By Cornelia de Bruin
Triplicate staff writer
For the first time, motorcycle riders from Northern California and Oregon are being recruited to join the 20th annual Rolling Thunder Run to the Wall.
The event has drawn as many as one-quarter of a million veterans and supporters of their movement to ride cross-country to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
But this year, Vietnam War veteran and Hiouchi resident Robert Owen is hard at work finding riders representing a large part of the Pacific Northwest to join the national effort.
Owen served from 1967-1970 in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was disabled in combat in Vietnam, and held the rank of lance corporal when he was discharged.
"There's a pretty large motorcycle community here, you just don't see them most of the time because it rains so much," Owen said.
He has wanted to join Rolling Thunder National for about 10 years, and finally contacted its chapter's president, Joy "Chaplain" Jeannette in Victorville, this year to find out how to make his dream reality.
His conversation with Jeannette resulted in Owen volunteering to become road captain for the ride from Del Norte County to Barstow, where local motorcyclists will join Rolling Thunder riders leaving California for the long ride to the nation's capital.
"Last year was the first time the ride came from California," Jeannette said. "What's exciting is that this is the first time it will come from Northern California."
The national ride to Washington, D.C. to remember veterans, prisoners of war and those missing in action is "bigger than Sturgis," Owen said.
The main goal of Rolling Thunder Inc. is to publicize POW-MIA issues.
The group hopes to educate the public that "many American prisoners of war were left behind after all previous wars and to help correct the past and to protect future veterans from being left behind should they become prisoners of war-missing in action," according to its Website.
The movement grew out of "a silent cry of American Prisoners of War left behind" that prompted Marine Cpl. Ray Manzo to try to correct past wounds.
Manzo approached a group of vets in Washington, D.C. in 1987 for their input, and collectively they arrived at the motorcycle run concept.
Its first gathering drew 2,500 riders to the nation's capital.
In Del Norte County, this year's ride leaves the fairgrounds May 12 "promptly at noon," Owen said.
Riders from Eureka will join them "promptly at 3 p.m." from Redwood Harley-Davidson.
Riders will honor vets during their stops nationwide, and during ceremonies for Memorial Day.