WELCH — Welch’s 104th Veterans Day Parade marched as planned Friday morning, despite the threat of heavy rain that resulted in a smaller attendance than usual.
The longest continuously running Veterans Day parade in the nation, the parade did draw many faithful, and honored veterans in a way that is special to McDowell County and to residents.
Guest speaker for the post-parade ceremonies was Steve Mooney, director of Operations for the state Department of Veterans Assistance.
Mooney is from Huntington and is also a veteran, enlisting in 1991 in the West Virginia National Guard and serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Mooney said military service has helped keep the country and citizens “safe and free,” and he also honored the families of service members who make sacrifices.
“On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the guns of the world fell silent,” he said of the end of World War I. That day was initially called Armistice Day until renamed Veterans Day in 1954 after World War II and the Korean War.
“Unfortunately, World War I would not be the ‘war to end all wars,’” he said of an expression often used about the war, which ended in 1918.
Mooney said Veterans Day is set aside to honor those who laid their lives on the line “for our freedom.”
“Those men and women were ordinary people until they heard the call of duty and answered,” he said. “They left their family, their homes and their lives, not for recognition or fame, and not for the honor we bestow upon them today. They fought for our country and to maintain our way of life.”
Mooney also recalled a personal experience of losing a friend from this area on May18, 2002 when enemy bullets rained down on a U.S. convoy in Afghanistan.
“A soldier from this area died from a gunshot wound while serving in combat operations in Afghanistan. His name was Staff Sgt. Gene Arden Vance Jr.,” Mooney said. “I was very honored to know Gene and served with him for several years prior to 9/11 (2001). Gene paid the ultimate sacrifice a soldier could ever give.”
Vance was a graduate of Oceana High School in Wyoming County and was killed in action during Operation Enduring Freedom when his unit came under intense fire while on patrol in eastern Afghanistan.
A member of the U.S. Special Forces Airborne Army West Virginia National Guard Unit sent to hunt down Osama bin Laden, Vance, despite being critically wounded, saved the lives of two fellow Americans and 18 Afghan soldiers.
“He will always be remembered as a kind person with a smile on his face and a positive attitude,” Mooney said.
Mooney also said everyone should remember that veterans who return often undergo stress and challenges readjusting.
“Let us not forget the internal wounds veterans deal with daily,” he said, with 22 veterans committing suicide every day. “Military service is not for the faint of heart.”
Most civilian jobs do not include risk of “life and limb,” he said, adding that in civilian jobs people can quit when they want and live anywhere they want, but that is not the case in the military.
“Transitional challenges, the stress of military life, and feelings of isolation all factor in to a suicide rate among veterans that is 50 percent higher than that of a non-military adult,” he said. “The stigma of seeking help needs to end.”
Mooney said it takes courage to ask for help and “we must be proactive and encourage veterans to seek help,” adding that homelessness is another problem among veterans.
“The best way to prevent veteran homelessness is to hire them,” he said.
Mooney said when politicians want to cut costs for military programs, “it is up to us to remind them of the cost of being a veteran.”
“Veterans Day is not just a day for veterans,” he said. “It is a day for Americans. It is a day to remember why they were fighting and a day for us to begin our journey of protecting our freedom and the freedom of future generations.”
Welch Mayor Harold McBride also spoke at the event.
“I can’t think of any place in the world I would rather be on Veterans Day than Welch, West Virginia,” he said. “It is unique, It is special and no one can take that away. We are very lucky to be here, and always remember that.”
Tom Hicks, state American Legion Commander, attended the event.
“It was an honor and a privilege to be invited here today to participate in the 104th Veterans Day Parade in Welch,” he said.
Jan Williams, Commander of American Legion Post 8, which sponsors the event, led the parade.
“This is my first year,” she said of her new position with Post 8.
Not only that, she is also the first female commander of Post 8.
Williams said she raised her kids in the county, is retired from McDowell County Schools and, along with her husband, David, is a veteran of the Air Force.
She said they joined the American Legion on that organization of veterans’ 100th anniversary (2019).
“We usually have to work the parade,” she said. “But it was great (to be in it). It was an honor.”
David Williams said he was born and raised in McDowell County and always comes to the parade.
“The only ones I missed was when I was in the service,” he said.
“We are very proud of the county and the city we live in,” Jan Williams said. “We are proud to be veterans and to have served our country.”
Residents who attended the parade said they were not concerned about the weather, which ended up bringing only a few showers.
Brittany Bolden, a Panther native who lives in Bluefield now, said she has been to at least 20 Welch parades, and she loves the history of it and how it solidifies the community.
“It brings the community together,” she said, and it is something everyone looks forward to, bringing people together from the entire county.
Bolden’s step-daughter Adalyn, who is 7 and a student at Mountain Valley Elementary, said she has been to the parade before.
“I have been a couple of times,” she said, and she always looks forward to it.
Her favorite feature of the parade? “Candy.”
Paisley, her 5-year-old sister, said she had been before but was too young to remember, so it’s really her first time.
But she wasted no time in saying what she was looking forward to the most: “candy.”
Morgan Griffin said she recently moved to Welch from North Carolina and it’s her first time to see the parade.
“I know this parade has been going on for a lot time, but I was surprised they had it with the rain,” she said.
When told it was the 104th parade, Griffin’s reaction was, “That is awesome.”
Griffin said her daughter, who is in third grade at Kimball Elementary, was in the parade and she loves seeing all of the kids who participate.
“She will be walking with her cheerleading team,” she said.
Shane Collins, who recently moved back to the area, said all of his family is from McDowell County and “it’s been a long time” since he had been to the parade, but went often when he was growing up.
Collins said his favorite thing was just “seeing the community get together.”
Andrea Green, who is from McDowell County and her family owns an insurance business and new laundry mat in Welch, said she has been coming to the parade for a long time.
“My dad is a veteran so we have made it a tradition to come to the parade,” she said.
Green said her favorite thing about the parade is “seeing people I know.”
Her father, Charles David Brown, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam, said he was born in Iaeger and has been coming to the parade for many years.
“I like coming and seeing old friends,” he said.
Brown said he also appreciates the message.
“I am thankful the effort is made to honor those who served,” he said, adding that it was 20 years after Vietnam before anyone would thank veterans for their service. “They say it now, but they didn’t then.”
Another member of the family, Joseph Green, 13, said he has been coming to the parade “since I was a baby.”
Green said he also likes seeing people and the Concord University Band, which performed the National Anthem and other patriotic songs.
He is a musician who plays the euphonium and said if he attends Concord he wants to be in the university’s band.
Concord University was named the parade’s Best Band; Mount View High School Football Team won Best Youth Group; Best Antique Car went to Jimmy Osborne for a 1995 Chevy C-1500; the Welch Lions Club won the Commander’s Best Civic Group; and the Commander’s Trophy for Best in Parade went to Jimmy’s Hardware.
— Contact Charles Boothe at email@example.com