36th annual national event — fourth locally — scheduled Sunday, May 26

NORTH CHICAGO — It’s one thing to foster remembrance. It’s another to provoke action. Participants in the upcoming Mid-America Rolling Thunder Demonstration Parade will be out to accomplish both.

Hundreds of motorcyclists are expected to stage for the ride between 8:30 and 10 a.m. Sunday, May 26, at the Capt. James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center, 3001 Green Bay Road, North Chicago. Then, there’s an opening ceremony and it’s kickstands up at 11 a.m. for the 54-mile demonstration parade that will pass the Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Administration Hospital and end at Cantigny Park in Wheaton.

Pre-registration is not required. Participation is free and open to any motorcyclist. It’s all about prompting awareness that more than 80,000 U.S. service men and women still are listed as missing from wars and conflicts dating back decades. The U.S. Department of Defense estimates that the remains of about 38,000 of them are recoverable.

“We want to keep pressure on the government, and let the public know that, hey, we still have almost 81,000 brothers and sisters out there who haven’t been accounted for yet,” said Col. Wayne Kirkpatrick, a retired U.S. Army colonel who lives in Algonquin and helps coordinate the ride.

Kirkpatrick added that such efforts are successful. He currently anticipates three repatriation ceremonies — or burials of remains that have been recovered, DNA-tested and identified — in the Chicagoland area alone between June and the end of this year.

He also noted that as the group passes through each town along the way during the Memorial Day weekend ride — their large POW/MIA and American flags fluttering and the national anthem blaring — onlookers often place their hands on their hearts, salute or remove their caps in somber solidarity.

Kirkpatrick recalled during one previous ride, an elderly man in a wheelchair rolled into the street toward the front of the pack of motorcyclists.

“I’m thinking “Oh, no. We’ve got to stop, doggone it,’” said Kirkpatrick, explaining that he initially thought the man was attempting to cross in front of them. “He got halfway across the street, struggled to stand up, and saluted the flag … I tell our folks, if you can finish this ride without a tear in your eye, you’re probably living in the wrong country.”

This year’s route will have motorcyclists traveling south from Lovell along Routes 41 and 43 to the Hines VA Hospital, passing through Knollwood, Lake Bluff, Lake Forest, Highland Park, Northbrook, Glenview, Morton Grove, Niles, Norwood Park, Union Ridge, Dunning, Elmwood Park, Oak Park, River Forest and Maywood along the way.

The procession then will continue west from Hines on Route 38 through Broadview, Westchester, Oakbrook Terrace, York, Glen Ellyn, Wheaton and Winfield en route to Cantigny Park, where a POW/MIA remembrance table ceremony will take place.

Kirkpatrick said the origins of the ride date back to 1988, when a pair of Vietnam veterans who believed the POW/MIA issue was not receiving enough attention recruited veteran motorcyclists to ride through Washington, D.C., on Memorial Day. What started with about 2,500 motorcyclists from across the country converging on Washington grew to about 500,000 by 2018.

In 2019, however, Rolling Thunder organizers announced an end to the ride on Washington, citing a lack of cooperation by authorities there.

Today, demonstration rides take place across the country. Kirkpatrick said the Chicago area ride is coordinated by Rolling Thunder Illinois chapters 1 and 2, based in Warrenville and Wauconda, respectively. This year, another ride will take place in southern Illinois, coordinated by Olney-based Chapter 3, he added.

The previous evening, on Saturday, May 25, a candlelight vigil takes place at 7:30 p.m. at Fort Sheridan National Cemetery in Lake Bluff. All are welcome.