By Peggy Mackenzie
The reaction to articles last week that Rainelle would no longer be a stopping point for the Rolling Thunder veterans motorcycle group came rolling in like thunder. Articles in both the Mountain Messenger and The Register-Herald reporting on the White Sulphur Springs council meeting, in which veterans involved with the Run for the Wall (RFTW) event had stated the vets would no longer be stopping in Rainelle, brought several refutations from vet groups and the mayor.
The general consensus was, “There is no replacing Rainelle.”
West Virginia State RFTW Coordinator Linda Stimmell affirmed that RFTW and Rainelle have a deep connection, having established their bonds early in the history of RFTW.
“Run for the Wall will be stopping in Rainelle in 2015 and for many years to come. It was never an option to not make our annual stop in Rainelle,” stated Stimmell.
“We would not change that stop,” says Denise Ferris, RFTW assistant coordinator, who’s been involved with the veteran group since 1995.
Don “EZ” Burns, with the RFTW Central Route vet group, stated online that “confusion over the articles seemed to only be associated with a local veteran group.” He affirmed that “RFTW Central Route will continue to visit and support the children of Rainelle, WV!”
Mayor Andrea “Andy” Pendleton was very forthright in her response to the articles, stating (in caps) on the Town of Rainelle’s Facebook page [sic throughout], “I, Mayor Andrea Pendleton, did not ask any Veteran or anyone else a fee for camping inside our town … Have I made myself Clear … let me say it again … I DID NOT ASK ANYONE TO PAY FOR A FEE FOR CAMPING DURING THE WONDERFUL MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND.”
“I’m not mad, just upset,” Pendleton said in a telephone interview. She said she’d been contacted by Ray Erskine, the vet quoted in last week’s article. Erskine’s concerns, she said, were apparently based on rumors he’d heard. Pendleton said she’d heard those rumors herself over a year ago and that the same rumors had also persisted from the time Eugene McKenzie was mayor of the town.
“Let’s put this thing to bed,” Pendleton said, reiterating what she’d said to Erskine: “You should have come to me with that talk.” Pendleton welcomed Erskine and the WSS chapter of WV Vets for America to come to Rainelle, and closed that conversation with a heartfelt “Thank you for your service.”
Pendleton has also had a talk with White Sulphur Springs Mayor Lloyd Haynes, clearing up any confusion as to which town would host the Rolling Thunder vets.
The 10-day Run For The Wall starts in Los Angeles, CA, accumulating so many bikers that they recently had to divide up into three routes with groups of 300 to 400 bikes each. It takes coordinators like Ferris and Stimmell, and Monica Venable, coordinator for LZRainelle, to establish where the bikers stop for gas, and when and where they eat and stay the night. Stay overs are well established, and Rainelle – like the many other places along their routes – is proud to host the veterans. As Ferris stated, “We cannot honor the vets enough.”
Early on each year, the veterans begin fundraising for the schools at their stops across the country, including the children in Rainelle, providing playground equipment and computers for school classrooms, and maintaining contact with community members. The vets stop at VA hospitals and schools in their travels. As they near DC, their numbers reach up to 350,000 motorcycles.
Run For The Wall gets its message across to the public by riding through the United States, obeying traffic laws and treating all citizens with dignity and respect, according to RFTW.org website.
But the issue of public awareness is only part of the benefit of Run For The Wall. Vietnam Veterans and all veterans receive the opportunity to get their own welcome home and start their healing process.
Stopping in Rainelle seems to be a big part of that.