Though a rain drizzled from a sallow gray sky, members of Jacksonville’s Rolling Thunder organization had a mission. Active duty, retired and civilian motorcycle enthusiasts gathered at Lejeune Motorsports in Jacksonville on Saturday for the annual Chilly Chili Poker Run.
The event remembers those killed or missing in action and promotes education for military dependents.
“In all my years here we’ve never canceled this thing,” said Paul Levesque, a 14-year member of the organization.
This year was no different as riders broke out their rain gear and prepared for a wet ride.
“It’s about the mission, rain or shine. This is just one of the ways we support the mission,” said Levesque.
For Rolling Thunder, the mission is remembrance and support for the POW/MIA issue. Members of the organization support a number of causes that seek to help people remember service members who did not make it home.
The poker run also serves the dual purpose of remembering Marine Staff Sgt. Anthony Goodwin, an infantryman killed in Iraq in 2005. Goodwin was a staunch supporter of Rolling Thunder and wished to someday be a member. Goodwin was described by family as “a Marine through and through.”
However, Rolling Thunder immortalized Goodwin in their own way — with a scholarship bearing his name.
“It means a lot,” said Bryan Dent, a Rolling Thunder member for seven years. “I’m glad to have something in memory of Staff Sgt. Goodwin and to do something to help out young folks with a scholarship. … We don’t always get to ride in it [the poker run] but it’s good to help out.”
Other riders were glad to support the event that not only supported a good cause, but also gave them a chance to engage in a favorite activity.
“I just like to get out and ride,” said participant Kevin Hughes. He has been attending the event for three years and riding for 10.
Future riders were also in attendance. Debra Dancho had her granddaughter, Normandy Johnson, ready to ride.
“She’s already called dibs on my bike,” said Dancho.
“I like the wind in my face and hair. It feels good,” Johnson said of riding.
John Praga, a Vietnam War veteran who bought his first Harley-Davidson in 1971 after his return from the war, ran the silent auction. He rode that bike from California to Jacksonville.
“Being out there on the road after Vietnam with no responsibilities was something else. … I told folks, ‘I’ll see you when I get there,” said Praga.
He also runs the monthly observance of POW/MIA veterans of the Vietnam War from North Carolina.
Other supporters of the event included an active duty and first responder centric motorcycle club, Strength and Honor, who reciprocate Rolling Thunder’s support.
“We all have our own runs, and Rolling Thunder has always been good to us. They always come out to support us, and it’s good to support them in turn,” said Hospital Medic Second Class Andrew Urbanyi.
For more information on the Rolling Thunder organization, go online to www.rollingthundernc5.com/index.html.