The Vietnam Veterans Memorial opened to the public in 1982. Five years later, two Vietnam vets envisioned a motorcycle-themed demonstration to bring awareness to the service members still unaccounted for in the region. It would become a reality the following year.
Here are a few highlights on the path of Rolling Thunder and the "Ride for Freedom" to its 30th incarnation, set for Sunday. For more about the event, and about the ongoing Vietnam War Commemoration efforts, head here.
Organizers Artie Muller and Ray Manzo lead the first ride of between 2,500 and 5,000 riders and spectators. In an interview with Vietnam magazine, Manzo recalled writing hundreds of letters to veterans groups, lawmakers and biker magazines seeking participants. "I am asking for your assistance in organizing a Nationwide Run all across America for as many bikers as possible to ride to Washington, D.C., for Memorial Day 1988 and bring about an end to the POW/MIA problem," read the letter, per Vietnam magazine. "We have to make one more huge effort to get our POW/MIAs home. Please help."
Nearly 40,000 gather for the ride, according to a Washington Post piece from the event, citing a Park Police estimate. Manzo gave up his leadership role that year; Muller remains executive director of Rolling Thunder Inc.
The "Saluting Marine" at Rolling Thunder.
Photo Credit: Cpl. Scott Schmidt/Marine Corps
Tim Chambers, a Marine Corps veteran, wears his dress blues to the demonstration. "I was going to go around, shake some hands, tell these veterans 'Thank you,' he told Vietnam Magazine. "Then I saw all these vets zooming by on motorcycles. I popped out and started saluting." He's been the "Saluting Marine" at Rolling Thunder, and other events, ever since.
President George W. Bush greets Rolling Thunder riders.
Photo Credit: Chris Greenberg/White House
A record turnout commemorates the ride's 20th anniversary. A number of riders and organizers meet with President George W. Bush at the White House, where they visit the Oval Office and discuss veterans issues spanning multiple generations of service.
Riders gather at the Pentagon to take part in the 2012 Rolling Thunder demonstration.
Photo Credit: C. Todd Lopez/Army
An estimated 400,000 riders assemble at the Pentagon for the ride’s 25th anniversary. Among the speakers: Bob Bergdahl, father of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been reported missing in Afghanistan in 2009. He would be released by his Taliban captors in 2014 in exchange for detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Then-candidate Donald Trump speaks to Rolling Thunder participants at the 2016 ride.
Photo Credit: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images
Organizers estimate more than 850,000 riders and spectators attend the 29th ride. About 5,000 of those are on hand for a speech then-candidate Donald Trump delivers on the National Mall.