Perhaps you’ve heard of Rolling Thunder®. Do you equate them with the massive motorcycle ride to Washington D. C. over Memorial Day Weekend? That event, known as a demonstration ride, is perhaps their more visible undertaking; however, their work for and support of veterans goes so much beyond that weekend. As Sonny Deal, President of Rolling Thunder®NC 2, shared, “We have six Rolling Thunder®chapters in North Carolina and over 90 chapters across the United States. This coming September will be our chapter’s 20thanniversary; currently we have 65 to 70 active members. The main thing that someone needs to become part of our chapter is a heart for helping veterans; you don’t have to own or ride a motorcycle to become involved.”
The national mission statement of Rolling Thunder®, Inc. is: “The major function of Rolling Thunder®, Inc. is to publicize the POW-MIA issue: to educate the public that many American prisoners of war were left behind after all previous wars, and to help correct the past and to protect future veterans from being left behind should they become prisoners of war-missing in action. We are also committed to helping American veterans from all wars.”
What are some of the chapter’s key activities?
The Demonstration Ride – In the 2017 demonstration ride, over one million motorcyclists participated. After arriving in Washington D. C., typically the ride begins at the Pentagon, riding down Constitution Avenue past the White House, and ends at the Lincoln and Vietnam Memorials. The event includes guest speakers and special musical performances. “I have been privileged to participate for the last eight years,” Sonny shared.
The Missing Man Table–This presentation is a moving tribute to the men and women missing in action as a result of their in service to our country. It is a humbling visual reminder of those men and women who never came home. The narrator explains the symbolism of each item on the table – the overturned goblets indicates a missing person, a single rose, a red ribbon, and chairs draped with MIA flags. As the narrator calls out each branch of service, a chapter member marches in carrying a dress cap from that branch and takes their place behind one of the chairs. At the conclusion, a cap is placed at each table setting.
Sonny shared that this tribute is planned for the Veteran Coffee event at Richard Childress’ race shop on Wednesday, May 2. The event opens around 8:00 am with the program planned to begin at 8:30 am.
“There are still 38 NC veterans unaccounted for who served in Vietnam and who still need to come home,” Sonny shared. “Whenever possible, we ride in tribute and escort returning veterans to their final resting places. We have been honored to do this for veterans who served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.”
Bingo Nights at the VA– On a monthly basis, chapter members visit the VA in Salisbury to visit and play bingo with veterans. The chapter provides treat bags for each veteran based on their individual dietary restrictions. Rhonda Deal, Rolling Thunder®NC 2 Secretary, shared, “Most of these veterans don’t have families to visit them. They look forward to our time together and we get so much from spending time with them. We usually start playing around 6:30 pm; it’s a fun evening for all of us.”
Food Drive– Twice a year during the spring and fall seasons, the chapter sponsors a food drive for the Asheville Restoration Quarters, a recovery center for drug and alcohol abuse targeting veterans dealing with PTSD. The primary goal of the facility is to assist veterans in recovery and support them as they get their lives back on track.
4thof July Parade– Faith, NC, a small town near Salisbury, hosts one of the largest 4thof July parades in the country. In fact, US presidents have attended the event. Rolling Thunder®NC 2 participates annually with at least 10 to 15 motorcycles decked out with flags unfurled. This is heartland at its best, celebrating with fire trucks, floats, and vintage cars, with plenty of good food, and friends and neighbors congregating to celebrate our freedoms.
Christmas Events– For Christmas 2017, Vickie Fraley, Chapter Treasurer, felt they needed to plan something special. The chapter created individual Christmas presents filled with socks, gloves, sweatshirts, and other items in each veteran’s size and delivered at their Christmas party for homeless veterans. All total, 250 presents were presented. In addition, Christmas boxes were delivered to the NC Veterans Retirement Home (on the campus of VA Hospital in Salisbury) filled with toiletries and things to benefit veterans on a daily basis.
For more information on donations, events, or membership, contact Rhonda Deal, Rolling Thunder®NC 2 Secretary, via phone (336-469-3415), or by e-mail ([email protected]). Or, you may also contact Sonny Deal, Rolling Thunder®NC 2 President via phone (704.929.0477) or via his e-mail ([email protected]). Follow the chapter on their website (Rollingthundernc2.org) for upcoming activities.