(NewsNation) — Around 80,000 bikers arrived early Sunday morning at the Pentagon. Among them are veterans, Gold Star mothers and wives, those who have served and families that have sacrificed.
They all came together on Memorial Day weekend to ride and remember.
Since retiring from the Air Force, this is Pete Lehew’s eighth year participating in the “Rolling to Remember” event.
“Part of it’s the old survivors guilt routing, knowing a lot of us going over there didn’t come back,” Lehew said. “Too many friends, too many guys I worked with over time. Afghanistan, Iraq, I’ve lost friends and family. I come out here and remember. That’s what the weekend’s about.”
The event, now in its 36th year, was previously known as “Rolling Thunder.”
The massive motorcycle run goes through the streets of Washington, D.C. Its goal is to raise awareness of the nearly 82,000 soldiers still missing in action and the suicide epidemic, which took 328 active duty members last year and more than 6,000 veterans in 2020.
“The soldier serves, but your family actually serves and sacrifices so much more at home,” William Price said.
Speaking with some of the riders Sunday, felt like a family reunion.
“There’s no strangers here,” Judy Jacobs with UAW Freedom Riders said.
Bill Polk chimed in: “Everybody’s your friend.”
The event also serves as a time to lean on each other and heal.
Many Gold Star families, those who have lost children or spouses in military service, attended Sunday.
The national president of American Gold Star Mothers, who lost her 20-year-old son in Afghanistan in 2012, says it’s always an emotional day.
“It’s very emotional. We do not want our children to ever be forgotten. We take so much pride when our children enter the military and when they pass, it is so difficult for us,” Sarah Taylor said.
Claire Manning-Dick, the national president of Gold Star Wives, added: “This is such a healing time, an honor to remember our warriors, very important and very, very emotional for us.”
Just before revving up to run, AmVets National Commander Donald McLean spoke about what sponsoring the event means to him.
“This is the mission of my life to help get the word of our veterans out there,” McLean said, later adding: “To have so many bikers here today from different backgrounds is beautiful. All coming together today, putting aside all of our differences, here for the veterans, here for the ride.”
On Memorial Day weekend, riders shared some advice: “Just walk up to a vet and say, ‘Thank you,’ shake their hand, give them a hug – That’s why we’re here.”