Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia in Greenbrier County is the little town of Rainelle. After several Internet searches, it appears, well at least in my mind, that Rainelle is probably about the size of Cleveland, NC, my hometown. I jokingly tell people I grew up in “the big city”, inside the city limits and our neighbor across the street was a Dairy Farm. No, I am not joking.
So you might ask, what is the big deal about this little town of Rainelle? I had heard of this town before, my husband had a co-worker/friend from there. They worked together at Freightliner. There were some photos floating around this week on my face-book page of the Ride of Pride truck produced at Freightliner. I must say it is one of my all time favorite Memorial trucks they have built, as it honors the Patriot Guard Riders. Of course as some of my Patriot Guard and Rolling Thunder friends would tell you, they don’t want or have any desire to be honored. They simply don’t do the things they do for “recognition”!
It was 25 years ago that a group of about 50 motorcycle riders traveling to Washington DC to join other bikers to draw attention to Prisoners of War, accidentally stumbled upon the sleepy little town of Rainelle. How, and why? The cause was tollbooths. The tollbooth operators would not allow one person to prepay for the riders, so they simply took a detour. Upon hearing of the groups detour, a local police department member radioed the Chief of Police of Rainelle to inform him of the size and purpose of the group. The Police Chief in turn calls the school principle and asked if the children could be outside to wave them through. And they did. The only problem was, the group of bikers thought they had interrupted a town parade or something, it took a moment for them to realize, “they” were the parade. In some of the articles I have read, one veteran stated he finally felt that he had been welcomed home from the war, the Vietnam War. He felt welcomed for the first time.
Twenty five years later it is still the same, well actually not really. There are thousands of bikers now passing through the town of Rainelle. School is out at noon for the day, the townsfolk stand along the streets waiting, in anticipation of welcoming old friends back to their little patriotic town. People come from nearby areas to be take part in the celebration. There are speeches, and plaques. The group has now been joined by the Run for the Wall group, a group that comes from the West Coast. They gather at the ball field and give buckets of money to the school. I have read these bikers have adopted this school and part of their play ground equipment is thanks to the bikers. They also bring memento’s for the children, pencils, key chains, etc. One gentleman stated he was bewildered when a couple of kids came and asked for his autograph. I can understand that, they wanted the autograph of a true hero!
The bikers head out to the camp sites to rest up for the next day of traveling, did I mention there are no campsites in the town, the ball field becomes their campsite. The school is left unlocked, the gym is used by for a sleeping area as well, due to the unpredictable spring weather. Early the next morning the Moose Club has breakfast ready, serving the large crowd. Keep in mind all this occurs in a small mountain town, a former logging town. These proud patriots come together to do their part for the mission, remembering and calling attention to the POW’S and MIA’S. I have to pause a moment here and think of Bowe Berghdal. I am sure this young man was on the minds of many at the gathering this year. Many folks are not aware that we have a recent POW, one which it appears to many of us, little or nothing is being done to find him and bring him home.
The small town of Rainelle hosts several other memorials, the Traveling Wall, the full scale replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. I remember being in awe when I saw this a few years ago as it stopped in Rowan County. The “Quilt of Tears” also visits Rainelle, in honor of Agent Orange Victims.
I wanted my information to be accurate on this little story, and I think I can say it is, thanks to Randy and Crystal Bennett. You see Randy is the coworker/friend of my husband I mentioned earlier. He just also happens to be one of those kids who stood by waving the first group of bikers through 25 years ago. They are in Rainelle this Memorial weekend as well, I imagine he is remembering the first time the bikers passed through, and probably visiting with friends they have made who are passing their way.
I have read comments from some of the bikers that there are many wonderful large and small towns they travel through, however Rainelle is their favorite. One new rider stated he could check an item off his “bucket list” has he has now been to Rainelle.
Just thinking of Rainelle makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. I think “Rainelle” will be added to my bucket list. I hope to be there one year when the Hero’s roll through and leave a little Thunder in this perhaps sleepy, but oh so Patriotic place!