Rolling Thunder started in Arkansas as a group of motorcycle enthusiasts whose purpose was to remind the public that there were American veterans left in Vietnam.
"That was the purpose back in the 1980s," said Barbie Mellinger, of Jacksonville, who is one of a contingent of Jacksonville residents six months ago who have helped Rolling Thunder’s Chapter 2 in Searcy get started. "We didn’t want anyone to forget the MIA-POW’s."
MIA-POW stands for Missing in Action/Prisoners of War.
Mellinger said every American war has had MIA military personnel unaccounted for and an important mission for Rolling Thunder is that the past does not repeat itself. An important way to stop American veterans from being missing in action is to keep the cause ever before the public so that politicians won’t tolerate leaving anyone behind ever again.
"Until they are home, their war is not over," she said. "We need to make sure they are not forgotten. We do not want to forget the soldiers who fought for our freedoms."
Mellinger is one of about nine Jacksonville residents who helped start the Searcy Chapter. The first state chapter meets regularly at the Pig-n-Chik Restaurant in Sherwood, she said.
Other Jacksonville residents who are part of the Searcy chapter are:
David Shaver, a Vietnam veteran retired from the U.S. Air Force, and his wife, Jainie; Gene Collins; Barbie Mellinger, Tommy McMahon; Wilma Mosley-Sutton; Junior and Samantha Huskey and their son, Landon Huskey, age 4.
"Landon is our junior member," Mellinger said. The Searcy chapter currently has 33 members, she said.
Searcy’s Chapter 2 started holding meetings last June and the group became chartered in October.
Rolling Thunder was interested in opening a second Chapter because it wants to expand in other areas of the state.
"We don’t want someone who would like to be a part of Rolling Thunder who lives in Jonesboro feel like they have to travel to Little Rock to be a part," Mellinger said. "We would like to see more chapters open up in the state."
She added, "In Florida, there are 17 or 18 chapters. Maybe more than."
Rolling Thunder keeps busy throughout the year. Chapter 2 recently had an open house in Searcy.
Rolling Thunder members also provided a lot of volunteer hours with the recent Jacksonville "Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans" celebration which was sponsored by the Jacksonville Museum of Military History.
Rolling Thunder members also have been asked to help with other events, such as Mellinger being sought after by the Michael Vann Johnson American Legion Post, Chapter 1, in North Little Rock, to sing the National Anthem at one of its events.
Members also were in attendance at a Heber Springs flag raising and helped send care packages to troops stationed in Afghanistan.
In February, members went to the McClelland VA Hospital and visited 200 patients. Volunteers also
"We are very involved and try to cover a lot of territory," she said.
Mellinger said Rolling Thunder participates in missions other than the MIA-POW issue, such as the Wounded Warrior Project.
The Wounded Warrior Project helps returning veterans who have been severely injured while serving their country, such as a soldier who has lost his leg from stepping on an exploding land mine.
Mellinger said she enjoys helping veterans benefited from the Wounded Warrior Project.
"I consider them my heroes," she said. "If it weren’t for these heroes, we wouldn’t have the freedoms we do."
Rolling Thunder volunteers also place flags on the graves at the Arkansas Veterans Cemetery in North Little Rock on Maryland Avenue.
"We placed flags on all of the graves," she said. "We put flags on over 600 graves. We make sure every grave had a flag on it. We do it several times a year. "
She added, "We do it on Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and holidays when you think about veterans and what they do for us. We place the flags."