RAINELLE, W.Va. — “Welcome home!” That was the greeting extended by L.Z. Rainelle organizer Monica Venable to hundreds of veterans who gathered, along with their families and friends, on the dusty ballfield at Rainelle Elementary School Thursday afternoon.
Honoring what has long been a pre-Memorial Day holiday tradition, motorcycle-riding veterans took time out from their annual pilgrimage to the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., to visit with one of the most welcoming communities they find on their cross-country “Run for the Wall.”
This year’s reception for these special visitors was held on the grounds of the year-old Rainelle school, where fresh-faced youngsters proudly wearing their school colors collected pins and other souvenirs from the leather-clad veterans.
Rainelle Principal John Lewis was called to the podium to accept a donation from the veterans, who through various raffles and challenges held all across the country raised nearly $11,000 for the school to use for the students’ benefit.
Expressing his appreciation for the donation, Lewis told the veterans, “Most of all, we appreciate the service you give and the sacrifices you’ve made.”
He added, “It is our honor to have you here.”
The bond between Rainelle and the Run for the Wall participants began in 1989 when the riders took a detour off the West Virginia Turnpike to avoid paying tolls. That detour took the motorcyclists through Rainelle, where they were met by “a bunch of crazy Rainellians” waving flags and cheering, one of those riders, James “Gunny” Gregory, recalled for Thursday’s appreciative crowd.
“It was just a wide spot in the road,” Gregory said of the town. “But it has now become a home away from home for Run for the Wall.”
Gesturing toward the school children in the audience, Gregory said, “These are the folks we ride for. This is the future of America. I think we’re in good hands…