It’s Memorial Day, the unofficial start of the summer, but let’s not forget its greater purpose. I get an unusual audio reminder of this every year where I live. It starts building Friday evening, slowly at first as the distinctive sound of a few Harley Davidson motorcycle engines announce their presence in the neighborhood. It’s a sign that the bikers are starting to arrive, filling our local hotel rooms and watering holes, like swallows returning to Capistrano each year.
They’re everywhere by the time Saturday morning rolls around but that’s not the main event either. Everyone is preparing for Sunday when Rolling Thunder announces its annual presence during the Memorial Day Weekend.
Rolling Thunder is a relatively new phenomenon focusing attention on Prisoner of War / Missing in Action issues, originally associated with the Vietnam War but now expanded more broadly to cover veterans’ issues across all wars. What began on a small scale in 1988 is now a firmly-entrenched Memorial Day Weekend tradition. This brief video I shot yesterday includes about twenty-five seconds of Rolling Thunder as it went under an overpass. The inbound lanes of Interstate 66 were closed to all other traffic inside the Beltway. It took a full half-hour for the thousands of assembled motorcycles to pass, many of them decorated with flags, riders waving exuberantly to spectators lining the route.
Memorial Day, of course, traces back much further. It began as a remembrance of Union soldiers killed in the Civil War but was later redefined as a memorial for all American soldiers who died while in military service. I am reminded of the scale of these sacrifices whenever I walk through nearby Arlington National Cemetery.
It’s Summer now. Let’s enjoy the holiday. Let’s also take a few moments to appreciate today’s larger significance.