The roar from bikers on the Mall could be heard on the South Lawn as eight motorcycles, headlights illuminated and American flags jutting off the rear seats, rolled up the driveway to the South Portico where Mr. Bush was waiting to greet them.
Mr. Bush shook hands with Artie Muller, president of the veterans' advocacy group, and kissed his rider, singer Nancy Sinatra, who was dressed in a skirt, cowboy boots and a pair of dark shades.
Later, Mr. Bush addressed, via a telephone hookup, a Rolling Thunder rally at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in the capital.
Last week the group endorsed the president for reelection, citing his
leadership in "honoring our nation's commitment to veterans" and "the war on terror."
The president noted the letter of endorsement he received from the group last week. "Artie, I thought you were going to offer me riding lessons," Mr. Bush joked, thanking Rolling Thunder for backing his re-election campaign.
"Ride safe," he told them.
Other bikers who rode up the driveway included White House budget director Josh Bolton, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi, and various Rolling Thunder leaders.
The group endorsed Mr. Bush in 2000 over Democrat Al Gore, a Vietnam veteran. This year, they chose Mr. Bush, who served stateside in the Texas Air National Guard during Vietnam, over John Kerry, a decorated veteran of the same war who is also a motorcycle enthusiast.
In November 2003, the Democratic presidential hopeful borrowed a Harley-Davidson cycle and road onto the stage of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."
For the past 15 years, the group has announced its arrival with the roar of motorcycles — not unlike the sound of the 1965 bombing campaign against North Vietnam that was called Operation Rolling Thunder.
Rolling Thunder is an organization dedicated to creating awareness of POW/MIA issues, promoting legislation to increase veterans' benefits, and volunteering time, food, and clothing to veterans and local communities. Rolling Thunder has 70 chapters and over 7,000 members throughout the United States and abroad.
"In the Oval Office, I looked you in the eye as you told me of your relentless pursuit of finding out the plight of many of our POW/MIAs, and I appreciated so much your concern, your care and your persistence," Mr. Bush told the rally. "I also want to thank you and your organization, Artie, for honoring the men and women of our military who fight today in Afghanistan and Iraq."