By Peggy Mackenzie
For the past 26 years, when the Rolling Thunder veterans group make their annual trek to Washington, DC on Memorial Day weekend for the Ride to the Wall event, they have stopped over in Rainelle. Two-to-four thousand motorcyclists ride to DC each year to keep Congress aware of the prisoners of war and soldiers still missing in action. A small portion come through West Virginia.
Last Monday night during the White Sulphur Springs city council meeting, Ray Erskine, first vice president of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Eastern Highlands Division, Chapter 1072 of White Sulphur Springs resubmitted a petition he first proposed last month requesting the council consider inviting Rolling Thunder to make White Sulphur Springs their Greenbrier County stopping place next year.
“If they are allowed to come through White Sulphur Springs, it would be a plus to benefit everyone,” Erskine said. “I put this in the hands of the council.”
The event Erskine is proposing will replace the one traditionally held in Rainelle. According to Erskine, Rainelle will no longer be hosting the event purportedly as a result of a disagreement between Mayor Andrea “Andy” Pendleton and the leader of the Rolling Thunder group. Erskine stated that Pendleton had asked the veteran group to pay $50 per person to stay in Rainelle, deeply offending the veterans.
“Rolling Thunder,” Erskine said adamantly, “will not be coming back to Rainelle.”
As a result, Erskine, along with several fellow vets, is petitioning the city council of the Spa City to open their arms and welcome the veterans to stay in White Sulphur Springs on their journey to the Wall. The veterans will stay overnight in town and resume their travels to Washington the next day. Merchants and the churches have weighed in and support Rolling Thunder’s stop in their town as a great opportunity to show their patriotism. Several churches have offered their facilities as places to stay the night, said council member Audrey VanBuren.
The council and WSS Mayor Lloyd Haynes expressed interest and cautious approval; however Haynes stated, “We don’t want Rainelle to be offended.” He urged the need to “get all the logistics right” so as not to step on anyone’s toes.
When contacted for comment, Rainelle’s Mayor Pendleton was emphatic that she had in no way made any effort to charge the vets to set up camp on town-owned property. “I wouldn’t do that,” she said in a quote in the Register-Herald. “I support them 100 percent in everything they do.”
Confusion over the names of the various veterans groups which participate in Rainelle’s annual event may have contributed to the differing opinions of the accounting at the council meeting and Pendleton’s response, reports the Register-Herald. One of those groups, the LZ Rainelle WV Reunion, Inc., will continue to participate in the Rainelle Memorial Day weekend event, confirmed LZ Rainelle chairperson Monica Venable.
The vets are getting older, many of them are now opting for overnighting in a hotel room instead of camping outdoors or a stay in a church basement in a sleeping bag. With Rainelle’s shortage of hotel rooms, the vets have already begun to attend the Rainelle event but travel on to Lewisburg to stay the night.
No action by WSS city council was taken on the topic.
In other business:
• An alleyway servicing access to two residences is still in dispute. Paul Burdette and Lindsey Wolford share the city-owned alley and had previously asked council to maintain the thru-way. At a meeting held in February of this year, council awarded each with one half of the width of the alley – 7.5 feet – as an equitable solution. However, neither party was happy with that resolution. What they wanted was for the city to maintain the alleyway.
Burdette said, “I’m getting too old to shovel snow from the driveway.”
Council member Bruce Bowling, speaking bluntly, said, “The city can’t maintain every alley. Then everyone would want their alleys maintained as well.” He moved to rescind the February motion and take the alleyway back.
G.P. Parker, hoping to come to a happier solution, suggested the two parties deed each other the right of way to access the mutually shared driveway. Replied Burdette, neither Wolford nor he want the expense of a surveyor and lawyer for half a driveway.
Council approved Bowling’s motion to again own the alleyway, which the city will not maintenance.
• A $600 donation was approved for the annual Christmas Parade to be held on Dec. 6. The parade is timed to end in time for The Greenbrier’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony.
• Fire Chief Brian Dolin announced that 400 smoke detectors were purchased and handed out to every WSS Elementary School student to be placed in their homes.