Rolling to Remember is set to make some noise this Sunday to draw attention to the plight of America’s POW/MIA’s and the issue of veteran suicide.
Previously known as Rolling Thunder, the staging area for this year’s motorcycle rally, which is expected to draw an estimated 100,000 bikes to Washington, D.C. had been the Pentagon Parking Lot.
“This year, we’ll be staging at RFK Stadium’s parking lot,” Joe Chenelly, executive director of AMVETS, the organization hosting the demonstration ride, told CBS' Eye on Veterans. “We have all the parking lots out there.”
This is the first time RFK has been used as a staging point for the rally. Chenelly said AMVETS applied for permits to use the Pentagon lot this Memorial Day back in May of 2020.
“We were at the height of a pandemic. We knew things weren’t going to be the same,” he said. “We also knew communication would be more important than ever.”
Chenelly said Pentagon officials simply did not communicate with the group. After coronavirus vaccines began rolling out in January, COVID-19 projections for the summer began looking much better, he continued.
“We reached back to them and said can we start these meetings now and it was radio silence coming back,” he said.
That led AMVETS to consider alternative staging locations. Then, in March, Chenelly received an unexpected email from the special events team at the Pentagon, saying the permit to use the lots had been approved.
“It did seem too good to be true, and it turned out it was,” he said.
Eight days later, Chenelly received word from the Pentagon building manager that the permit was a mistake and had been rescinded.
“In the end, they told us it was because of COVID and they didn’t think we’d be able to maintain a safe environment in the parking lot,” he explained. “The catch to all that, though, was they didn’t give us the opportunity to explain how we felt we could safely.”
Washington, D.C. officials then stepped up, offering RFK’s parking lots as a staging location. Chenelly said that means this year’s ride will be longer than in previous years.
“The route goes, the traditional loop as they call it, around the National Mall past all the war memorials, past the White House, past Capitol Hill,” explained Chenelly.
Chenelly said given the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, there was concern that some might think the motorcycle gathering would also incite mayhem.
“It was never verbalized to use,” he said. “No one from the Pentagon, the Administration, because we had conversations with the Administration and Congress about this, no one ever said that to us. It’s certainly something on everyone’s mind.
“If someone was to try to embed into the larger group, you know, a smaller faction that wanted to try to come and make trouble, and see if they could cause trouble and the others would follow, they would find themselves on the wrong end of a motorcycle boot pretty quick.”
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