Yesterday I stood on a bridge over I-270 in Rockville, Maryland. I was out running when I reached a knot of people on the bridge, watching the road below through the chainlink fence. I stopped and asked, “What are we looking for?” Rolling Thunder, of course. A quarter of an hour later, a contingent of motorcycle cops appeared in the local lanes followed by some 2,000 motorcyclists in a side-by-side column.
A neighbor couple happened to be standing on the bridge. They’d gotten up early to make sure they saw the cavalcade of Rolling Thunder as it made its way to the District for its annual Memorial Day gathering. The husband remarked, “You know, my nephew was killed in Afghanistan. When we went to the funeral in Pennsylvania, the nearby streets were lined with motorcycles. I’ll never forget it.” Probably they were there to protect the family from that whacko so-called church from Kansas that disrupts funerals of fallen service members.
When I heard that story, the noise of the motorcycles, which I like to begin with, suddenly sounded like a chorus of patriotism.
The riders noticed the group on the bridge and waved. I saw quite a cross section of America riding those bikes. Even with their helmets on — required in Maryland — I could see the variety of faces. I saw plenty of the heavy-set old guys, their big beards parted by the wind so one-half was blowing to each side of their faces. But also old and young, and many colors.
Memorial Day Weekend I also did the usual things: Nats game where local Medal of Honor recipient Flo Groberg tossed the ceremonial first pitch. Two cookouts. Beer. Bike ride (bicycle, not motor).
The good thing about Rolling Thunder is that it returns a measure of authenticity to Memorial Day by reminding us to actually memorialize those killed fighting the country’s wars. Killed on our collective behalf. And by extension, those injured and those who simply chose to serve at all. Retail sales events, barbecues, the unofficial start of summer and the traffic frenzy have combined to nearly obscure the real Memorial Day. If death is the ultimate equalizer, then perhaps in collectively honoring our war dead, we can at least momentarily regain the common bonds of citizenship characterized by a belief in liberty and human dignity on which the nation was founded.