Rolling Thunder Comes To Town

Rolling Thunder

It is a yearly ritual, and a loud one at that. The Rolling Thunder has rolled into town to once again honor our veterans during Memorial Day, and like in every previous year, there will be crowds cheering and crowds that can’t wait to get out of town when “them” people come rolling in with their unkept beards and noisy motorcycles. But whatever your attitudes towards this event are, there’s no denying that it is one of the most colorful and meaningful displays of patriotism you’ll see anywhere in America today. And if you are in the market for a motorcycle, there’s no better place in this town to check out your next, shinny purchase than at the Pentagon’s North Parking Lot. It is quite an incredible display, even if two-wheeled riding is not your thing (it certainly is not mine). Looking at all those wonderful machines, it was impossible not to see yourself riding freely into the sunset with your bandana firmly wrapped around your forehead and a pair of leather chaps flapping in the air along a desolate country road. Of course, there were also those less romantic thoughts of laying on a hospital bed in traction for six months that kept interfering with the riding into the sunset thing, but I guess it’s only natural to dream a little while your feet are firmly planted on the ground. Whatever the case, on this Memorial Day we join the thousands of riders descending on our nation’s capital in honoring the great men and women who gave their precious lives in the service of their country. Their ultimate sacrifice will never be forgotten.

“The United States and the freedom for which it stands, the freedom for which they died, must endure and prosper. Their lives remind us that freedom is not bought cheaply. It has a cost; it imposes a burden. And just as they whom we commemorate were willing to sacrifice, so too must we — in a less final, less heroic way — be willing to give of ourselves.”  … Ronald Reagan

The Start Of A Weekend Like No Other In Washington, DC

Members of the Rolling Thunders begin to make their presence felt in the city.
A sea of American flags lies between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.
A sea of American flags lies between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.
For at least one weekend a year, bureaucrat suits give way to a more relaxed American attire.
For at least one weekend a year, bureaucrat suits give way to a more relaxed American attire.

There is perhaps no better place to be in America during Memorial Day that in Washington, DC where a grateful nation pays tribute to so many fallen heroes in such a honorable way. The annual pilgrimage is really something to see. What are otherwise empty streets on weekends are now overwhelmed with the rumbling sounds of motorcycles and visitors making their way to the countless ceremonies taking place at memorials all over town. They come from just about every part of the country with a sense of pride and patriotism that you only wish you could bottle it and sell it to those who could use a little dosage of both. But what I like above all is that these are ordinary Americans, the ones who have built a great nation through personal sacrifice and ingenuity. Even better, their yearly arrival at the capital they own happens to coincide with the hasty exodus by professional politicians from the city, as well as local elites going into lockdown at their pricey downtown condos (God forbid that they had to mingle with “them” people). Am I digging this? Maybe a little. But it sure is nice to know that a great nation full of incredible folks stills exists beyond the walls of Minas Tirith.

A Disturbing Reminder Of War

Even when some scenes are totally staged, they can drive a powerful message home.  Leica M9, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.
Even when some scenes are totally staged, they can still drive a powerful message home. Leica M9, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.

Sometimes, taking photographs is like watching a movie.  You know very well that the scene before you is totally fake, but that doesn’t detract from the impact that it may have on you.  This photograph was one such case.  A Korean War POW impersonator during last week’s Rolling Thunder event in Washington, DC could not have been any more real to the viewer’s eyes.  I tell you, this was disturbing stuff, and it was meant to be.  Walking up to this scene was somewhat surreal.  People immediately went silent as if they had seen an apparition the moment they saw the man in the cage.  Photographers were so uncomfortable with the scene that many of them refused to take pictures, and those who did were mainly using telephotos to stay way away from this gentleman.  In fact, when I approached him within a few feet to take this photo, I found myself alone in front of him.  Such was the power evoked by this emotional visual imagery.  A not-too-subtle reminder of the price too many people pay during times of war.  Disturbing?  Of course.  Necessary?  Absolutely, if we are never to forget.