Bluefield Daily Telegraph
I was named for both my paternal and maternal grandparents and my youngest grandson — Willie Martinez — carries that name as well. I know very little about my paternal grandfather, except that he brought his wife and two children from somewhere in Russia to Donora, Pa., in about 1908 or ’09. The name they gave him at Ellis Island was William Antuck, but his Russian name was likely Wilhelm Anchov. My dad was just a few months old when his dad died in an industrial accident in Donora, and my dad’s mom died about a year later.
My maternal grandfather, William Wilson Hodgens, was married with one child when the U.S. entered World War I. He was a farmer, managing a 366-acre farm on Buffalo Creek about four miles west of Claysville, Pa., and about four miles east of Bethany. His grandfather Issac Hodgens, gave Alexander Campbell a pig and a cow when Campbell arrived in North America in 1809 to establish Bethany College and the Christian Church in America..
Mom came by her intense patriotic fervor from her parents. She was born in 1919, so the world war of her memories was World War II. Still, her earliest memories of her father were of him visiting with his Dough Boy friends on the farm. Mom said that they never treated her dad any differently from any of the guys who had survived the trenches. “They were close friends before the war, and even closer after the war,” my mom said.
Mom told me that her father had an old crystal radio set that he rigged up to operate of the battery of his Model T Ford. As a toddler, she remembered that he and his Dough Boy friends would gather around the radio and listen to KDKA-AM radio broadcasts of Pittsburgh Pirates baseball games. They were packing up their troubles in their old kit bags, and smiling, to paraphrase a song of the times.
One of the few regrets that I have during the nearly 19 years that Mom lived in Bluefield was that I never took her to see the Veterans’ Day Parade in Welch. U.S. Route 52 is, well, Route 52, and I was concerned that there might not be a comfort station close enough to the next stop for Mom. Even when we traveled the interstate, our traditional first stop was Princeton, then Beckley, then Sutton, Flatwoods, etc. I just didn’t want her to be uncomfortable.
But while she didn’t attend, Mom expected me to provide her a full account of the parade, the units, the speaker and the speech. She liked knowing what the story was going to be before she heard it the next day in the paper. She only had a few years of good eyesight remaining after she moved here, and telling her what happened at an event like the Welch 40&8 Veterans’ Day Parade helped me write the story after I got to work.
Dad was a big 40&8-er and, unlike a lot of folks, I was well aware that the French railroad boxcars could carry 40 men and 8 mules to the front lines during World War I. The titles of 40&8 officers are expressed in French, and members often dressed up like sourdough bums and wore disfigured top hats at events. I think it was a way for the World War II guys to express their thanks to the World War I veterans. The Dough Boys survived the real-life 40&8 experience, and the World War II guys survived a different kind of hell.
In my hometown, Memorial Day was — and still is — the biggest event of the year with a parade, and military-style services at two different cemeteries on two different ends of town. But since I found myself in southern West Virginia, I have learned a whole new appreciation for Veterans Day because of parades in Welch, Princeton and other local communities.
Mom and Dad’s home post in Claysville is the James R. Hunt Post 639 of the American Legion. Mom was impressed when she found out that the Welch Post is No. 8 and that the Bluefield’s Riley-Vest Post is No. 9. She was also impressed by the fact that Harry Truman — a Dough Boy comrade of Welch businessman Sam Solins — served as guest speaker at the Welch Veterans Day Parade twice, once as a U.S. senator and another time as a former U.S. president. Vice President Lyndon Johnson was the guest speaker in 1963, less than two weeks before he would become president.
There were 10,000 to 12,000 people in Welch to hear then Vice President Johnson speak. While the crowds aren’t nearly that large these years, the event still draws a good number of people. To me, it remains as one of the really impressive traditions in the region. I know my mom will be in my mind this year as I watch the parade.
Bill Archer is senior editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.