Leading the caravan was a patriotically decorated Freightliner Cascadia truck, customized by employees at Freightliner's truck manufacturing plant in Cleveland, N.C.
Dubbed the Ride of Pride, this is the sixth year of the event in which riders journey to the nation's capital over the Memorial Day weekend and return to participate in local ceremonies on the Monday holiday.
Ed Keeter, shift manager at Freightliner's Cleveland truck manufacturing plant and a veteran of the Vietnam War, said the idea for the ride came in 2001 - before the war in Iraq - when he and other employees were looking for a way to honor veterans as Memorial Day approached.
"At the plant we had a number of reservists who were being called up for active service, so we wanted to support them and other vets past and present," Keeter said.
Cleveland plant employees volunteer their time to design the Ride of Pride truck and coordinate the 400-mile ride. This year's design features images of a bald eagle, an American flag, a POW-MIA logo and military campaign ribbons from World War I to the current war in Iraq.
The journey to Washington D.C., was to begin with a sendoff ceremony at the plant this morning. On Saturday, volunteers will visit Washington Hospital Center to host a party for veterans and hand out gift bags.
On Sunday, the group will join a procession through the capital with an estimated one million motorcyclists participating in the Ride for Freedom, sponsored by Rolling Thunder, a national non-profit with 80 chapters dedicated to publicizing POW-MIA issues.
The new Cascadia "Ride of Pride" tractor belongs to Schneider National Inc., and will be added to its nationwide fleet. "We had a large number of drivers request the Ride of Pride truck so we selected one person from a pool of drivers with military service," said Darel Schoening, regional maintenance director for Schneider National and project lead for the Ride of Pride VI vehicle. "The task of selecting a driver for the Ride of Pride truck was especially difficult because over 35 percent of Schneider's 15,500 drivers are military veterans." The trucking company will put the vehicle into service on one of its national routes for maximum visibility.
The Cascadia model was launched earlier this month. It features a 455-horsepower Detroit Diesel Series 60 engine and variety of accessories - from seats to mud flaps - that were donated by Freightliner suppliers.
The Cleveland, N.C., truck manufacturing plant employs more than 3,000 people in the production of Freightliner brand heavy-duty trucks. Freightliner LLC, headquartered in Portland, Ore., is the largest heavy-duty truck manufacturer in North America and a leading producer of medium-duty and specialized commercial vehicles. It produces and markets Class 3-8 vehicles under the Freightliner, Sterling, Western Star and Thomas Built Buses nameplates.