Honoring our troops: 100th Welch Veterans Day Parade marches through city’s downtown
Article by Greg Jordan of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph
WELCH — Marching bands, dancers, fire engines and hundreds of spectators waiving American flags were all a demonstration Monday of patriotism and support when the 100th Welch Veterans Day Parade came through the city’s downtown.
The parade’s 67 units marched down McDowell Street to show support and appreciation for the many veterans marching in the parade and watching it. Former County Commissioner Harold McBride, dressed as Uncle Sam, presented the parade’s American flag to keynote speaker Brigadier General Harrison B. Gilliam of the U.S. Army Special Warfare Center.
“Welcome to the 100th Veterans Day in Welch, W.Va.,” McBride told the general and the crowd. “For 100 years, we’ve shown them that we love them, we care a lot about them, and we always will.”
Gilliam stood over the crowd with local dignitaries including Mayor Reba Honaker and Jimmy Hampton, commander of the American Legion Post 8 in Welch, after the parade concluded and spoke about the contributions and sacrifices veterans continue to make for their country.
“I want to first recognize some of the hometown heroes,” Gilliam said as he addressed the crowd. “These guys out here in uniform, these are your sons that went off and still wear a uniform in this great state and this nation. Thank you, guys. It’s a great day to be an American, and because of this parade it reminds us all of the sacrifices that men and women make every day.”
The general reminded them of the sacrifices that are a part of McDowell County.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a bridge that’s named after Staff Sgt. Gene Vance. I served with Gene and Gene was a great soldier, a great friend and a brother. He paid the ultimate sacrifice so we could be here today on this 100th anniversary of this parade,” Gilliam said.
Sgt. Gene Arden Vance, formerly of McDowell County, was killed in action May 19, 2002, in Afghanistan while under enemy fire.
“And I just want everybody to stop and think for 364 days of the men and women who are prepared to do that so we can have these parades and we can stand and relish the flag, and the music, and all of the freedoms that we cherish as Americans; because as bad as people want to make it sound, this is still the greatest nation that has ever lived in the history of mankind,” Gilliam said. “And it’s a great nation because of the men and women who will put on the uniform, that were raised by this community. You are an integral part of how this nation is formed and acts. Because of you, these young men and women have the character, the virtue and the goals that they want to be something and serve something that’s bigger than them. So don’t ever forget that you impact how this nation stands in the face of all things coming and will stand in front of anything that would like to take our freedoms.”
Members of Vance’s family said they come to the Welch parade every year. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he was sent to Afghanistan. He was 38 year old when he was killed in action, Shelia Trent, one of his cousins, said.
Trent’s aunt, Allilee Trent, sat between two displays detailing his life and the sacrifice he made for his country. She urged people to honor and remember veterans like him.
“These soldiers went and gave their lives; sometimes they came back, sometimes they didn’t,” she said. “They go and leave their families. Thank God they go or we wouldn’t have the freedoms that we have today.”
The centennial Veterans Day Parade officially started at 10 a.m. but participants started arriving in Welch hours ahead of time. One marching band disembarking in front of the McDowell Public Library were getting off a Kanawha County Schools bus. Band Director Josh Cole of the West Virginia State Marching Band said it was, to the best of his knowledge, their first appearance in Welch’s parade.
Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1144 in Iaeger were getting ready to march. VFW member Gene Reeves, a Vietnam veteran, said the parade has honored veterans for 100 years “and more years to come.”
“Really, it’s to celebrate the veterans who are deceased and the future ones,” Reeves said.
Staff Sgt. Aaron Clark of Delta Company 230 in Glen Jean said that he traveled from Fayette County with Specialist Phillip Campbell to join in the parade. The unit was doing color guard duty.
“I think it’s great to honor veterans past and present, and the sacrifices they made so we can do what we do on a daily basis,” Clark said.
Rita Orey of Welch thanked Reeves and Clark for their service as she walked by them.
“Oh, it’s an honor to support our troops,” Orey said. “My husband is a veteran and my father is too. My brothers, too.”
Next to the First Methodist Church on Virginia Avenue, marchers with the Fall River Elementary School were making last-minute adjustments. Principal Lori Howington helped tape a sign onto a pickup truck while children played nearby. The school’s basketball team, cheerleaders and Twirlers team was going to march. The school participates every year.
“I think it’s important we get involved in our communities,” Howington said.
While the marchers were getting ready, city residents and visitors were finding good spots along the parade route. City employees and their relatives found a high vantage point in the Welch Municipal Parking Building.
“We’re the city of Welch girls,” Phillis Osborne of the water office said.
“We always get up here,” office assistant Pam Akers added. The fact Monday’s parade was the city’s 100th Veterans Day celebration was especially important. “It’s pride in our city, pride in our county, pride in our state and pride in our country.”
“It’s about our veterans,” City Clerk Sarah Perry said.
Awards were presented for the best participants and floats. The Best Antique Car award was presented to a 1979 TransAm owned by Ralph Harrison. The American Legion Trophy for the Best Church Group went to Havaco Church. The Kiwanis received the Commander’s Trophy for Best Civic Group. McBride Electric won the Commander’s Trophy for Best of Parade, and the 2018 Veterans Day Parade Best Band Award was presented to Concord University.
Photos by Kyler and Lesa Wilson of
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