I haven't written to the forum in quite some time and wanted to let you know what is going on. Several former members of the Rolling Thunder, Inc., VA Chapt 3 are being sued. I am one of those members. While I dont know the other members or the circumstances surrounding their situations, I wanted to give you a look into my situation.
The following is an article in a local Virginia newspaper followed by my response. I would love to hear your opinions,
Rolling Thunder sues ex-members over patches
By MARIA HEGSTAD
Thursday, July 10, 2003
The Prince William chapter of Rolling Thunder, the motorcycle-riding veteran's advocacy group, is asking the Circuit Court to order former members to return their Rolling Thunder patches.
"It's our reputation at stake, our property, and it's a registered trademark," said chapter president Arthur Foss. "We're either gonna get the patches back or else."
Rolling Thunder is a national group with headquarters in Neshanic Station, N.J. It is probably best known for the annual parade of bikers to the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Wall on Memorial Day.
"The motorcycles create the sound, like thunder's coming. That's how it started in 1987," Foss said. The group's name, he added, comes from the name of a bombing campaign in the Vietnam War.
There are about 80 local Rolling Thunder chapters in the United States and Canada, Foss said. The Prince William chapter comprises 76 members.
"Although most of our members have motorcycles, it's not a requirement," Foss said. "You just have to have the issues at heart."
Rolling Thunder members receive a set of three patches to wear on their jackets or vests, Foss said. The first patch issued is worn on the front of the garment, and depicts the Prisoner of War-Missing in Action logo and denotes the member's state and local chapter. After a year in good standing, the member receives the two back patches: a Rolling Thunder rocker and an eagle with chains over a map of Laos and Cambodia.
Rolling Thunder maintains ownership of the patches it gives out, Foss said. When members join the group, part of the membership application includes a signed agreement to return the patches if the member leaves the group.
A year ago, Foss said, about a dozen members left the group without returning their patches. After receiving certified letters, several members returned the patches. However, seven individuals have yet to return them.
"We've asked repeatedly [for them] to try to return the patches, and they haven't done it despite numerous requests," said Rolling Thunder's attorney, Mark Moorstein.
In a legal brief filed Tuesday with the Circuit Court, Rolling Thunder asks Prince William Circuit Court to order Walter Burdick and John Kearns of Richmond, Karen Bricker of Lorton, Gordon Dezulovich and Joe Sciuto of Alexandria, Jeane Placon of Rixleyville and Melissa Gay Kemp of Fredericksburg to return the patches and award legal costs to the local Rolling Thunder chapter.
"It's unfortunate the situation has to go to this length," Foss said. "But we're not going to let anybody jeopardize our standing in the public's eyes."
Rolling Thunder is concerned that non members might act in a way that disparages the group. Foss eagerly describes the Prince William's group's activities: the annual ride to the Veteran's Administration hospital in Richmond to serve the patients, hospital staff and their families a cookout, funeral escorts at Quantico and Arlington National cemeteries, donations of holiday food baskets to service members' families, and donations of POW-MIA flags.
"We constantly hear [we're] a bunch of dumb bikers," Foss says of people who don't know about the group. "Then they hear about what we do and their attitude changes."
I am writing to you in reference to the article concerning Rolling Thunder, Inc. VA Chapter 3 and their intended litigation against former members. I am one of the former members listed in that litigation. I know that you have received several emails from my friends and family members. And you responded by saying that “At present there is no legal response from those named in Rolling Thunder's complaint with the court.” Only today, 7/11/03, was I served a subpoena by the Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office. While I have 21 days from this date to make a legal response to the courts I wanted to take this time to tell my side of this story. I have included a letter to the attorney that I wrote but never sent as I hoped to find the patches and resolve this issue. Before going on to read what I have written, I wish to give you a background of my injury which hopefully will clarify the difficulties I have had in returning the patches to Rolling Thunder, Inc.
I incurred a spinal cord injury at the C5-C6 level. That is the cervical area similar to what Christopher Reeve suffered; however, his was a higher level and much more severe. My injury resulted in Central Cord Syndrome. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) describes Central Cord Syndrome as follows:
“Central cord syndrome is a form of incomplete spinal cord injury (in which some of the signals from the brain to the body are not received), characterized by impairment in the arms and hands and, to a lesser extent, in the legs. The brain's ability to send and receive signals to and from parts of the body below the site of trauma is affected but not entirely blocked. This syndrome, usually the result of trauma, is associated with damage to the large nerve fibers that carry information directly from the cerebral cortex to the spinal cord. These nerves are particularly important for hand and arm function. Symptoms may include paralysis and/or loss of fine control of movements in the arms and hands, with relatively less impairment of leg movements. Sensory loss below the site of the spinal injury and loss of bladder control may also occur, with the overall amount and type of functional loss dependent on how severely the nerves of the spinal cord are damaged.
There is no cure, nor is there a standard course of treatment, for central cord syndrome. Drug therapy, surgery, and rest are often part of the treatment program.”
Another general classification used to refer to a spinal cord injury are the terms tetraplegia or paraplegia. Tetraplegia [formerly called quadriplegia] generally describes the condition of a person classified with a spinal cord injury between C1 and T1. These individuals experience a loss of feeling and/or movement in their head, neck, shoulder, upper chest, arms, hands, and/or fingers. Paraplegia is the term that describes the condition of a person who has been classified with an injury between levels T2 and S5. The body's motor and/or sensory function(s) affected with paraplegia can include the middle of the chest, the stomach, hips, legs and feet, and/or toes.
The general public is not familiar with the term tetraplegia, so I usually refer to myself as a walking quad. When I say that I am a quadriplegic, many people scoff because most people think that all quads are like Christopher Reeve. Because I can walk, people minimize my injury and most don’t realize that I have severe sensory loss from my chest level down to my feet. While people without disabilities take walking for granted, I have to plan every step I take due to a lack of balance and feeling.
The officers of Rolling Thunder, Inc., VA Chapter 3, as well as the president of the national chapter of Rolling Thunder, Inc., have received numerous letters on my behalf from my friends and family and are fully aware of the difficulties I am experiencing. They have never responded or acknowledged any of these letters. I suggest to you that their lack of compassion towards my situation is in fact totally opposite of the “benevolent organization” they make themselves out to be.
In response to your letter dated April 14, 2003, concerning three patches belonging to Rolling Thunder, Inc., I would appreciate it if you could produce the numerous requests for the return of the patches. I have received one request which was sent by certified mail. It was a form letter requesting the return of the patches within 7 days of the date of the letter. However, they apparently didn’t mail the letter in a timely fashion as I didn’t receive the letter until two days prior to them wanting the patches returned.
I don’t know if you are aware of the situation concerning my membership. Please let me enlighten you. On January 1, 2000, I was in a motorcycle accident that left me a quadriplegic. I was forced to retired from my chosen profession as a police officer. My income dropped from $47,000/year to $12,000/year. I lost my home, my car and my self respect. I initially spent 3 months in the hospital and during that time, my family packed up my belongings and placed them in storage. My vest, with the patches was kept out of storage specifically by my request so that I could have someone remove them and return them to Rolling Thunder. When I made officers of the chapter aware of my intentions, they insisted on paying my dues to maintain my membership. I made it clear that it would be doubtful that I could meet the required member obligations. I was told not to worry about that. When renewal time came up in 2001, I received an email from the treasurer about dues. I responded advising her that I would not be renewing as I physically could not meet my obligations as required by the organization’s constitution. Again, I was told that my dues had been taken care of and that I was not to worry about anything. The patches were removed from my vest and placed in a bag in the closet of my room in my sister’s home. I have been living with my sister since my injury as I require assistance with day to day living.
When my brother-in-law decided that he needed my room for his office space, my family once again packed up my belongings and moved me to a new room in the house. Everything, except the things that I required for daily use, were packed up and added to my storage unit.
In October, 2002, I received the one and only correspondence from the chapter requesting the return of the patches, via a form letter that they send out to delinquent members or members that have not met the chapter obligations. This came as somewhat of a shock, not to mention that it was insulting. At the time of this letter, I had not had any other contact by phone, email or written correspondence from any chapter member or officer. Their demand for the return of the patches was without so much as a polite inquiry as to my health. At the very least, they could have had the decency of letting me know that they could no longer carry my membership and just asked my intentions about wanting to continue. But that courtesy was not offered.
At the time I received this letter, I was looking forward to a move into a home that my family helped me purchase in an attempt to return to a “normal” lifestyle. I was expecting to be in the house by December 2002. With that in mind, I immediately wrote back and explained my situation and that as soon as I was moved and unpacked, I would return the patches. I was not going to ask my family to go into the storage unit and unpack everything to look for these patches, when they would be doing that soon enough. As it turned out, my house wasn’t ready until mid February. You may recall the weather conditions during February, 2003. As a result of multiple snow storms, only the bare minimum of my daily use belongings were moved into my home. The remainder of which stayed in storage until weather conditions permitted access to them. As I am still dependant on people to help me with the unpacking and organizing, I am a long way from finished and have still not located the patches. Amazingly enough, not one person from the chapter has offered their assistance. Not Art Foss who sat by my bedside in the hospital with a show of tears on his face; not anyone who so readily offered up the chapter’s help during the first few weeks of my hospital stay – no one - just a single demanding form letter and the threat of legal action.
After receiving your letter, I made immediate phone contact with you and explained the situation. You attempted to pin me down to a definite time as to when I would be unpacked. I reiterated the fact that I am totally dependant on the help of others and their time constraints to unpack my belongings. You continued to badger me for a date and under duress I told you 90 days. You advised me that was unacceptable and gave me 30 days.
It is now July and I am no closer to being completely unpacked and still have not located the patches as well as many other personal belongings. My family and friends sent numerous letters to Art Foss and the officers of Rolling Thunder VA Chapter 3, on my behalf, reminding him of the fact surrounding my special circumstances - facts that Art Foss is very well aware. There has never been any acknowledgement on his part or any other officer and they insist that I have failed to respond to their “numerous” requests for the return of the patches.
I was a charter member of the Rolling Thunder VA Chapter 3 and proudly served on the Board of Directors. I was very active in the chapter the wearing of those patches was very important to me. I joined this organization because of its positive image and its mission to publicize awareness of the POW MIA issues. Art Foss’ contention that I would use or display the patches in a manner that would damage the image of Rolling Thunder, Inc. is an insult to my integrity. Damage to the image of Rolling Thunder, Inc. is being caused by Art Foss and his pursuit of litigation against me.
Perhaps if I had been a disabled veteran I would have been treated with more respect. Instead, I am a disabled civilian whose only ties to the military are a deep respect for the freedoms they have afforded me. And because of that respect, I thought by joining Rolling Thunder, Inc., I could make my voice heard. The friendship and camaraderie gained through my membership that I once held in such high esteem has been shattered beyond repair.