Most people think the name “Rolling Thunder” refers to the roaring engines of the motorcycles some of the non-profit group’s members ride.
That, says Roy Wilson, simply isn’t the case.
“It stands for the bombarding of North Vietnam during the Vietnam War,” he said. “And it stands for all the men we left behind.”
Although the group is best known for riding in parades and funeral processions, the prisoner-of-war advocacy group’s local chapter isn’t just a motorcycle group.
“You don’t have to be a vet and you don’t need a motorcycle,” said New Jersey Chapter 4 President Paul Berenotto. “This is a good place for someone who’s not a vet and doesn’t belong to one of the vets groups but wants to help.”
In addition to raising awareness of servicemen missing in action — more than 83,000, according to the U.S. Department of Defense — the group also participates in local advocacy and charitable projects. On Sunday, it held a pancake breakfast at the Scullville Volunteer Fire Company in Egg Harbor Township to raise money for those efforts.
Berenotto, 48, a civilian from Buena Vista Township, said the group makes frequent visits and donates Christmas gifts to the Veterans Memorial Home in Vineland. It also supports Veterans Haven, a transitional housing program for veterans undergoing psychological, social and vocational rehabilitation in Winslow Township, Camden County.
“If they need something we can get, we do the best we can to find it for them,” he said. That ranges from bedding to furniture to toiletry for veterans struggling with the return to civilian life.
Like a lot of the members, a friend recruited Berenotto to the group. While his father was a World War II veteran, Berenotto himself hasn’t served.
“But you meet these guys, all these old vets, and you hear all their stories,” he said. “For them, you want to do anything you can.”
Wilson, 78, of Mays Landing, served for 24 years, first in the U.S. Army and then in the New Jersey Army National Guard. He most enjoys visiting the veterans in the Vineland center. Many of the veterans there don’t receive a lot of visitors, he said.
“You go into the veterans hospital and they light right up,” he said. “When they hear the motorcycles coming in, they all line up and wave.”
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