PHOTOS: ‘Rolling Thunder’ Rides Through D.C. as Trump Pledges to Protect Memorial Day Tradition

A father takes his son wearing a Marine uniform to salute Marine Staff Sgt. Tim Chambers, "the saluting Marine", as they take part in the "Rolling thunder" parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. - Thousands of bikers converged on …
ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images
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Washington (AFP) – More than 100,000 flag-bearing bikers, many of them Vietnam veterans, throttled their engines Sunday for the annual “Rolling Thunder” ride through the capital as President Donald Trump vowed to keep the Memorial Day spectacle alive.

Spectators lined the route from the Pentagon to the National Mall to watch the growling parade of choppers, a leather-clad, red-white-and-blue tribute to American soldiers missing in the Vietnam War.

It had been billed as the last national Rolling Thunder ride by its organizers, but Trump, who loves a parade, appeared to offer a reprieve.

“The Great Patriots of Rolling Thunder WILL be coming back to Washington, D.C. next year, & hopefully for many years to come. It is where they want to be, & where they should be,” Trump tweeted from Japan.

“Thank you to our great men & women of the Pentagon for working it out!”

The Pentagon had no comment, referring questions to the White House, which offered no details on what had been worked out.

But Trump’s word was enough for Ron Galey, a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam in 1968-69 and has taken part in every Rolling Thunder ride since 1990.

“Trump said it’s not over, so it is not over, and he is the boss of those guys and he keeps his word,” he told AFP.

Many pro-Trump banners were visible among the bikers forming up for the parade.

Bikers take part in the “Rolling thunder” parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. – Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national “Rolling Thunder” ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

A father takes his son wearing a Marine uniform to salute Marine Staff Sgt. Tim Chambers, “the saluting Marine”, as they take part in the “Rolling thunder” parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. – Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national “Rolling Thunder” ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

A father takes his son wearing a Marine uniform to salute Marine Staff Sgt. Tim Chambers, “the saluting Marine”, as they take part in the “Rolling thunder” parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. – Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national “Rolling Thunder” ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

A father takes his son wearing a Marine uniform to salute Marine Staff Sgt. Tim Chambers, “the saluting Marine”, as they take part in the “Rolling thunder” parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. – Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national “Rolling Thunder” ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

A man films with his smartphone as bikers take part in the “Rolling thunder” parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. – Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national “Rolling Thunder” ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

Boots symbolising fallen soldiers are displayed by the road as bikers take part in the “Rolling thunder” parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. – Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national “Rolling Thunder” ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

Boots symbolising fallen soldiers are displayed by the road as bikers take part in the “Rolling thunder” parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. – Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national “Rolling Thunder” ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

A man looks on as bikers take part in the “Rolling thunder” parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. – Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national “Rolling Thunder” ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

A couple waving US flags looks on as bikers take part in the “Rolling thunder” parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. – Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national “Rolling Thunder” ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

Bikers ride by Marine Staff Sgt. Tim Chambers, “the saluting Marine”, as they take part in the “Rolling thunder” parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. – Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national “Rolling Thunder” ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

Bikers take part in the “Rolling thunder” parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. – Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national “Rolling Thunder” ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

Bikers take part in the “Rolling thunder” parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. – Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national “Rolling Thunder” ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

Bikers take part in the “Rolling thunder” parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. – Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national “Rolling Thunder” ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

Bikers take part in the “Rolling thunder” parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. – Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national “Rolling Thunder” ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

Bikers take part in the “Rolling thunder” parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. – Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national “Rolling Thunder” ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

Bikers take part in the “Rolling thunder” parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. – Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national “Rolling Thunder” ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

Bikers take part in the “Rolling thunder” parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. – Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national “Rolling Thunder” ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

Hundreds of thousands of bikers gather on the Pentagon Parking before taking part in the “Rolling thunder” parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. – Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national “Rolling Thunder” ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

A man wears a “Proud to be American” patch as hundreds of thousands of bikers gather on the Pentagon Parking before taking part in the “Rolling thunder” parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. – Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national “Rolling Thunder” ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

A group of bikers say a prayer as thousands of them gather on the Pentagon Parking before taking part in the “Rolling thunder” parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. – Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national “Rolling Thunder” ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

Hundreds of thousands of bikers gather on the Pentagon Parking before taking part in the “Rolling thunder” parade, part of the Memorial weekend honoring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. – Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national “Rolling Thunder” ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

Bikers take part in the “Rolling thunder” parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. – Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national “Rolling Thunder” ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

A biker part of the “Nam Knights” Club gives a high-five to a young boy dressed in a Marine uniform as hundreds of thousands of bikers gather on the Pentagon Parking before taking part in the “Rolling thunder” parade, part of the Memorial weekend honoring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. – Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national “Rolling Thunder” ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

A “Trump 2020” flag is seen as hundreds of thousands of bikers gather on the Pentagon Parking before taking part in the “Rolling thunder” parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. – Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national “Rolling Thunder” ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

A young boy dressed in a US Marine uniform is seen as thousands of bikers gather on the Pentagon Parking before taking part in the “Rolling thunder” parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. – Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national “Rolling Thunder” ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

The huge motorcycle rally began in 1988 with fewer than 3,000 participants under the motto “We will never forget.” The goal was to press for an accounting of those missing in Vietnam.

Over the years, it has grown into a rumbling combination of protest and parade.

Riders end up at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the nearby Lincoln Memorial for speeches and a concert on the eve of Memorial Day.

Unlike Veterans Day in the United States, which honors all military veterans in November, Memorial Day — on the last Monday in May — is aimed specifically at remembering those who died while serving in the US armed forces, were prisoners of war or remain unaccounted for.

The event has the same name as a major US bombing operation against North Vietnam during the war.

Bikers kicked off the weekend of events with a “blessing of the bikes” at Washington National Cathedral on Friday.

Organizers had cited difficult relations with the Pentagon — where riders line up to begin the rally — over logistics and costs, in announcing that this year would mark the last national rally.

“As always, the Pentagon is charging us with an outrageous bill for their services,” the group’s national president Joe Bean said in a letter to members.

Another letter co-signed by Bean said costs of staging the event had soared to more than $200,000.

“The organization will continue to bring awareness to the public, in years to come, with regional demonstrations,” organizers said in a statement on their website.

Trump, who was on an official visit to Japan, offered his support.

“Can’t believe that Rolling Thunder would be given a hard time with permits in Washington, D.C. They are great Patriots who I have gotten to know and see in action. They love our Country and love our Flag. If I can help, I will!” he said.

According to the Pentagon’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency, more than 82,000 US troops remain unaccounted for in wars as far back as World War II.

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