Rolling Thunder started 26 years ago in a demonstration of 2,500 motorcyclists calling attention to prisoner of war/missing in action issues and while that continues to be the main mission, the Grand Strand chapter supports a variety of area causes.
Bill DeVaughn of Little River, president of South Carolina Chapter 3, says the chapter raises money for area Helping Hand organizations, Help 4 Kids Backpack Buddies and the North Strand Housing Shelter, as well as veterans groups including Disabled American Veterans and the Veterans Welcome Home and Resource Center in Little River.
“We also try to find ones not so well known,” DeVaughn says.
Now, the chapter’s focus is on registering women military veterans to be honored March 22 at the third annual “Salute to Women of the Military, Past and Present” at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Myrtle Beach. Last year, Chapter 3 honored 92 women and to date 125 are registered for March 22.
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DeVaughn says there is no limit and the goal is “as many as we can get. If we could fill the hall [with women veterans] and had to ask guests to stand outside, that would be great.”
DeVaughn is retired as a general foreman for an electrical contractor in Virginia. He served in Vietnam in a Navy Construction Battalion (SeaBees). Two Vietnam veterans started Rolling Thunder in 1987 and today there are more than 90 chapters. Rolling Thunder S.C. 3 received its charter seven years ago and has grown steadily to nearly 100 members. RTSC3 is one of five S.C. chapters.
The chapter has Missing Man Chair Memorials at four area high school stadiums – Socastee, St. James, Aynor, Green Sea Floyd – and “we’ll be doing Carolina Forest in April.” The empty stadium seats are memorials “to those who served in the military of our great Nation, but have never returned to us. They are Prisoners of War and our Missing In Action.” The wording is from the plaque on the seat.
The chapter also has raised two dozen POW/MIA flags at a variety of locations including businesses, fire rescue stations, and Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts.
The flags and missing man seats remind us all of the tens of thousands unaccounted for in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
“It’s amazing how many don’t know” about the missing in action, DeVaughn says. At least one Army sergeant is held by the Taliban.
In talks to area high school students, DeVaughn has pointed out that a prisoner of war could be a high school student’s sister or mother.
The name Rolling Thunder comes from the sound of motorcycles – and a 1965 bombing campaign against North Vietnam called “Operation Rolling Thunder.”
The Memorial Day weekend “Ride for Freedom” in Washington has grown to hundreds of thousands.
“Motorcycles are a good way of getting attention,” DeVaughn says, to continue to educate folks of all ages about POW/MIA and other veteran-related matters. However, Rolling Thunder members are not required to be veterans or motorcyclists.