Veterans, supporters gather in Washington for "Rolling Thunder"

Reuters News
Posted: May 29, 2011 11:38 AM
Veterans, supporters gather in Washington for "Rolling Thunder"

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The streets of Washington and the surrounding area echoed with the rumble of thousands of motorcycles on Sunday as veterans and their supporters gathered for the main events of the annual Rolling Thunder rally.

The Rolling Thunder organization -- which emphasizes prisoner of war and missing in action issues but also supports various efforts to aid veterans -- anticipates hundreds of thousands of participants for its 24th annual event.

Rolling Thunder spokeswoman Nancy Regg said last year's Memorial Day weekend rally had attracted 900,000 and that the number grows each year.

Activities include a motorcycle ride at midday from the Pentagon in Northern Virginia over the Potomac River into the capital, where an afternoon rally features speakers including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen.

An added element at this year's rally is the expected participation of Alaska's ex-governor Sarah Palin, a potential contender for the Republican presidential nomination.

Some critics say her presence could distract from the event's main purposes. Regg said Palin would not be a speaker but an ordinary participant along with her family.

The organization's website says "all supporters welcome" and that one does not have to be a Rolling Thunder member to ride at the event.

(Reporting by Jerry Norton; Editing by James Kelleher)