Bikers roll through Region 8 for annual protest

PARAGOULD, AR (KAIT) - Region 8 bikers hit the road Wednesday morning for the world's largest single-day motorcycle event.

It's called Rolling Thunder, a motorcycle run and peaceful protest in Washington D.C. to make noise for POWs and MIAs.

The run has grown from a couple thousand to more than one million bikers and spectators.

A San Antonio veteran brought this local Paragould group together. Mike Goodwin attended his first Rolling Thunder protest eight years ago, and as a Paragould native, he has made an effort to stop through the city to pick up more bikers. 

This time, Goodwin took about 25 bikes with him.

"I call it a three-day family hug-in to remember those who haven't come back," Goodwin said. "It's a very touching experience."

Rolling Thunder began as a post- Vietnam War protest.

"This ride was born 27 years ago by some men whose friends did not come back," Goodwin said. "They knew they were POWs so they rode to Washington and made noise to alert the president and Congress."

Twenty-seven years later, more than a million people continue to make noise for these missing men and women.

"There are still those that have not been accounted for or have not returned," Goodwin said. "We still want an accounting, even though there's not much hope for a live return. But we at least want their families to know."

Rolling Thunder is not only a healing process for these families, but the veterans themselves.

"A lot of us GIs, whether we served in Vietnam or not, came home to an unfriendly welcome," participant David Hicklin said. "This is our way of getting together, just forgetting the past, doing some healing."

Hicklin joined Goodwin's group three years ago to make the trip to D.C.

"Eighty percent of the people that will be there are veterans," Hicklin said. "It's like a huge family reunion, just a gathering of brothers and sisters."

The Vietnam remembrance continues throughout the day-long protest. The name, "Rolling Thunder," comes from an operation during the Vietnam War. 

"They would do high-altitude bombings and the north Vietnamese never even knew the bombs were coming," Hicklin said.

Goodwin said the motorcycles even sound like "rolling thunder" as they cross the Memorial Bridge in Washington D.C.

"Just the continuous roar of the motorcycles," Goodwin said.

The day comes to a quieter end at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

"It'll bring you to your knees for a few minutes to realize not only your friends are there, but also the sons and daughters of the folks around," Goodwin said. "It's almost like they are in that wall. If you want to see a grown man cry, go to that. It's something to behold."

"For as long as I can ride, I'm going back," Hicklin said.

The Rolling Thunder run is always the Sunday before Memorial Day. Goodwin and Hicklin encourage all veterans and their friends and family to join them next year.

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