Smoky Mountain Thunder honors fallen troops

Apr. 19, 2014 @ 11:52 PM

Smoky Mountain Thunder Memorial Ride started in 2001 as a way for locals to pay tribute to fallen soldiers. On May 25, the police-escorted, 60-mile motorcycle ride from Sevierville to Veteran's Overlook on Clinch Mountain will continue for the 14th year.

Event organizers Ron and Sandy Giddis were inspired by taking part in Rolling Thunder in Washington, D.C.

"We decided that something needed to be done in Sevier County, because nothing like this was being done," Sandy Giddis said.

The opening ceremony, featuring a guest speaker, patriotic music and a bald eagle from the American Eagle Foundation, will take place in front of the Sevier County Courthouse in Sevierville at 10 a.m. The ride begins at 11 a.m.

Giddis estimates that about 1,200 people came out last year – a decline, due in part to poor weather conditions. Two years ago, about about 2,500 people participated, which she hopes is closer to the number of people who will take part this year.

"If it's sunny and there's no rain, the sky's the limit," she said.

The ride features many Gold Star families, which have lost loved ones serving the country. The parade is not limited to people with military ties, though – and paticipants don't have to ride.

"A lot of people will line up on the side of the road, waving American flags; that's how much patriotism we have here," Giddis said. "An elderly man last year, I don't know how old he was, but he had to have been in his late 80s or early 90s, he was in his Navy uniform and stood at attention saluting the entire time. It probably took at least 20 minutes for everyone to pass."

At the closing ceremony, following the ride, is a 21 gun salute. There is no fee to participate in the ride, but T-shirts will be sold, with proceeds going toward the costs to run the event.

For more information, contact Ron Giddis at 453-6532, or visit the event website at smokymountainthunder.net.

jold@themountainpress.com