WASHINGTON — Tens of thousands of veterans on Sunday filled the area from the Reflecting Pool to the Lincoln Memorial, sprawled on the steps of various federal buildings, crammed vacant fields with their motorcycles and wandered up and down the Mall.
They roared into town on polished, rumbling bikes for the 13th annual Rolling Thunder rally.
They visited vans promising "Find Your Buddies Now," bought pins from vendors and cooked out. At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, they rubbed over names and slipped the papers in a bag with the others, and they knelt and sniffled as their wives gently touched their shoulders.
Miss America Heather Renee French, 25, of Maysville, Ky., was up front in the booming Rolling Thunder procession into the city, atop a three-wheeled, red-white-and-blue motorcycle, her hand not waving that curvy beauty-queen wave but rather forming a fist and pumping high in solidarity with the veterans alongside her.
Like all Miss Americas, she also has a platform. Hers is veterans, particularly homeless ones. Her brother and sister serve in the military. Her father, a Marine, was hit by a bullet in Vietnam and has been hobbled by arthritis ever since, and she's been tagging along with him to VA hospitals since she was 4.
Ron French said that his daughter carries the war with her, too, in the form of an Agent Orange rash on her stomach. She spent hours before the rally hugging and kissing vets in the Pentagon parking lot.
Rolling Thunder's primary purpose is to plead for the return of American prisoners of war and those missing in action.
Vet-bikers from all over the country roll into town--and then from the Pentagon to the Wall--every Memorial Day weekend. Starting at noon, the riders clogged the Memorial Bridge four abreast for more than an hour, and were still straggling in until dinner time.