Ray Manzo
Grand Marshal of 2024 Basilone Parade
Article from the May 2024 issue of the Bridgewater Newspaper The Breeze - By Bruce Doorly
The Basilone Parade Committee is honored to have Ray Manzo as the Grand Marshal for the 2024 parade.

Ray is a decorated veteran who served in the Vietnam War and later co-founded the advocacy group “Rolling Thunder.”
Ray Manzo was born March 19th 1949 in Germantown PA. When he was seven years old his family moved to Roslyn PA.

In 1967, when he was 18 years old, he volunteered for the Marine Corp. The Vietnam War was then in full swing, dominating the news coverage at the time. He knew what he was getting into and that he probably would see combat.
Ray with his mother.
on the day he left for Vietnam
After boot camp at Parris Island, he was off to Vietnam, arriving on January 3rd 1968.

Upon exiting the plane, the extreme heat and humidity hit him like a ton of bricks. He said to himself “welcome to hell.”

His experience would show that he was correct in that description.
Ray Manzo was a “combat engineer”. His specific duties were recognizing and dismantling landmines and the many creative booby traps that the enemy the Viet Cong planted in the jungles of Vietnam.

The Viet Cong were frequently unable to hold their own in stand-up fights against the Americans. So, they relied on guerrilla warfare tactics including hit-and-run attacks, ambushes, and booby traps. The Viet Cong were skilled at hiding booby traps in the varied terrain of Vietnam, often placing them in totally unexpected locations. Booby traps could be made in large numbers and be of simple design using primitive materials such as pointed sticks or more complex using modern explosives.
Bronze Star

In one engagement in the jungle Ray Manzo’s platoon was taken by surprise when remote controlled mines went off. Several men were cut down immediately. The explosion was followed up by the Viet Cong spraying them with machine gun fire. The Americans took cover and quickly assessed the situation - attempting to fight back.

Ray Manzo spotted an injured Marine in a dangerous area – and called for a Corpsman to help. But the Corpsman refused - feeling that it was suicidal due to the intense enemy fire. Despite the danger Ray Manzo could not just sit there and not help the wounded Marine. He decided he would go and bring back the wounded men to safer ground where his wounds could be attended to. But the wounded man was on the other side of the road. Ray Manzo said to himself “OK God it’s just me and you. You are going to help me cross the road.” He remembered that there was a “burning bush” by the wounded and he took that as a Biblical sign. Charging over to the wounded Marine, whose name was Koonsman, he told him that despite his injuries that he needed to climb on Ray’s back. Koonsman managed to climb aboard and with bullets flying around them, they made it back to safety.
Ray rescued two other Marines that day, but unfortunately one died. For his heroics in battle Ray was awarded the Bronze Star. When Ray visited Koonsman in the hospital, he saw that Koonsman was in bad shape with various machines and devices attached to him. Koonsman was not happy with Ray Manzo. He felt that he would have been better off dying than to survive. At the time he thought his injuries were permanent. Ray let Koonsman have his rant, and then said simply that he values life.

Years later, Ray was glad to find out that Koonsman had recovered, had a career, and even married.
Click to full Citation for Bronze Star
Rolling Thunder

In 1987, Ray visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.. In talking to some other veterans, he became aware that some POWS were rumored to still be alive and held in Vietnam. He also learned that many of the bodies of Americans killed in action had not been returned to the U.S..

In addition, America seemed to have forgotten the MIA/POW of the Vietnam war.
Later at a POW/MIA vigil held by the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club, the idea came to Ray for a motorcycle rally in the nation’s capital.

The rally would have various goals. One was to show the country that the POW/MIA still mattered.

Second, was for the government to do a full investigation to see if any Americans were still being held in Vietnam.

Third, everything possible should be done to bring home the bodies of Americans killed in the war.
Ray Manzo is on the far right
Ray went into action. Writing letters and contacting government officials.

Another Vietnam veteran, Artie Muller responded. Together they worked with other veterans, the plans took shape. With John Holland, they obtained all the necessary permits.

Initially they were supposed to enter the city by tunnel. But Ray then spoke to the Washington police to see if they could change the approach into the city by going over the Memorial Bridge as it would create a bigger impact with the roar of the bikes sounding like “rolling thunder.” Thus, the name “Rolling Thunder” was born.
Interest grew and on Memorial Day 1988, 3500 bikers showed up for the trek across Washington D.C. They met in the parking lot of the Pentagon and then rode over the bridge. They went past the Lincoln Memorial, toured around Washington, and ended up at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

The rally was a tremendous success. It was an emotional day for the veterans.
So much attention was given to the event that the next year ten times (30,000) the number of bikers showed. And the next year there was 90,000. The bike rally quickly became a significant annual event.
After four years Ray Manzo passed the torch of organizing the event to Artie Muller.

His goal had been achieved. Congress and the public had taken notice.
Artie Muller
Rolling Thunder has made a difference. They were influential in the passing of the Missing Service Personnel Act of 1993. The bill states that a service member cannot be listed as killed in action (KIA) without substantial evidence.

In 1995, they were responsible for the creation of a POW/MIA postage stamp. Rolling Thunder continues to work with the U.S. government for information about servicemen and women from Vietnam. In 2006, they co-authored the Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act. Over the decades 1500 bodies of soldiers that were killed in action in Vietnam have been brought back to the U.S. for burial. “Rolling Thunder” no doubt played a role in that.
Today they have almost a hundred chapters throughout the country. While many members are veterans and own motorcycles, neither is a requirement for membership.

The John Basilone Parade Committee is proud to have Ray Manzo as Grand Marshal. Please come out to see him on Sunday, September 22nd 2024. The parade goes through downtown Raritan.

The Basilone Parade website is www.johnbasiloneparade.com

Their email is basiloneparade@gmail.com.