Monday, May 16, 2016

8th Annual Local Rolling Thunder Memorial Ride Wants Your Help

Observers at a past local Rolling Thunder Memorial Ride. Photo provided by Kate Hempleman. 

The 8th Annual Rolling Thunder POW/MIA Memorial Ride will take place May 25th at noon, starting at the Army Reserve Center in Fort Thomas. A beloved Fort Thomas tradition, the local ride (Ohio Chapter 9) serves as a prologue to the national Rolling Thunder Memorial Ride held Memorial Day weekend in Washington D.C. This year, Ohio Chapter 9 wants your help—as a rider (car or motorcycle) or observer.
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But first, some history: "In 1987 two Vietnam vets got together because they were concerned about the POW/MIA issue after war," says Kate Hempleman, Commander of the Disabled American Veterans Auxiliary Unit #19 and organizer of this year's local Rolling Thunder Memorial Ride. "So many men were being left behind despite thousands of reported sightings of live Americans in captivity. These sightings were being ignored by the government and press. The two Vietnam vets weren't OK with this and decided to do something about it. In 1988 they held the first Rolling Thunder ride, gathering in D.C. with 2,500 riders. Their voices were heard."

Fast forward to 2009: Inspired by Fort Thomas resident and substitute teacher "Chief" Hunter Pinney, who was headed for Washington D.C. for the national Rolling Thunder Ride, 13-year-old Eric Hempleman, then a freshman at Highlands High School, began raising money to pay for Pinney's ride and to send him off with a ceremony. This was the start of the local Rolling Thunder. "My brother started this at such at a young age," Kate Hempleman says. "He was so little and all of his peers were playing video games and watching TV while he was out trying to make a difference in the community. I want to see this carry on and grow." 

Today, with more than 100 local Rolling Thunder chapters, the national event attracts more than 900,000 riders.


Ohio Chapter 9 Rolling Thunder Memorial Ride. Photo provided by Kate Hempleman. 

For seven years Ohio Chapter 9's Rolling Thunder Ride has been held the Wednesday before Memorial Day weekend, so that local riders can gather and ride before they leave for Washington D.C. "The local ride also welcomes cars and riders that can't attend D.C., so that they can be a part of making an impact right here in our community," Kate Hempleman says. "The local Rolling Thunder goes past multiple schools during school hours so that students can witness the passion for this cause and, as a result, learn about the POW/MIA issue." Students line the streets, with flags in hand, and cheer.

"Rolling Thunder serves as an important visual reminder for our students, staff and community members of the extreme sacrifice that so many have made in order to preserve our freedom," says Fort Thomas Independent Schools Superintendent Gene Kirchner.

Past closing ceremonies. Photo provided by Kate Hempleman. 

Kate Hempleman echoes these sentiments. "This ride is important to the community because it shows that we have patriotism," she says. "It shows that we have not and will not forget our heroes. We have families in this community that have lost loved ones who are fighting for our country, and this is a time where we can stop and come together to remember those who didn't come home. ... Rolling Thunder has evolved into an emotional display of patriotism and respect for all who defend our country. I want this ride to be a reminder that respect is more than hitting a 'like' button on Facebook. I want to see people lining the streets. I want to see people stopping and shaking a veteran's hand. This is our community's chance to do that." 


Past closing ceremonies. Photo provided by Kate Hempleman. 

James Reilly, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1966 to 1970 (Guantanamo Bay, Okinawa, Japan), has been a member of Rolling Thunder's Chapter 9 for 11 years and president for six years. Reilly, who learned and rode in Okinawa, currently rides a 1994 Harley Davidson Electa-Glide. When asked about the importance of Rolling Thunder, he echoes National Rolling Thunder's mission: "To educate the public that many American prisoners of war were left behind after all previous wars and to help correct the past and to protect future veterans from being left should they become Prisoners of War/Missing in Action," he says. "We are also committed to helping American veterans from all wars." 




Staging begins at 11 a.m. at the Army Reserve Center, 75 Carmel Manor Dr. "We're proud to host it for the second year in a row," says Todd Phillips, Director of Public Affairs with the 478th Engineer Battalion. "It's a great event that honors the POW/MIA and keeps them in the public forefront." 

Riders should arrive by noon. There is no fee to ride. Both motorcycles and cars are allowed, and Kate Hempleman suggests decorating your car and carpooling. The ride takes place rain or shine.

Opening ceremonies begin at 12:30 p.m., and the ride, "Kick Stands Up," begins at 1pm. Kate Hempleman suggests observing the ride at the Army Reserve Center, the VA hospital, one of the local schools or at the Newport Peace Bell, which is where closing ceremonies will be held at 2 p.m.

1 comment:

  1. It's unforgettable as you share the experience with Veterans arriving at the Peace Bell overwhelmed by cheering fans lining the streets. Most Veterans never received the welcome home parade they all deserved and a WWII Vet cried in the parking lot one year so touched that his neighbors cared. We care, see you there!

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