By Linda Bordner
U.S. Veteran Dispatch Staff Writer
Muller can explain Rolling Thunder's history in a few well-chosen, heartfelt words:
"We found out the U.S. government lied to everybody and we were very aggravated. We got involved in Washington passing bills to protect armed forces left behind after conflicts. We help servicemen get their VA benefits and steer them in the right direction to get the help they need."
In the beginning, there was a march as well as the motorcycle run, to bring attention to the Rolling Thunder cause. Neither Muller nor Manzo were used to being the ones on the demonstration line, and had no clue the response they might have that first year. "None of us ever did anything like this before," Muller says of the first event. "We applied for the permits and got them OK. That part went pretty smoothly. But when we got there - we didn't know what to expect. We didn't know if anybody would even show up." Hearts soared when the first motorcycles appeared. Then more cycles came and kept on coming until some 2500 motorcycles joined in the unmistakable roar of unity. In addition, upwards of 5000 marchers showed up, too. The crowd, it turned out, wasn't just Vietnam vets, but ordinary civilians as well. It was as if the American populace, silent all those years, had suddenly found voice. The vets, who had served without thanks and suffered without support that day received a long overdue vote of confidence from a tardy nation. Suddenly, being a Vietnam vet was no longer a mark of shame, but a badge of honor. Out of the woodwork came droves of would be heroes claiming to have medals in a war they never fought, some even too young to remember. Despite the oddness of the 1980s turnabout, Rolling Thunder has never wavered from its cause. Muller cites the hero mentality as one he strives to overcome in dealing with vets who belatedly have to come to terms with a war without closure. "Veterans, all of them, did their part, whether they were in combat or not. Whether they were loading cargo in planes, trucking food into the guys or flying in supplies, they all deserve credit. I don't think it's right for guys to feel they weren't vital just because they maybe weren't in combat." After the first few events, the march portion of Rolling Thunder's demonstration was dropped, but the motorcycle motorcade continues to swell in rank and number. The year 2000 Memorial run included over 250,000 cycles and about 400,000 attendees in support of the group. Ask any serviceman how you close a military mission, and you'll hear the same words "Leave no one behind." It might have started out as a limited engagement to focus attention on those unaccounted for after Vietnam, but it's become much, much more. Rolling Thunder picked up the banner of accountability its government dropped and carries it with pride and honor into the 21st century.