Rolling through like thunder

MANISTEE — Although the weather reports on Friday indicated the possibility of less than desirable weather for riding a motorcycle, it did not stop John DuVall and approximately 20 other riders from participating in escorting a wall memorializing Michigan Vietnam veterans.

DuVall, a member of the AMVETS Riders Chapter 1988 in Baldwin, and other Baldwin riders joined veterans from around the state and beyond in Manistee on Friday to participate in the fourth annual Thunder at the River and Pure Thunder Veterans Memorial Ride.

Although Thunder at the River is a weekend-long event with food, vendors, crafts, music, a poker run, silent auction and a motorcycle show at the Little River Casino Resort, the weekend started with a flag dedication and riders who escorted the Michigan Vietnam Veterans Traveling Memorial on Friday from VFW Post No. 4499 to the casino, where it was available for viewing all weekend.

“This wall contains the names of all of Michigan’s heroes that have fallen in the line of service or (have) become POWS, MIAS or unaccounted for,” said Doug Welch, member of Rolling Thunder Michigan Chapter 1.

“It’s a great honor for the citizens, the county and all of the residents and veterans of Manistee to have this wall here,” he said. “It’s something that is to be treated with ultimate respect.”

Thunder at the River is Rolling Thunder’s largest fundraiser of the year, allowing the group to help numerous veterans organizations in Manistee County and around Northern Michigan.

DuVall, a Persian Gulf War veteran, was notified of the opportunity to join the escort a few days prior to the event and did his best to gather as many area riders as he could to join the event.

“Any time there is anything going on that we can attend, we do attempt to partake in those events,” DuVall said. “Especially when it comes to something of the nature of a memorial where you’re reflecting back on the loss of many, many lives. That is even more important to us at that point to show our support in those areas.”

In addition to motorcycle riders, the escort also included police and emergency vehicles and a military Humvee.

The ride was an emotional one, DuVall said, but also uplifting to see how many people lined the streets in Manistee to watch the escort and show their support. DuVall remembers an older man who stood outside his home and held his hand over his heart for the duration of the escort.

“To see those types of things really brings back to us that there is still an awful lot of patriotism here,” DuVall said. “Still in the United States — through all the dark times that we face — to still see that many people come out to show support over something like this is pretty amazing.”

Saturday’s Pure Thunder Veterans Memorial Ride lasted approximately three hours and spanned 103 miles through several highways and back roads of Manistee County. All funds raised during the ride and weekend activities exclusively benefit Michigan veterans.

“We had a great turnout and great support (from) the Manistee Fire Department and all of our local law enforcement agencies,” Welch said. “Everything has gone fantastic, we couldn’t have asked for a better event.”

DuVall also was pleased with the escort and expressed his thanks to all the riders who came out and supported the cause even with the threat of bad weather.

Pioneer News Network reporter Eric Sagonowsky contributed to this report.