After asking Dr. William M. White to serve as keynote speaker at the 11th annual Memorial and Remembrance service in honor of the men of the 5th and 6th US Colored Cavalry, I realized that I can tell the abbreviated story of the history of the services about as fast as anything I know.
Dr. White is dean of the School of Leadership and Professional Development of Mountain State University. I didn’t have to work hard to sell him on the idea of traveling to Saltville, Va., for the service. Even though he wasn’t too familiar with the program, he is 100 percent in support of efforts that benefit the community. He single-handedly organized an walk-a-thon to raise funds for Oak Grove Cemetery Restoration efforts that brought in almost $500.
Even before Dr. White asked, I offered an idea of what topic he should consider, and I smiled to myself as if I could actually know. Each year has its own dynamic. There have been times when the historical event — the Oct. 2, 1864 Battle of Saltville — has taken center stage, and other times when long-standing emotions have emerged. The post-9/11 service was particularly memorable because of the resilient global uncertainties that emerged in the weeks following the terrorist attacks on New York, Washington, D.C., and rural southwestern Pennsylvania.
Last year, the 10th anniversary, almost didn’t take place. Karl Miller and I were in the lead vehicle, and not too long after we were on I-81 West of Wytheville, Va., we noticed that Dick Copeland had pulled off the side of the road. We pulled off as well, and eventually, Dick got back on the road with his 40-foot motor home, but he didn’t travel too far before he pulled off the road again.
The group that travels to Saltville traditionally leaves the Bluefield Daily Telegraph parking lot at 4:30 p.m., on Oct. 2, in order to arrive at the Saltville Battlefield Overlook to set up the luminaries and American flags in place. When everything goes as planned, there are several minutes to spare, but that was not the case last year.
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