Rolling Thunder, 'Missing Man' tables and the Bible

Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin is Executive Vice President at Family Research Council. This article appeared in Washington Times on May 24, 2017.

Memorial Day is a time for Americans to remember the sacrifices made for the freedoms we enjoy. Those sacrifices include the lives of many young men and women who paid the ultimate price for our continued liberty.

Today, these fallen warriors rest in cemeteries around the nation where patriotic Americans come on Memorial Day to place flowers or flags on graves, and hear distinguished speakers remind solemn audiences of the cost of freedom.

No celebration on Memorial Day is more impressive than the Rolling Thunder event in the nation’s capital. In this annual event, thousands of motorcycle riders cruise in formation through the streets of Washington, arriving together at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial where they pay tribute to not only those who have died, but to those who are unaccounted for, POWs and MIAs.

The Rolling Thunder is a registered 501(c)(4), incorporated in 1998 with over 90 chapters across the country. It conducts and/or participates in a myriad of activities throughout the year to honor fallen warriors and highlight the issue of POWs and MIAs, including passing out flags, feeding homeless veterans, aiding veterans’ families and conducting the “Missing Man Ceremony” at events throughout the nation.

Designed to honor those American warriors from all conflicts who have never been accounted for, the display of “The Fallen Comrade Table,” as it is frequently known, consists of multiple components, each with its own symbolic significance.

The display includes a table with a tablecloth, a single red rose, a red ribbon, a slice of lemon, sprinkled salt, an inverted glass, a Bible, a lit candle, and an empty chair. It is essential that the symbolism of each item is explained to those who view it, either in writing or verbally. The explanation alone makes these displays moving and poignant reminders of those who have not returned from war.

The families of those who are still missing have been emotionally touched by these displays for years. Rolling Thunder will be conducting these solemn ceremonies around the country on Memorial Day.

But this year, they will meet some resistance: Because the Bibles have been removed at certain U.S. military installations and Veterans Administration facilities, these particular displays will differ from those around the country. Wright-Patterson and Eglin U.S. Air Force bases both removed Bibles from their POW/MIA displays due to complaints by atheist groups claiming that the Bible was a violation of the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.

Likewise, the VA hospital facilities in Akron and Youngstown, Ohio did the same for identical reasons. Worse still, Patrick AFB removed the entire display due to similar motives in 2014.

America has been at war since 2001 fighting a determined enemy across the globe. Yet there are those in this nation who view Bibles as the enemy: something to be kept at arm’s length for fear of the damage to our warriors that might result from exposure to it. That’s ridiculous — if our military men and women cannot deal with a Bible in a public place, it is highly unlikely they will ever prevail over a serious foe. The critics should spend a little time studying U.S. history to see how the Bible has been consistently important to military men and women — and how commanders have routinely quoted the Bible during battle.

The VA and the military should be ashamed for kowtowing to the foolish demands of groups who are far less concerned with national security than they are with pushing their nefarious agendas. Leaders without courage or a fundamental understanding of the U.S. Constitution have made the decision to remove Bibles from these POW/MIA displays, and they need to be held accountable for their behavior. Until then, we can all take comfort in knowing that there are many patriots who will be out paying their respects to the fallen just because it is the honorable thing to do.

In Washington, D.C., Rolling Thunder will once again put aside all differences in politics, race, gender and socioeconomic status in order to show their respect for the fallen and the missing. Bibles don’t scare these old warriors because most of them have met real enemies in the course of their service. The Bible wasn’t one of them.