Recently, local chapter NY 3 of Rolling Thunder held a fundraiser at the Plattekill Town Park and as always, the focus was on helping all Veterans.
Mary Lewis became interested in the organization because of her husband Robert, who is a Vietnam Veteran and a member of Rolling Thunder. She pointed out that Rolling Thunder is a Veterans advocacy group and not a motorcycle club, “so you don’t have to have a motorcycle, you don’t have to be a Veteran, you just have to have the right emotions.”
Lewis described one of their tours.
“We usually do a Salute to Veterans and we start at Stewart Airport and go down through West Point and lay a wreath in Highland Falls and then go back to West Point and have a BBQ as a fundraiser and it’s all to salute our Veterans,” she said.
Lewis said Veterans come to Rolling Thunder for what they call ‘grants.’
“If they need a roof on their house, a new hot water heater. their car needs maintenance, paint a room or two inside, install a handicap ramp, they put in requests for money assistance and we help them,” she said.
Prior to the pandemic, Rolling Thunder hosted parties at Castle Point in Wappingers Falls and at the Veterans Home in Montrose in Westchester County.
“We’d to BBQs, do Christmas parties and bring Santa and give them gifts and we hope to get back to that,” she said.
Rolling Thunder always has a respectful presence at funerals for a final salute for soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice. Charlie Alonge, of Marlboro, followed this up by starting a program of naming roads and streets in honor of the fallen by having a second sign containing the soldiers name placed above an existing street sign. The program has rapidly spread across the country.
Lewis said recently a group, “brought Purple Heart recipients from all over the country and this year it was in Harriman,” she said. “They did a tour down in New York City to the Statue of Liberty, to Ground Zero and to the Veterans monuments. They also toured West Point, the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor and the Cantonment at Washington’s Headquarters.” She noted that Rolling Thunder also provided an escort for the recipients to the Newburgh Armory to a welcome home rally.
“The recipient can be from any war and it’s all free including the airfare and they can bring a guest and they put them up,” she said.
Lewis is the chapter’s secretary, saying with a slight laugh, “I do just about everything...and we do things like this to help us raise money.”
Art Judge, who served as a Marine in Vietnam in 1968-69, has been a member of Rolling Thunder for 3 years. He and his daughter Mary Ellen Cioto put together the fundraiser at the park.
Judge said they raised about $1,000 for Rolling Thunder with all the proceeds going to support Veterans.
Judge said regardless of what branch of service you were in, “we are all brothers and sisters.”
Rolling Thunder Chapter President Paul Tompkins said motorcycles are used a tool.
“You have to want to support the cause, which is to make Uncle Sam accountable for POWs and MIAs, and to educate people,” he said.
Tompkins said they are presently helping a Veteran by putting a roof on his home, “and we’ve done other projects like handicap ramps. We’re trying to do other things and to reach out to other Veterans who need help.”
Tompkins said his chapter typically meets at 7pm the first Monday of the month at the American Legion Hall in Newburgh.