CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Officials with Run for the Wall say their annual Memorial Day cross country motorcycle run will continue going strong. There has been confusion by many with this week’s announcement that 2019 will be the last year for Operation Rolling Thunder.
“Rolling Thunder is the two mile parade down Constitution Avenue from the Pentagon in Washington D.C. that happens the Sunday of Memorial Day,” said Kirk “Pretty Boy” Olson, spokesman for Run for the Wall.
Although similar in their mission to honor fallen veterans, the two organizations are completely separate.
“Some of our members participated in Rolling Thunder just because they were there,” Olson said. “Run for the Wall started a year later in 1989 and has happened every year since.”
At least 1,600 riders pre-register with Run for the Wall and began their journey last week in California. The ride takes three different routes and the group will meet up Friday on the outskirts of Washington. The Central Route will arrive in Hurricane, West Virginia Wednesday evening, then travel to the State Capitol complex in Charleston for a Thursday morning ceremony at the West Virginia Veterans Memorial. They will then travel U.S. Route 60 and make a stop Thursday evening in Rainelle, West Virginia.
The relationship between the town of Rainelle and the Run fort he Wall is one which was born out of affection in 1989. During that inaugural event 31 years ago, as Olson told the story, riders were getting a hassle from toll operators on the West Virginia Turnpike with so many trying to pass through the gates. He said those original riders pulled out a map and charted a new course to avoid the Turnpike by taking U.S. Route 60.
“I guess it was the sheriff in that area at the time knew who the guys were and called ahead so when the riders rolled into Rainelle all of the children from the school were outside lining the road and waving flags,” he said. “They didn’t really know what was going on, but they said, ‘This is for you, to honor the veterans going to Washington D.C.”
Since then, Run for the Wall has adopted Rainelle Elementary School as a partner. Olson said they annually donate a lot of money to the school in their long standing relationship.
Run for the Wall will culminate with a wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery Saturday. They are the only group allowed to ride bikes into the cemetery. Afterward they meet for a group photo on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and walk over to the Vietnam Memorial on the Mall.
The 2020 Run for the Wall will included a 4th route, according to Olson, headed the other direction and leaving on Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.
“It’s a two and a half day run and our thinking was with Rolling Thunder going away, riders on the east coast may want something to do that day,” Olson said.
The ride will be called the “Sandbox Route” and will ride from Washington to the Middle East Conflicts Wall in Marseilles,Ill. The route will also travel through Shanksville, Pa. with a stop at the Flight 93 Memorial.
“People will be able to join us going east and going west next year,” he said.