Rolling Thunder ride May 29 puts focus on POWs/MIAs

Members of Illinois Rolling Thunder chapters invite all area motorcyclists to join them in the 34th annual nationwide Ride for Freedom starting at James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center on Sunday, May 29.

Riders will stage from 8:30-10 a.m. May 29 at the federal health care center, 3001 Green Bay Road, North Chicago. It's kickstands-up promptly at 10 a.m. for the 54-mile rain-or-shine ride, which will take participants past Hines VA Medical Center and on to Cantigny Park in Wheaton.

Wayne Kirkpatrick, a retired U.S. Army colonel who lives in Algonquin, said that while the location of the ride has changed, its focus remains the same.

The ride - which for decades drew hundreds of thousands of motorcyclists from across the country to Washington, D.C., on Memorial Day weekend - is a reminder to all that the search is not over for more than 82,000 servicemen and women still listed as Missing In Action.

"We want to keep our POWs and MIAs top of mind," Kirkpatrick said. "From all wars, more than 82,000 U.S. service members are still missing. We have to be vigilant in ensuring that government funding continues to be set aside for the recovery, repatriation and proper burial of these patriots. We owe them that. We owe it to their families."

Last year was the first year that Rolling Thunder chapters nationwide pursued a more localized approach for the Memorial Day weekend demonstration ride. All three Illinois chapters (based in Warrenville, Wauconda and Olney) are participating in the Chicago area ride May 29.

Hundreds of motorcyclists are expected, some from as far away as Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin and Missouri, said Kirkpatrick, who assists in coordinating the event.

Rolling Thunder membership is not required to participate, and there is no fee to join the ride. Patches, T-shirts and pins will be sold at the start. At Cantigny Park, there will be vendors, food will be available for purchase, the Blooze Brothers will perform, and the First Division Museum and tank park will be open for tours.

Kirkpatrick added that participating in the ride isn't the only way to acknowledge POWs and MIAs on May 29. He said riders hope to see plenty of supporters along the route.

"It's an impressive sight to see all the motorcyclists riding somberly by with the POW and MIA flags flying on the backs of many of the bikes," he said.

"And it's a great opportunity to explain the meaning of those flags - the meaning of the sacrifices made by so many - to the next generation. "

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