'Rolling Thunder' veterans group makes final ride through Washington

WASHINGTON -- The Rolling Thunder motorcycles that descend on Washington, D.C. every Memorial Day weekend made their final ride on Sunday, ending a three decades-old tradition that was initially meant to serve to pay tribute to fallen and missing-in-action soldiers.

The veterans advocacy group, formed in 1987 by 73-year-old Vietnam veteran Artie Muller, got its name from a 1965 bombing campaign against North Vietnam dubbed "Operation Rolling Thunder."

President Donald Trump gave the group a shout out on Twitter on Sunday, where he pledged that the annual rides in Washington would continue.

"The Great Patriots of Rolling Thunder WILL be coming back to Washington, D.C. next year, & hopefully for many years to come," Trump wrote.

For years, the group has become synonymous with the annual Memorial Day celebration in the nation's capital, where thousands of motorcycles meet in the Pentagon parking lot and continue their ride across the Memorial Bridge toward the National Mall.

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Rolling Thunder veterans group makes final ride through Washington
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Rolling Thunder veterans group makes final ride through Washington
U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Tim Chambers salutes as motorcyclists participate in the 32nd Rolling Thunder demonstration, Sunday, May 26, 2019, in Washington. The event is to honor American prisoners of war and service members missing in action, and to call attention to veterans' issues. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Motorcyclists participate in the 32nd Rolling Thunder demonstration in front of the Lincoln Memorial , Sunday, May 26, 2019, in Washington. The event is to honor American prisoners of war and service members missing in action, and to call attention to veterans' issues. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Karen Beck, from Mechanicsville, Md., a Vietnam War veteran, holds a flag as motorcyclists participate in the 32nd Rolling Thunder demonstration, Sunday, May 26, 2019, in Washington. The event is to honor American prisoners of war and service members missing in action, and to call attention to veterans' issues. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Boots are placed in the median as motorcyclists participate in the 32nd Rolling Thunder demonstration, Sunday, May 26, 2019, in Washington. The event is to honor American prisoners of war and service members missing in action, and to call attention to veterans' issues. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Motorcyclists ride past the Lincoln Memorial as they participate in the 32nd Rolling Thunder demonstration, Sunday, May 26, 2019, in Washington. The event is to honor American prisoners of war and service members missing in action, and to call attention to veterans' issues. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Chester Sims, from St. Augustine, Fla., helps direct motorcyclists as they participate in the 32nd Rolling Thunder demonstration, Sunday, May 26, 2019, in Washington. The event is to honor American prisoners of war and service members missing in action, and to call attention to veterans' issues. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Bruce Heilman, 92, left, from Richmond, Va., greets fellow U.S. Marine Corps veteran Curt Powell, from Alexandria, Va., as they watch motorcyclists participate in the 32nd Rolling Thunder demonstration, Sunday, May 26, 2019, in Washington. Heilman is a veteran of World War II and the battle of Okinawa. The event is to honor American prisoners of war and service members missing in action, and to call attention to veterans' issues. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Participants in the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally waves to the crowds as they ride past Arlington Memorial Bridge, during the annual Rolling Thunder parade, ahead of Memorial Day on Sunday, May 26, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Participants in the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally, ride past Arlington Memorial Bridge, during the annual Rolling Thunder parade, ahead of Memorial Day on Sunday, May 26, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Participants in the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally, ride past Arlington Memorial Bridge, during the annual Rolling Thunder parade, ahead of Memorial Day on Sunday, May 26, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
People hold up a sign as participants in the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally, ride past Arlington Memorial Bridge, during the annual Rolling Thunder parade, ahead of Memorial Day on Sunday, May 26, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Participants in the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally, ride past the Lincoln Memorial, as people wave to them, during the annual Rolling Thunder parade, ahead of Memorial Day on Sunday, May 26, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Participants in the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally, ride past Arlington Memorial Bridge, during the annual Rolling Thunder parade, ahead of Memorial Day on Sunday, May 26, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Motorcyclists ride on the Arlington Memorial Bridge during the 32nd Rolling Thunder demonstration, Sunday, May 26, 2019, in Washington. The event is to honor American prisoners of war and service members missing in action, and to call attention to veterans' issues. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Participants in the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally, ride past Arlington Memorial Bridge, during the annual Rolling Thunder parade, ahead of Memorial Day on Sunday, May 26, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
UNITED STATES - MAY 26: People hold up a sign as motorcyclists drive by as they participate in the 32nd Rolling Thunder in Washington on Sunday May 26, 2019. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - MAY 26: Christopher Jacobs holds up a photograph of his father as motorcyclists ride by as they participate in the 32nd Rolling Thunder in Washington on Sunday May 26, 2019. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - MAY 26: A motorcyclist hugs U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Tim Chambers, left, thanking him for his service as motorcyclists drive by as they participate in the 32nd Rolling Thunder in Washington on Sunday May 26, 2019. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - MAY 26: John Magar from Rochester, N.Y. sits on his motorcycle watching the 32nd Rolling Thunder in Washington on Sunday May 26, 2019. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Tom Crable, from the Washington DC area, poses for a photo on the Pentagon parking before taking part in the "Rolling Thunder" motorcycle parade on May 26 in Arlington, next to Washington. Tom served in the Air Force and took part in 30 Rolling Thunder parades. - Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national "Rolling Thunder" ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 26: Motorcyclists ride past the Lincoln Memorial in the 32nd Rolling Thunder in Washington on Sunday May 26, 2019. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
A father takes his son wearing a Marine uniform to salute Marine Staff Sgt. Tim Chambers, "the saluting Marine", as they take part in the "Rolling thunder" parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Washington, on May 26 2019. - Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national "Rolling Thunder" ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)
A couple waving US flags looks on as bikers take part in the "Rolling thunder" parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Washington, on May 26 2019. - Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national "Rolling Thunder" ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)
A man looks on as bikers take part in the "Rolling thunder" parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Washington, on May 26 2019. - Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national "Rolling Thunder" ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)
Boots symbolising fallen soldiers are displayed by the road as bikers take part in the "Rolling thunder" parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Washington, on May 26 2019. - Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national "Rolling Thunder" ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)
A man wears a "Proud to be American" patch as hundreds of thousands of bikers gather on the Pentagon Parking before taking part in the "Rolling thunder" parade, part of the Memorial weekend honouring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. - Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national "Rolling Thunder" ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)
A man wears a POW-MIA (prisoner of war - missing in action) tee-shirt as hundreds of thousands of bikers gather on the Pentagon Parking before taking part in the "Rolling thunder" parade, part of the Memorial weekend honoring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. - Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national "Rolling Thunder" ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)
A biker wearing a tee-shirt saying "not our last ride" is seen as thousands gather on the Pentagon Parking before taking part in the "Rolling thunder" parade, part of the Memorial weekend honoring war veterans in Arlington , near Washington, on May 26 2019. - Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national "Rolling Thunder" ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Hundreds of thousands of bikers gather on the Pentagon parking before taking part in the "Rolling thunder" parade part of the Memorial weekend honoring war veterans in Arlington, near Washington, on May 26 2019. - Thousands of bikers converged on the US capital for what is billed as their last national "Rolling Thunder" ride in honor of missing American soldiers on Memorial Day weekend. They got a boost from President Donald Trump himself, who tweeted Saturday that he would like to help maintain the event, which is bogged down in a dispute over costs. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)
A member of the Motorcycle group American Legion Riders is waiting at the Washington National Cathedral to attend the "Blessing of the Bikes" on May 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. - The Rolling Thunder First Amendment Demonstration Run, a tradition since 1988, comes to an end this Memorial Day. Motorcycle riders from around the nation and the world will do one final bike ride throughout the US capital on May 26. The Rolling Thunder mission began as a demonstration following the Vietnam War, when many of Americas military were killed or missing in action (MIA) and their remains were not returned home or respectfully buried. With the first run in 1988, riders demanded that the US government account for all POW/MIAs. Over the years, Rolling Thunder has evolved into an emotional display of patriotism. (Photo by Eva HAMBACH / AFP) (Photo credit should read EVA HAMBACH/AFP/Getty Images)
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Late last year, the group announced it would be making this May its final ride, citing a lack of cooperation by law enforcement and rising costs of permits.

The Defense Department told ABC News that they support peaceful demonstrations and were prepared to support the 2019 Rolling Thunder ride.

In an interview with Reuters TV, Muller said that while this will be the final ride, the event will also mark the beginning of a new chapter.

"We're not really talking about a legacy here because we're not going away. We're just spreading out and we hope to get stronger. That's what our idea is on this, so coast to coast -- North, South, Midwest," Muller said. (Reporting by Temis Tormo in Washington; Writing by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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