By Tina Alvey
Roaring into town on motorcycles of all descriptions, veterans participating in the annual Run for the Wall received a warm welcome in Rainelle.
The outpouring of affection between the leather- and denim-clad vets and the town’s residents — particularly the students at Rainelle Elementary School — is nothing new. This marks the 25th year since bikers engaged in the first Run for the Wall took a fortuitous detour onto the Midland Trail and were embraced by the people of this small Greenbrier County town.
Speaking on behalf of that first group of bikers — “The ‘89’ers” — at a reception staged at the new Rainelle school Thursday afternoon, James Gregory recalled their entrance into town in 1989, when the veterans were just trying to circumvent the Turnpike and its tolls.
“We are so glad we did that,” Gregory said, explaining that when The ’89ers rode into town that first time, they found the sidewalks lined with school children, teachers and other Rainelle residents eager to cheer on the veterans.
“We thought there must be an accident or a parade to bring all those people out next to the road, but it turned out they were there to see us,” he said. “We love you for that.”
Since that initial impromptu display of warmth by the people of Rainelle, the town has become a regular stop for the veterans participating in Run for the Wall, an annual pilgrimage by veterans, friends and family members to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Speaking to the more than 600 people gathered in the school’s auditorium Thursday, Stan “Ironfish” Handley, central route coordinator for RFTW, exclaimed, “What a wonderful bunch of patriots we have here.”
Handley told the students who filled the auditorium floor in front of the podium, “You wonderful children are the future of America.”
Accepting a donation totaling more than $10,000 from the veterans for the school, Rainelle principal John Lewis said, “We thank you for all these donations you’ve given us through the years.”
After recounting a few of the “extras” the donations have purchased for the school’s children — books, trips, playground equipment — Lewis emphasized, “We want everybody to understand, Rainelle Elementary appreciates you and what you’ve done to keep our country safe.”
Danny “Greasy” Belcher of Task Force Omega brought the event’s focus onto one of RFTW’s primary missions — calling for an accounting of all prisoners of war and those listed as missing in action.
“This is about our prisoners of war and missing in action not coming home with the rest of us,” Belcher said.
“We just need to keep trying, because they deserve better,” he stated, noting, “Even children can have an impact. You can make a difference.”
Among those attending the welcome reception at the school was Rainelle Mayor Andrea J. Pendleton. Following the event, a teary-eyed Pendleton said, “It’s just heart-wrenching to hear the stories these veterans have to tell.”
She spoke of the sense of reunion and unity the annual Memorial Day weekend event brings to her town, saying, “People are grateful here for what these veterans have done, the sacrifices they’ve made, and we always look forward to seeing these familiar faces in town year after year.”
In addition to the more than 500 Run for the Wall participants in town Thursday, Rainelle also welcomes West Virginia veterans this weekend for their ninth annual reunion. Activities will continue throughout the weekend, with entertainment, a memorial service, a Saturday parade and an aerial fireworks display.
The mayor encourages everyone from surrounding communities, as well as Rainelle residents, to attend a community worship service that will be staged at the Event Center Sunday morning at 9. The Rev. John Steer, a veteran who lost an arm in combat in Vietnam, will lead that service.
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