Flame of Freedom rides into Salisbury on Friday; Spencer parade is Saturday

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 13, 2014

SALISBURY — Rolling Thunder’s “Flame of Freedom,” carried annually in a motorcycle ride to Washington, D.C., will be ridden into Salisbury on Friday afternoon, setting off several events to raise awareness of issues related to America’s prisoners of war and missing in action.
Perry Kesler, a Salisbury resident and president of Rolling Thunder Chapter 6 of Winston-Salem, will meet the ride’s participants Friday at 1 p.m. in Statesville, and the group, which could range in size from 30 to 50 motorcyclists, will ride with the flame on U.S. 70 into Salisbury.
Kesler, who has been participating in the rides for 15 years, says it’s the first time he remembers the Flame of Freedom’s coming to Salisbury.
“It’s big for us,” he said. “It really ought to be big for any American.”
From 4-7 p.m. Friday, Tilley Harley-Davidson of Salisbury will be home to a “Flame of Freedom Welcome Home Party.” It is free and open to the public.
Kesler said he will be leading the participants from their quarters at the Super 8 hotel in Salisbury along Bendix Drive to Tilley Harley-Davidson at about 3:45 p.m.
NASCAR driver Geoff Bodine will be making a guest appearance at Tilley’s, and country music star and Rolling Thunder member Rockie Lynne will be offering a musical dedication.
The activities at Tilley Harley-Davidson also will include a passing of the flame from veteran to veteran and a tribute to American Gold Star Mothers, an organization of mothers who have lost a son or daughter in service to the country.
At least 10 Gold Star Mothers from the Magnolia Chapter are expected to be on hand.
The Flame of Freedom and its guardians also will be part of an event in Spencer Saturday, starting with a parade. The group will begin lining up for the parade at 12:30 p.m., with the parade beginning at 2 p.m.
Kesler said there will be time for photo opportunities at the N.C. Transportation Museum with Gold Star Mothers, specially dedicated Freightliner trucks and military vehicles. Vendors also will be on hand, and a Spencer cruise-in begins at 4 p.m.
The Flame of Freedom participants will depart for Salisbury at 5:30 p.m. Saturday and have dinner at Uncle Bucks at 6 p.m.
The Flame of Freedom leaves Sunday morning for Raleigh, where it will be part of events Sunday and Monday.
This year, the motorcycle ride carrying the flame began with a kickoff ceremony in Springfield, Mo., Sunday. Scheduled stops along the way include Conway, Ark. Monday; South Haven, Miss., Tuesday; Franklin, Tenn. Wednesday; Newport, Tenn., Thursday; Salisbury, Friday and Saturday; Raleigh, Sunday and Monday; Prince George, Va., May 20; Quantico, Va., May 21; and arrival in Washington, D.C., May 22.
All riders pay 100 percent of their expenses.
Kesler said he personally will meet up with the group again May 23 and 24, for Memorial Day weekend. On Friday night, the 23rd, the members of Rolling Thunder will visit the Vietnam Wall Memorial, where the flame will be passed from participant to participant.
This year’s ride and stops are being filmed for the “America Rising” television series.
Rolling Thunder has seven chapters across North Carolina and more than 90 in the country.
The first ride in 1988 had an estimated 2,500 participants and spectators. The non-profit group says participation in the ride and through all the stops takes in about 900,000 people today.
Many members of Rolling Thunder are military veterans and many ride motorcycles, but that is not a prerequisite to belong.
“All you have to do is want to help veterans,” Kesler says. The group has men and women, veterans and non-veterans.
“All are united in the cause to bring full accountability for the Prisoners of War/Missing in Action of all wars,” the Rolling Thunder website says, “reminding the government, the media and the public by our watchwords: ‘We Will Never Forget.’ ”
Rolling Thunder was founded by two Vietnam veterans, and it owes its name to a 1965 bombing campaign against North Vietnam that was called “Operation Rolling Thunder.”
The 2,500 motorcycles who roared into Washington in 1988 were said to sound like rolling thunder.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.