Political News

Trump praises veterans group for keeping annual motorcycle ride through Washington alive

Posted August 21, 2019 5:56 p.m. EDT

— President Donald Trump on Wednesday praised a veterans advocacy group for ensuring a tradition that sees hundreds of thousands of motorcyclists ride through the capital continues next year and into the future.

Rolling Thunder -- an annual event in which motorcyclists from across the country descend on Washington over Memorial Day weekend to honor service members killed in action, missing in action or being held as prisoners of war -- was supposed to end after the 2019 edition. Organizers said costs had skyrocketed to the point that they could no longer afford to keep it going. But American Veterans (AMVETS), a veterans advocacy group, announced earlier this month that it would take over the event.

Trump, who had previously promised that the event would take place in 2020 and in years to come, thanked the group for stepping up while speaking at its national convention in Louisville, Kentucky.

"You are fighting to keep alive the spirit of Rolling Thunder," Trump said.

"I love Rolling Thunder," he added. "We're taking care of Rolling Thunder since I've been there."

After asking Rolling Thunder participants to stand, Trump said he looked forward to having them back in Washington "in a little while."

For the annual ride, motorcyclists start in the Pentagon parking lot, ride over the Arlington Memorial Bridge into Washington, circle the National Mall and end in West Potomac Park, just south of the Lincoln Memorial. The first loosely organized ride was in 1988, and by 1995 Rolling Thunder became its own entity, eventually growing to more than 90 chapters across the US and other countries.

In an August 2 interview with Connecting Vets, an online publication for veterans, AMVETS Executive Director Joe Chenelly said, "We believe in the mission 100%."

"We think it's vitally important that our nation knows we are not forgetting those who remain missing or are still unaccounted for," he said in the interview, adding that next year the group "hopes to include a focus on the veteran suicide epidemic."

Greg Argentieri, a veteran who attended the Louisville conference, told CNN he was thrilled at hearing Trump's message.

"As a motorcycle rider and a new member of the AMVET riders, I couldn't be prouder," Argentieri said. "I just think it was great for AMVETS, and it was a great way to announce Rolling Thunder 2020."

Argentieri, who says he is active in the organization and with suicide prevention, said he's never attended Rolling Thunder before but he plans to be there next year.

"I'm a disabled veteran," he said, "so I plan on going down there a week ahead of time and helping out with whatever logistics I can do."