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Rolling Thunder's annual visit to Montvale Elementary School is a treat for both riders and students.
The bikers love to visit schools during their cross country ride and the students enjoy sharing lunch with the veterans. Every year, Rolling Thunder starts out on the west coast, rides across the country, arriving at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D. C. on Memorial Day. Along with the dead, there are a number of men who were listed as missing in action and Rolling Thunder rides every year to remind us of them.
Rolling Thunder follows two routes and the riders that stop at Montvale are on the southern Route, which starts in Los Angeles. Most are veterans, some of whom saw military service half-a-century ago. Others are not yet veterans because they are still on active duty. Some ride to honor family member who served.
This year's ride started on May 14. It's organized with certain men designated as platoon leaders, overseeing platoons of 125 riders. The idea is to make sure that the group stays together and is orderly. A hail storm in Alabama created a challenge for the riders.
It was golf ball size hail, although Scott Shaw, a chief engineman still on active duty with the Navy, said the size of the hailstones tends to get bigger depending on who you talk to. Most claimed golf ball sized, an estimate that Shaw agreed with.
They were on an interstate highway and the storm came up fast leaving most riders with multiple welts from getting hit. By the time they got to Montvale, most still had large circular bruises on their arms, about the diameter of a golf ball. Some riders got knocked off their bikes.
"Twenty years in the Army and I never did get hurt that bad," commented Chuck Bellew, of Phoenix, Ariz., who stayed on his bike but took multiple hailstone hits.
"Ten miles per hour and the wind almost blew me off my bike," he added, noting how they had to slow down. "I never saw anything like it."
"When they hit you, they brought blood," said Curtis Moore, another rider.
A couple of 18-wheelers prevented matters from becoming worse. The riders said the two big rigs shielded them from other traffic.
The storm was fierce, but short. Bellow said that, once it was over, the platoon leaders got them off the road safely, reorganized the group and got medical treatment for the battered.
After sharing lunch with Montvale's students, the riders stopped at the National D-Day Memorial, also an annual stop for the southern route. Then, it was off to D. C.