1987. Fox Broadcasting made its prime-time debut and gave us The Simpsons for the first time. The average price for a new car was about $10 000.00, a gallon of gas averaged about 89 cents and the average cost for a new home was $92,000 USD. Ronald Reagan was President, acid wash jeans were the rage and the number one song in America was ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ by the Bangles.
I was 18, donning those acid wash jeans and wondering which hairspray was my best bet to get that back-combed hair band glam rock look just right.
Artie Muller, along with other Vietnam Veterans, was planning to lead the first Rolling Thunder®, Inc. demonstration to Washington, DC to shed light on the fact that the government was ignoring reports that many US servicemen who fought alongside him in Vietnam were still living as captives in dismal conditions in Southeast Asia.
Artie Muller returned to Elizabeth, N.J., in 1967 at 21 after leading a search-and-destroy squad in Vietnam. While serving, he suffered shrapnel damage to his left shoulder and was also exposed to Agent Orange. But like everyone else, he tried to forget the war and resume a normal life. He went to work in a wood mill and had a contracting business for 11 years. He then went to work as a mechanic at EXXON Engineering Corp., married Elaine and they had two boys, Michael and Joseph. They now enjoy their grandchildren Alivia and Gavin.
In the 80’s, Artie began hearing rumors about the U.S. government ignoring reports of servicemen still living as captives in Southeast Asia. The rumors fuelled a passion in him. He began to research the subject in depth and came to the ultimate conclusion that there were indeed former servicemen in Southeast Asia abandoned by the U.S. government.
Artie became an activist. He gave out POW flags at local town halls and police stations. He would talk to whoever would listen. He started to think about organizing a march into Washington. In the fall of 1987 he met fellow Vietnam Veteran, Ray Manzo, whom helped fuel his passion for the cause. It was Ray Manzo that suggested they ride into D.C. on motorcycles instead of cars.
“If we have 5,000 vans and pickups and cars come down to D.C., people are just going to say it’s a traffic jam,” Artie Muller said. “If we bring 5,000 motorcycles, they are there for a reason.”
The veterans proceeded to make plans for a ride into Washington, D.C. during the 1988 Memorial Day weekend. The roar of motorcycles would announce their arrival, a sound that reminded the founders all too well of the B-52 carpet-bombing campaigns against North Vietnam dubbed Operation Rolling Thunder.
They contacted everyone they could think of including the Defense Department who let them stage in the Pentagon parking lot. D.C. police and the National Park Service agreed to let them ride over the Memorial Bridge and around to the Mall. Thousands of letters were sent to groups and clubs that might be interested in joining them to raise awareness about the cause.
1988. Rolling Thunder Roars Into Washington, D.C. For the First Time!
On Memorial Day weekend in 1988, 2,500 bikers rode into Washington. By year five, the numbers had ballooned to tens of thousands. Today the yearly number of demonstrators is estimated to top the one million mark – the largest annual one day event in D.C.
1992 Ray Manzo turned the reigns over to Artie Muller who continued to push the POW/MIA cause. POW/MIAs unaccounted for from the Iraqi War, Afghanistan, Gulf War, Vietnam War, the Korean War, Cold War and WWII remain the primary causes for the annual rally, other veterans issues have also become part of Rolling Thunder®, Inc. Issues that include veteran housing challenges, homelessness, health care benefits, etc.
(To see all legislation that Rolling Thunder®, Inc. has advocated and/or co-authored to improve the POW/MIA issue, veterans’ benefits, concerns and interests please visit http://www.rollingthunder1.com/about-us)
30 years later age has not slowed Artie Muller – the fire and his passion for the cause has not been extinguished. At 72 years, the nerve damage suffered in his shoulder in Vietnam is a daily reminder of the past as is the severe peripheral neuropathy that he suffers that may have been caused by his exposure to Agent Orange. Work on the 2017 demonstration begins the day before Memorial Day in 2016. It never stops – it’s a full time job he takes no pay for.
Rolling Thunder Ride for Freedom – 30 Year Anniversary
On Sunday May 28, 2017, Rolling Thunder’s ‘Ride for Freedom’ 30th Anniversary demonstrators will begin to fill up the North and South Pentagon parking lots in the early hours of the morning. At noon Artie Muller will get on his 1992 Harley-Davidson FXRS Low Rider and will lead an estimated 1 million fellow veterans & veteran advocates to the Vietnam War Memorial where they will pay their respects to their friends & fellow soldiers – the ones who didn’t make it home.
Artie Muller and Rolling Thunder®, Inc. members will continue the ‘Ride For Freedom’ to ensure the government recognizes the issues facing veterans of all wars and aim to help affect legislation that will improve the lives of veterans in the future. Even though many veterans can get quite political, Rolling Thunder®, Inc. and the ‘Ride for Freedom’, have always been and always will be about those that have served past and present.
A lot has changed in 30 years. The cost of gas, housing costs, healthcare, I no longer wear acid wash jeans or back comb my hair, and there are wrinkles on my face where there was once none. But one thing has remained constant and that is Artie Muller’s passion for Rolling Thunder®, Inc., veteran causes and the Ride for Freedom Demonstration.
Rolling Thunder’s watchwords are “We Will Not Forget”. Indeed, and men like Artie Muller will make sure that we don’t.
Article to appear in New York Rider Magazine’s May ‘Rolling Thunder Ride to the Wall’ issue.