By Miriam Raftery
May 3, 2021 (Washington D.C.) – Veterans’ groups and members of Congress are criticizing the Department of Defense for denying a permit request to use the Pentagon parking lot as a staging area for the annual “Rolling to Remember” motorcycle ride. The ride organized by AMVETS, a veterans’ organization, honors fallen American soldiers, prisoners of war and those missing in action, as well as calling attention to the crisis of veteran suicides.
Multiple other federal agencies including the Department of Interior and Department of Transportation have approved the ride along the Capitol Mall slated for May 30th. But despite an application that AMVET says it submitted last July, the Department of Defense on Friday denied the request. The department cited the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason in a statement to WJLA-TV in Washington D.C., indicating “the risk of exposure form participants from other communities extends well beyond the National Capitol Region,” the New York Post reports.
However, the Pentagon added that if COVID-19 conditions improve, “the department would gladly consider supporting a future event request from AMVETS, potentially as soon as this Labor Day weekend.”
But for thousands of veterans already planning to converge on Washington D.C. over the Memorial Day weekend, the news comes as a major disappointment. But the event may still be held.
AMVETS national director Joe Chenelly told Fox News that the group is looking into alternative staging areas in hopes of still holding the ride, perhaps staging near RFK Stadium.
The Stars and Stripes reports that AMVETS leaders have said they are confident they could hold a “safe, reasonable demonstration outdoors that incorporates social distancing, masking where appropriate, and sanitation stations.”
The Rolling to Remember Ride went virtual in 2020 during the Trump administration due to the pandemic, but participants had looked forward to resuming the event this year.
In 2019, the Rolling to Remember Ride replaced an earlier annual ride in the nation’s capitol, Rolling Thunder, which was held for 32 years.
Congressman Darrell Issa (R-San Diego) sent a letter to the Dept. of Defense in April urging approval of the permit for the ride. Read the letter here.
After learning of the denial, Issa issued a statement which reads in part, “The Biden Administration is making a terrible mistake by blocking a veteran’s charity from the use of the Pentagon parking lot for the Rolling to Remember POW/MIA remembrance motorcycle ride. This last-minute rejection, a first of its kind in more than 30 years, leaves patriotic veterans without a safe alternative.”
“Leading up to the decision, the Pentagon refused to talk with event organizers. They refused to respond to Congress about this topic. And now they are claiming COVID as an excuse.”
Issa noted that just days ago, President Biden hosted a drive-in rally in Georgia. “The Rolling to Remember event is no less safe,” he concludes.
Other demonstrations have been held in recent months in Washington D.C., including racial justice protests and the now infamous rally held by President Trump and his supporters which ended in an unpermitted march to the Capitol and subsequent insurrection.
The annual ride to honor veterans has been a long-standing tradition in both Republican and Democratic administrations – one that many veterans and families of fallen or missing soldiers hope will continue under the Biden administration.
Photo, right, by former White House photographer Pete Souza: President Barack Obama greets members of Rolling Thunder in 2012.