By TINA ALVEY
RAINELLE, W.Va. — Hundreds of motorcycle-riding veterans formed up and rode into this tiny Greenbrier County town Thursday, greeted by friends old and new at the end of their grand entrance.
“That mountain gets a little taller every year,” quipped “Gunny,” organizer of the very first Run for the Wall detour through Rainelle 29 years ago.
He told the more than 200 children gathered to welcome the veterans on the front lawn of the town’s elementary school that, chances are, their parents were the youngsters who greeted him and his compatriots the first time they rode into town all those years ago. “They used to be kids just like you,” he said.
Gunny complimented the children on their matching “We are the future” t-shirts, telling them they were why he and other veterans come back to Rainelle year after year.
“This is our home, your home,” he said. “We love you.”
That affection was obviously reciprocated, as the grade schoolers flocked to the leather- and denim-clad veterans, seeking autographs and souvenirs and beaming under the attention of the men and women who had served their country in years past.
While the annual Run for the Wall pilgrimage from California to Washington, D.C., is generally thought of as an event strictly for veterans, spouses, friends and family members often ride along in support of the effort to keep service members listed as Missing in Action or Prisoners of War in the forefront of Americans’ minds.
That’s the reason Frank Nides of Yuma, Arizona, made his first Run for the Wall this year.
“I just want to pay tribute to those who’ve served and recognize the MIA and POWs,” Nides said. “They’ve been neglected for so many years.”
While he didn’t personally serve in the military, Nides said his father, brother and two sons are veterans.
Participating in the Run for the Wall, he said, “has been a very humbling experience.”
Addressing the crowd, a veteran who goes by the name “Windy” announced, “We love this place,” and proceeded to hand out plaques to the school’s principal and representatives of the parent volunteers, VFW Post 4484, LZ Rainelle and the Rainelle Moose Lodge.
Without further ado, Windy then made the annual presentation of a monetary gift to Rainelle Elementary School from Run for the Wall, the result of fundraising and contributions made by participants and donors from all across the country. This year’s gift was even more generous than usual, perhaps due to the recognition that Rainelle was particularly hard hit by last summer’s 1,000-year flood.
The donation to the 220-pupil school totaled more than $22,000 — a check from Run for the Wall 29 in the amount of $8,992.68 and more than $13,000 in cash, neatly bundled inside a clear Ziploc bag.
“What perfect timing,” LZ Rainelle chairperson Monica Venable said later. “Since the flood, it has been harder and harder for people to raise funds here. Many people haven’t reopened their businesses — I haven’t reopened mine yet. This is wonderful for the students and the school.”
Principal Kim Tincher said the money will all go toward “student needs,” such as providing funding for class trips and transportation for field trips and helping to defray the expense of installing a sound system in the school’s gym for performances and programs.
“They (veterans) do such a wonderful job raising these funds,” Tincher remarked. “They are amazing people doing amazing things. From dawn to dusk, they are out there working to help others. It brings tears to my eyes every year.”
Perhaps starting a new tradition this year, Tincher and her husband rode into town on their own Harley with the veterans, having made the morning’s journey from Nitro to Rainelle with the other motorcyclists.
Venable said the number of motorcycle riders participating in the surge into town was larger than last year’s, but she didn’t have an exact count.
She also coordinates the annual West Virginia Veterans Reunion that also commenced Thursday and will continue through the Memorial Day holiday weekend. While the reunion typically averages attendance of around 3,000, Venable said she expects more to attend this year.
With rain in the forecast, she noted that concerts slated for Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon have been moved from the open-air City Hall stage to the indoor Magic Mart venue. If needed, that same location will be used for Saturday’s craft fair, she said.
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