Walt Sides was born in Mustang, Okla., in 1939. He and a buddy joined the Marine Corps together in January 1956 and by the time he turned 17 the following December, Walt had nearly a year in the Marines under his belt.
After his hitch in the service, he headed to the University of Oklahoma and played tight end for the Sooners before heading back to the Marines, where he became a competition marksman. He then led a scout-sniper platoon in Vietnam. Their exploits were chronicled in the book “Dead Center: A Marine Sniper's Two-Year Odyssey in the Vietnam War,” by Ed Kugler.
Walt served two combat tours in Vietnam and retired from the Marine Corps as a 1st Sgt in 1977. In 1983, he met Sgt. Major John Holland and began working on the POW/MIA issue. In 1987, prompted by fellow veteran ,Ray Manzo’s idea to have a motorcycle “Demonstration Run” during Memorial Day weekend in Washington, DC. The three men, along with veteran Staff Sgt. Ted Sampley, worked together and became the "founding fathers" of the Rolling Thunder First Amendment Demonstration Run, an annual ride and gathering that has taken place since 1988.
Riders from around the nation, and even around the world, make their way to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. It is an opportunity to meet, exchange information, plan, celebrate brothers and sisters in arms and focus national media attention on their plight.
The Run was formed to bring awareness to the POW/MIA issue and since the first Rolling Thunder, it has grown into the world’s largest single-day motorcycle event. As Rolling Thunder celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Run in 2012, Walt Sides continues to work on the POW/MIA issue and serves as the Executive Director of Rolling Thunder Washington, DC Inc.