By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
WELCH — Click here for video of Princeton's Veterans Day Parade.
Click here for video of Welch's Veterans Day Parade.
Local patriots lined the streets or attended ceremonies Monday throughout southern West Virginia to honor local veterans and the sacrifices that they made and continue to make so Americans will remain safe and free.
In Welch and Princeton, veterans and their families watched parades created to mark Veterans Day. U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., was scheduled to speak at the McDowell County Visitors and Veterans Center in Kimball, and Bluefield State College hosted a breakfast that was free to all military veterans. The Those Who Served Museum in Princeton was open after Monday’s parade.
Veterans participating in these special activities said it was good to see the public’s enthusiasm and patriotism. Vietnam veteran Gary Blevins of Skygusty waited in downtown for the parade to begin while others sought places to stand or sit. Fire engines’ sirens signaled the parade’s approach.
“It makes me proud,” Blevins said of the parade and the turnout. “People everywhere go up to you and say, ‘Thank you for your service.’ Things have really changed since I was in the service.”
The Veterans Day Parade in Welch has continued for 93 years with grand marshals ranging from generals to President Harry S. Truman. Veterans attending Monday’s parade took the opportunity to see old friends.
“I’m from here,” said Vietnam-era veteran Jimmie Russ, 68, a Welch native who now resides in Princeton. “A lot of it is nostalgia. It makes me proud to be an American and proud to be veteran. I’m glad I served. We also try to bring our grandchildren so they will know about our heritage.”
Many of the veterans could remember even larger Veterans Day parades in Welch. In the past, finding a place from which to watch the parade was even more challenging.
“You couldn’t find a place to park,” James McGraw, 77, of Welch said. A veteran of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, McGraw was among 10,000 soldiers that President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent to Lebanon in 1958.
Hundreds of people lined the streets and found spots in the city’s municipal parking garage to watch the parade’s units and marching bands. Many of the floats memorialized veterans who had made the ultimate sacrifice for America. One family held homemade posters honoring a loved one who had died for his country.
Angie Reynolds of Iaeger held a poster naming her cousin, SSGT Gene A. Vance, who was killed in 2002 while serving in Afghanistan.
“He was the first West Virginia National Guard member to be killed since World War II,” Reynolds said. “He was stationed out of Morgantown. I’m just proud to be an American. We lost Buddy and we miss him, but he died for our freedom.”
One float featured a casket draped with an American flag and participants in the role of mourners.
“It gave me chills,” Karen Clark, 54, of Welch said as the float passed her. “It represented people who died for our country. It brings tears to your eyes.”
World War II veteran Clarence E. McBride Sr. presented the American flag to the parade’s grand marshal, Brigadier General David Buckalew of the West Virginia National Guard. Mayor Reba Honaker introduced the general.
I don’t know when my heart has been warmed more as I ran around town this morning and saw the wonderful crowd that’s here. I think this is the largest crowd we’ve had in several years,” Honaker said. “And we are just so, so blessed. This morning shows how much patriotism and love for our country and veterans that we have here in Welch, W.Va.”
Buckalew urged the audience to remember the sacrifices veterans have made for their country and help them receive the services that they both need and deserve. Veterans often need medical care, counseling and financial assistance when they return home from serving their country. Some veterans even become homeless. During the last election, there were many studies and debates about the national debt, but they missed one important debt the country owes creditors at home.
“Very few bring up the biggest national debt of all. That’s the debt owed to our veterans,” Buckalew said. “As a nation, we must never forget their sacrifices.”
“More than one million men and women have given their lives for this nation since its founding. Our debt to these heroes can never been repaid, but our gratitude and respect must last forever,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said in remarks he was scheduled to deliver during the annual Veterans and Businessmen’s luncheon at the National Guard Armory in Welch that critical veterans care programs and support services must be enhanced. Rahall also said he would fight against federal cuts in veterans programs.
“On this Veterans Day 2012, let us rededicate ourselves to that same sacred cause for which so many in this nation have sacrificed their all,” Rahall said. “Let us begin by taking up the cause of those who served beneath Old Glory, and by His grace were able to live another day. We, as a nation, owe them a debt that can never be repaid.”
Awards for best Welch parade units were presented to the Trinity Temple Youth, the Welch Kiwanis Club, and a 1970 Chevrolet driven in memory of Manuel Horleuk Sr. The Best in Parade Award was to presented to McBride Electric.
— Contact Greg Jordan at email@example.com