WASHINGTON (NNS) -- More than 400 motorcycle enthusiasts affiliated with Rolling Thunder, Inc., a non-profit nation-wide organization dedicated to increasing awareness for U.S. Prisoner of War (POW) and Missing in Action (MIA) concerns, gathered at the Navy Memorial May 29 to recognize veterans past and present.
The wreath-laying ceremony came as a precursor to what has become a Memorial Day weekend tradition for more than two decades, a national gathering of motorcycle enthusiasts in Washington drawing more than 70,000 participants, several of whom are veterans of conflicts.
Incorporated in 1995, Rolling Thunder, Inc., is a non-profit organization with nearly 90 chartered chapters in the United States and members abroad, united in the cause to bring full accountability for POWs and MIAs of all wars, encouraging individuals through a variety of demonstrations, parades and community outreach events to ensure service members are accorded respect, evidenced through the organization's watchwords, "We Will Not Forget."
Lt. Cmdr. (ret) Pete Zaleski, Rolling Thunder, Inc. national veteran's rights officer, served as the event's guest speaker, addressing a crowd comprised largely of Vietnam-era veterans on the importance of both the organization's mission, as well as recognizing all U.S. citizens choosing to serve their country's armed forces.
"Today at the Navy Memorial, home to the collective history of our Nation's Navy, Rolling Thunder is here to honor not only our Sailors, but all veterans of all wars," he said. "Rolling Thunder is here again this Memorial Day weekend as we have been for the past 22 years to show resolve in reminding our government that there are still those whose war has never ended."
Zaleski, a prior-enlisted Vietnam-era Navy veteran, along with Navy veteran Taylor Kiland, Navy Memorial public relations director, placed a wreath purchased by Rolling Thunder, Inc., at the foot of the Lone Sailor during the ceremony. The ceremony also included the playing of Taps, as well as a moment of silence, an emotional moment evidenced by the faces of the crowd.
Zaleski also addressed the changing role of the U.S. Sailor today, saying that despite the difference in which conflicts are conducted, the men and women in uniform will continue to have the respect and admiration of Rolling Thunder, Inc.
"Our military will win this war on terrorism," he said. "In this war we have Sailors serving on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan side by side with our Marines, Soldiers and Airmen. Many of our countrymen and members of Rolling Thunder are behind our men and women whom we've sent in harm's way. We're behind them 110 percent."
Service members from conflicts dating from the 1950's attended the event, along with individuals from more recent U.S. military operations.
Tennessee native Engineman 1st Class (ret.) Kenney Hensley said attending the Rolling Thunder, Inc., wreath-laying ceremony reaffirmed his conviction on the importance of having been an active-duty Sailor during Operation Desert Storm.
"For us older veterans and even for active-duty, this is therapeutic," said Hensley. "I have spent a lot of hours in the engine room on a ship, gone from home, doing my duty. Some of it was fun and some of it was hard. But looking back on it all, it was the best thing that ever happened to me in my life. I am proud to be a Navy veteran."
For more news, visit www.navy.mil.