The Ride Formally Known As Rolling Thunder Lives On


AUTHOR’S NOTE: An old friend whom I rode with from Chicago to Sturgis and back in 2005 is Jerry Conner. He is the president of the National Veterans Awareness Organization, who sponsor the annual National Veterans Awareness Ride. Back in the day it was called Rolling Thunder. This wonderful organization does great work with veterans from coast to coast, at the true grass roots level. When it began, Jerry used to meet many vets from World War II. Now most of those heroes are gone, and replaced with Korea, Vietnam, and Middle East war vets. Instead of trying to explain what this organization does, I decided to let Jerry tell you about it in his own passionate and eloquent words. The photos will give you a good idea of the people, places, and activities they see, and all the great folks they interact with.

Patriot Guard riders welcoming and honoring the National Veterans Awareness Ride, 2023. Photo by NVAO.

“The National Veterans Awareness Ride takes place each May but its effects on the veterans in the hospitals and on the participants on the ride last forever. The National Veterans Awareness Ride (NVAR) is the annual national event that is organized and executed by the National Veterans Awareness Organization. The ride begins in Auburn, CA, on May 14, 2024, just outside of Sacramento, and ends two weeks later in Washington, DC. on May 25. During those two weeks, several hundred motorcycle riding NVAR participants stop in veterans hospitals and veterans homes all along the way. They participate in local memorial services for veterans who have paid the ultimate price for America’s freedom. They speak in schools about service to our country, and the importance of appreciating and respecting the sacrifices of members of the military.

These visits are critically important to the patients and residents. Many are hurting, both physically and emotionally. A handshake, a smile, and an honest “thank you” means a lot. In the VA homes, some of the residents don’t get a lot of visitors, so they look forward to our visit for weeks, because they know our arrival time and that we always park our motorcycles right in front of the facilities. The ambulatory veterans are waiting for us with American flags waving, hands clapping and eyes bright with anticipation. In wheel chairs, on crutches and with the help of trained aides, the veterans cheer the riders and anticipate the stories and the friendship that awaits.

Residents and staff at a Veterans Home welcome the National Veterans Awareness Ride for their visit. Photo by NVAO.

The memorial services are special occasions for the local residents and for the NVAR riders. The names on the tombstones, the walls and the plaques, were men and women from the nearby towns and counties. Not just names, but mothers and fathers. Sons and daughters. Brothers and sisters. All of the NVAR riders have lost comrades or family members in conflicts around the world. When we say thank you to the fallen warriors, it comes from our hearts.

Our visits to the schools are always enjoyable and educational. We give a little presentation about patriotism and then we split up the children and the riders into smaller groups. This allows the students and riders to talk to each other, ask questions and learn more about the importance of service to our country. I do believe that the seeds of respect and love of country are planted.

An NVAR rider with a disabled veteran. Photo by NVAO.

Most of the rider participants are veterans themselves who ride motorcycles, although neither is a requirement. A person simply must believe in our mission. Our members are passionate about helping veterans in need. We pay our own way and are willing to donate almost a month to help the National Veterans Awareness Ride meet its objectives.

The ride is a very emotional experience. Watching NVAR veterans helping the veterans in the hospitals and homes, I frequently ask myself, who is really helping whom? Many of our riders have experienced situations that civilians cannot imagine. When these riders are holding the hand of a vet in a hospital or home, sharing stories, both happy and sad, it’s cathartic for both parties.

The bonds of respect and brotherly love. Photo by NVAO.

Many of the veterans in the hospitals and homes and the veterans on the NVAR share a common bond. Strong feelings about close friends, buddies made in foxholes, rice paddies, deserts, or in helicopters, many of whom died way, way too young. Some of our riders pray for strength in others. Some pray for strength within themselves. 

I believe that our experiences on the National Veterans Awareness Ride make us more empathetic. Each of our riders has a better appreciation for our country, for those who have served our country and for those who take care of our veterans in VA homes and hospitals across America. And maybe, a better understanding of what’s important in life.

Compassion runs deep. Photo by NVAO.

I used to think that America was a melting pot. After these many rides across our country and meeting thousands of people in the towns of America, I believe that our country is more like a quilt. Sacramento, CA is not exactly like Evanston, WY. Marshalltown, IA is not exactly like Michigan City, IN. But we are tied together by certain threads. A love of freedom. A respect for our veterans. A caring for those who need a helping hand.”

Jerry Connor

“Some gave all.” Honoring the fallen. Photo by NVAO.

Another Author’s Note: A core group of participants ride the entire 3,000 miles from Auburn, CA to Washington, DC, but many folks can’t afford the time for the whole trip. You may meet up with the group along the way and ride just a portion of the route. To see the 2024 NVAR itinerary and find out how you can participate in or donate to the organization, go to Whether you ride for a day or two, or the entire ride, you can be sure that it will change you, and for the better.

Ken “Hawkeye” Glassman

Cycle World Athens


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