the big, loud pack, “a show of strength.”

One of the organizers of that 1988 rally was a former Sergeant in the Fourth Infantry Division named Artie Muller and for the last quarter century Rolling Thunder has been Muller’s full time job. Thanks mostly to Muller’s hard work, there were 40,000 riders by 1994.

Rolling Thunder has now become a corporation and a quasi-motorcycle club with 88 chapters in 29 states. The rally now has much less to do with Vietnam than it does with a general honoring of all veterans. And simultaneously, Rolling Thunder has become an institution on the opposite side of the never ending culture wars from the side represented by Baez and President Obama.


While the last President Bush was solicitous of Muller and enthusiastic about the motorcycle demonstration, Obama has pushed Muller, his followers and his sympathizers away. During his last year in office Bush met Muller and his entourage in the White House driveway. Muller gave the President a Rolling Thunder cut and Bush put it on and modeled it for the press.

But throughout his term, Obama has been reluctant to meet Muller. Knowing whether Obama actually met with representatives of Rolling Thunder this year or not depends on who you ask.

“The President was pleased to meet with members of Rolling Thunder today at the White House,” an unnamed “administration official” told the Washington Times. “This Administration is committed to the POW/MIA mission as well as to our veterans and their families. The members of Rolling Thunder also received a briefing on POW/MIA and veterans issues from National Security Staff and the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Affairs.”

“When we were there in the past,” Muller told the same newspaper, “the President himself talked to us about the issues that concern us – veterans’ health care, the fate of prisoners of war, and those missing in action. This was more or less a handshake and a photo op for the White House – and that’s all it was,”

Last Friday the President did issue an official proclamation recognizing the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. “Let us renew our sacred commitment to those who answered our country’s call in Vietnam and those who waited their safe return,” the President proclaimed. “While no words will ever be fully worthy of their service, nor any honor truly befitting their sacrifice, let us remember that it is never too late to pay tribute to the men and women who answered the call of duty with courage and valor.”

Today’s Ride

Police in northern Virginia estimated that about 400,000 motorcycle riders took part in today’s ride from Arlington, Virginia to the Wall. The ride began at noon Eastern time and was scheduled to end at 5 p.m. It certainly screwed up traffic throughout the Capitol because it always does. And that surely annoyed many citizens who don’t like motorcycles because that happens every year, too.

Speakers to the demonstrators assembled on the Mall included Bob & Jani Bergdahl, Congressman Trent Franks, Commander Kirk Lippold, Colonel Pat Blassie, Lynn O’Shea, Sergeant Matt Smith, Michael Shelby and Steve Thompson.

Demonstrators were also entertained by the musical talents of the Loch Rannoch Pipes & Band, Nancy Sinatra, Connie Stevens, Gordon Painter, Rockie Lynne, the Doug Stone Band and Sammy Sadler.


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38 Responses to “The Mourning That Roars”

  1. Goldsboro Williams Says:


    Outstanding! My family stock is pure Appalachia, and instead of school our family tradition has always been military service. Unfortunately, a lot of them have had service that was similar to Lt. Dan’s family in Forrest Gump… A lot of them bit the dust. The last one to die was on D-Day, so hopefully the streak is broken. My Dad is retired military, and I and both my brothers served. My youngest son is currently serving, and is on standby for Afghanistan.

    I am in Afghanistan now as an imbedded civilian, and the other day I had the honor of passing out Goodie Bags from a company called Med Assets to the enlisted guys. It was cool to watch their faces light up as they went through them.

    They almost didn’t get them, as an attorney was sitting on the boxes because he “didn’t know the legality” of giving away care packages that contained tobacco. I took the boxes from him and told him that he could blame it on me.

    Attorneys… (sigh)


  2. RVN69 Says:

    Greatgreat uncle fought with the 7th VA Cavalry under Turner Ashby in the Shenandoah vally campaign until Ashby was killed, then served under J.E.B. Stuart until he was killed. Surrendered at Appomattox and lived the remainder of his years near Winchester Va. were he is currently buried. He was a laborer from Sharpsburg Md and for reasons known only to him joined the Army of Northern Va.

    “Sometimes the majority only means all the fools are on the same side.”

  3. YYZ Skinhead Says:

    It is always awesome to dig into your ancestry and find gold in the form of a Veteran.

    YYZ Skinhead

  4. Goldsboro Williams Says:


    Yup. If you run my real name against a database of the Army of Northern Virginia, you will find two of my relatives with the exact same name serving under the Honorable Robert E. Lee.


  5. rollinnorth Says:

    “…the Smith & Wesson line…” Good one.

  6. observer Says:

    Rebel: Thanks, I guess wars are just an excuse to be who we really are.

  7. Rebel Says:

    Dear Goldsboro Williams,

    The War of Northern Agression. I bet I know which side of the Smith & Wesson Line your great-grand daddies lived on.


  8. Rebel Says:

    Dear observer,

    This is easier for me to comment on. I think this is the stone age. I think all the noise, media, culture and progress are ephemeral. I think we are all exactly who we all were 40,000 years ago. I think we are all killers in our hearts.


  9. observer Says:

    Rebel: Thanks for taking the time with this. It is a huge question, I agree. That power that turned so many men against one another remains a mystery to me, and as such, for all we know, it’s still here inside us, like a dormant disease, waiting to rise up in a fever and begin all over again. I know there’s much written on it, too much of course to read, so I just ask certain people now and then, and keep my eyes and ears open for the echoes, or stirrings of renewal. Something very big happened, that’s part of something larger still, and somehow it is a part of all of us. I just don’t know what it it is. Thanks again.

  10. Goldsboro Williams Says:

    Not to jump on another person’s Q&A, but if you want some interesting reading about the War of Northern Aggression and the causes, try “The Real Lincoln” by DiLorenzo and “When in the course of Human Events” by Charles Adams. Very good reads.

  11. Rebel Says:

    Dear observer,

    Gee, that’s a huge question. The best I can do for you is state a couple of obvious things. I don’t have any special insight.

    The north won the Civil War by throwing more bodies against the south than the Confederacy had bullets. The northern casualties were astounding. If you are ever in a small New England town, wander through one of the old cemetaries and see the row after row of graves from that war.

    War is a great magnet for the kind of men I have always thought are the best men. Stephen Crane, about whom I know a little, wrote a total of six pieces about the Civil War before he ever heard a shot fired in anger. Then he spent the rest of his life chasing after war to see if he got it right. I personally am impressed by his work covering the Spanish-American War. He describes combat with a generous helping of irony. If you are interested, I would recommend to you Crane’s short story, written in Cuba, titled “The Lone Charge of William B. Perkins.” It is out of print. It is not anthologized. Not many English professors have heard of it.

    The north had a draft after the first three months of the war. Once you were in you were in for the duration.

    I had a couple of great, great grandfathers who fought through all four years of the war. One of them was one of a very long line of guys named Tom Davis. He came from a border state, a slave state. He never owned a slave. But he believed in the right of the southern states to secede. He fought for the north for what then must have seemed to him to be idealistic reasons. He thought America should be white. He thought rich, white men down south were overrunning the country with blacks. He thought the only way to stop that would be to defeat all those rich, deep southerners and set the slaves free to go back home to Africa. I have always imagined old Tom, walking back home, telling every passing black face, “Git along lil negroes. You’re free now. Git along back to your own country.”

    For whatever reason those men fought, I am sure most of the reasons did not make it into the history books.


  12. observer Says:

    Rebel: I always appreciate your Western Civilization historical perspectives, and am interested in your brief views, if any, on the real essence of the American Civil War. What could turn brother against brother, forced marches in bleeding stocking feet, into the teeth of cannon fire, and if lucky, unanesthetized battlefield surgery? I’m pretty sure it was more economical than anything; slavery was just a cover. But what could really fire that much passion? I read somewhere that in the days before the war, a session in Congress was interrupted by the dropping of a book, which sounding like gunfire, brought out the pistols of many in the too-tense gathering. What was really going on back then, in your view? Thanks.

  13. BigV Says:

    Thank you for your service, then and now, Rebel. I thank all of you for your sacrifices.

    Never forget, this is how the the federal, state, and local governments of the United States say thanks :

  14. DocB Says:

    Dear Rebel
    Thanks for the article and thanks for your service
    Semper Fi

  15. Erudite Hillbilly Says:

    I’m very thankful the Bergdahls had a chance to attend and increase awareness for their son’s situation. For those not aware, their son SGT Bowe Bergdahl is a POW being held in Afghanistan/Pakistan. I personally wear a POW bracelet for Bowe to constantly keep him in my thoughts and prayers, as does my wife.

  16. Caretaker Says:

    My respects to those that served. I had the honor today of escorting a piece of steel from the twin towers we lost on 9-11-01… I lost 343 brothers that day, and I will NEVER FORGET!

  17. gypsy josh Says:

    Just got back from Angel Fire V.V. Memorial here in northern New Mexico, the RT Run to the Wall makes a stop there on their way to D.C. The surrounding communities are very supportive of it. Just want to send out a WELCOME HOME and THANK YOU to all veterans and for the families who have lost a family member THANK YOU for their sacrifice and yours.

  18. rollinnorth Says:

    This President had to make his speech at The Wall today because of the “50th anniversary.” He gave only a photo op to Rolling Thunder and only then for the same reason and because it’s an election year.

  19. YYZ Skinhead Says:

    Props to all of you. The Wall is one of my pilgrimages on my future bike/trike. I shall go both during the day and at night and definitely plant at least a few flags. I have and have had Veteran friends and family who served in several different wars but unfortunately I could not enlist for Desert Storm because I already had PTSD.

    Americans all owe the few freedoms we have left, to our all-American Warriors. The nation was founded by Veterans and Servicemen, and our Fighting Forces walk in Washington’s footprints. All civilians must revere them. It is the American thing to do.

    YYZ Skinhead

  20. swampy Says:

    Much love, honor and respect to all vets as we remember those who gave the “ultimate sacrifice.”

    With the highest regards and respect,

  21. Goldsboro Williams Says:

    Glenn S’ comments are quite astute.

    I find that people like Keillor demand that you respect their individual choices and lifestyles, but then they turn around and want to totally disregard the decisions and opinions of others. In short, they are egalitarian narcissists. Egalitarian when it suits them, and always narcissistic.

    That is why a day to remember those who believe that they serve something higher is important. Stack a Keillor up against an 18 year old that is stuck in Ghazni or Paktika, and I will take the company of the 18 year old over his any day of the week. My freedom to respect the kid, and to ignore the Keillors of the world is being paid for by that kid.

    Thanks Vets!

  22. Glenn S. Says:

    Rollinnorth posted Garrison Keiller’s contemptous take on the Rolling Thunder’s ride. Keiller’s main point seems to be that everybody should express patriotism, and live life, like he has chosen to do. That, in a nutshell, is what has broken America. Certain people have their opinions on how a life should be lived, and demand that everyone follow their lead. Which poses the question: What would this country be like if, in 1776, 1812, 1941, etc., everybody was contemplating art and reading history. Keiller aparently believes that eliminating his minor irritations should take priority over everyone’s freedom, and there are a lot of Keiller’s in the USA today. In the world of Keiller, I guess everybody would be reading history, but who would be making it? Everybody would be admiring art, but what would there be for an artist to paint?

  23. Glenn S. Says:

    Happy Memorial Day, y’all, and thanks to those who served.

    I love my country, but I hate its government. The important thing is to draw a distinction between the troops and the men and women who use them badly.

  24. Junior Says:

    Respects to all who have served in the Armed Services, especially Marines,OOORAH!
    Let’s never forget their sacrifice. Also, lets never forget how to love our country and lets never forget how to hate the ruling class that continues to destroy it! -Junior

  25. MWMC, VETERANS Says:

    RVN69 is 100% correct, in the magic hour of twilight the wall becomes something more, almost biological. You descend into the deepest point, sub-terra feeling, you look up, the names of our dead rise above your head, you feel as if you have been lowered into the ground with them, its haunting. Agree RVN, you can feel the presence of those who’s names are listed.

    YYZ, think it would be worth a trip in one of the years coming up.

    Semper Fi

  26. RVN69 Says:

    YYZ Skinhead,
    As GW said, your not the type of person who would offend someone at a The Wall. I hope you can see the real one in DC. The rolling walls are nice, but the Wall in DC is stunning, expecially in the evening. They use soft yellow lights to illuminate it, giving the effect of candlelight. There are usually less people in the evening and you can take in the feeling. I’m not a religious person, but I swear you can feel the presence of those who’s names are listed.

    “I am not an angel, nor am I the devil, I am the bastard stepchild of both.”

  27. Goldsboro Williams Says:

    YYZ Skinhead:

    I was there in Feb of ’03 (sorry I didn’t know you Snow to offer you a beer), and I was simply awed by it. I did find one name (John Bobo) and said a silent thanks for his service, as I have always been impressed by the story of his sacrifice.

    It was pretty low key there, and I doubt you would be the kind of person to do anything that would upset a vet or relative. Like rollinnorth said, just go and see it. The Iwo Jima memorial is also impressive, and if you get the chance to go to Arlington, do so.


  28. MWMC, VETERANS Says:

    We did the ride to the wall today, it was massive, chaotic, and awesome in size, scope, and raw unregulated energy. As a Veterans MC comprised of multi tour Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa, Combat Veterans, a majority from the combat arms, and Special Operations Community, this day for us is one of great mourning, and paradoxically, unregulated celebration.

    Although Memorial Day in general is an impossibly special day for veterans everywhere, it is a day for all Americans. We did the ride, and then parked, and watched a 5 hour pack roll past the wall hammer down on the throttle, raising holy hell, screaming their salutes with pain and pride. Whatever the political atmosphere in DC, today its cowardice was suffocated via the thundering chorus of our 400,000 exhausts. I would urge you to make the ride one day.

    For many of us, these bonds, and brotherhoods we’ve formed as vets in various clubs are one are the principal life adhesives which keep us afloat. The social dynamic of each man’s club, or RC, or coffee riders group, whatever the degree of committment, is a surrogate for long dormant platoons, squads, or teams, from the war, they are the family we had in war, now here.

    It was incredible to feel the anger and power and pride rocketing through the air today, the bike exhaust ripping out your ear drums, witness to aging Vets standing above their bikes to raise a defiant fist and scream at the top of their lungs to usher on the hundreds of thousands of others…. to all Veterans, may your brothers provide you the comfort you need today, and guard against the hard heart. For many of us, every day is memorial day, today, we remember our dead brothers, who fell, as they lived.

    Semper Fi
    Men of War MC

  29. Gringo Says:

    God Bless Our Troops , past present and future..

  30. troyez Says:

    Much love, honor, and respect to all those who served in harm’s way in all America’s wars – to the living and to those who have passed on, you are all my heroes!

    P.S. Something bothers me about Obama. It seems like this is the first time he has made any kind of statement about the annual Rolling Thunder event (I may be wrong, but I don’t think so), is it a coincidence that this is an election year and he made this statement? Did he just forget about it the last 3 years in a row?
    And say what you will about GWB, even in his last year in office, with nothing to gain, he met with the RT leaders in person and gave respect and recognition to the cause.

  31. Snow Says:

    Spent some time in D.C. around 02-03, the Wall is very humbling to everyone who knows the meaning for it. To all the Veterans, Thank You for your service, we owe yall more than we could ever repay, to those who refuse to stay behind our troops, Go Fuck Yourselves you bunch of Assholes. Never Forget…..

  32. observer Says:

    That is the first G. Keillor I’ve read. What a moron, and a pompous one at that. War is noisy, generally very noisy, in fact its sounds are sometimes beyond mere noise. If anything, the bikes’ noise and presence is but a muffled reminder of what is really going on with this day. It’s sleepwalkers like that jackass that let others die in wars that they don’t care enough about to prevent in the first place, much less fight in themselves. I love America, I think. I just don’t know where or who it is anymore. At least this twit has helped a bit by showing me it’s not where or who he is.

  33. bob Says:

    I remember reading that Keillor piece when it came out.I don’t think he is even a peace-time vet,so it fuckin’ figures.

  34. rollinnorth Says:

    YYZ Skinhead:
    Just go and take in the sight of all those names. Even if you didn’t know someone whose name is there, it is a profound experience.

  35. rollinnorth Says:

    Back in 2008, Garrison Keiller insulted participants in Rolling Thunder, in an opinion piece published in the St. Petersburg Times.
    Each year since then, on Memorial Day weekend, I post somewhere:
    “Garrison Keiller, go **** yourself!”


  36. YYZ Skinhead Says:

    God bless our Veterans, Servicemen and Servicewomen for sacrificing themselves for our Country. God heal the survivors with PTSD, which as RVN69 so eloquently described it, is the wound that bleeds on the inside.

    I ought to have posted my inquiry about civilians in this thread, so I’ll ask here: I am a civilian who hasn’t lost anyone to the Viet Nam War, so how can I pay respects at the Wall in a way that is inoffensive? I know that the Wall is hallowed ground to thousands of Americans.

    YYZ Skinhead

  37. RVN69 Says:

    God bless us and all those like us since 1775.

    “I am not an angel, nor am I the devil, I am the bastard stepchild of both.”

  38. Slam Says:

    God Bless all who have gone before us, and those who will certainly follow.

    Thank you Rebel!

    SW Asia

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