TAYLOR COUNTY—Although the Coronavirus shut down many of the area’s annual May traditions and celebrations, one thing it could not stop was the resolve of the county’s residents to honor and pay tribute to the brave men and women who gave their all for their country and its freedoms.
Grafton and has become known for its annual Memorial Day celebrations and observances, earning it the title of the Memorial City. In true Taylor County fashion, community members flexed their patriotism with various events to show just how important Memorial Day is to the community.
After it was learned that the annual tradition of groups coming together to place flags on the final resting place of fallen soldiers would not be permitted due to restrictions in place because of COVID, residents began seeking out a way to honor the brave men and women entombed in the hallowed grounds of not only the West Virginia National Cemetery but the Grafton National Cemetery, as well.
While group placings were prohibited, family members wishing to place flags and flowers on the graves of their loved ones were still invited and encouraged to do so.
Many community members voiced their discourse with the policy, and some banded together with a goal to ensure every grave received a flag this Memorial Day. After a good deal of hard work, their goal was met, and the national cemeteries were once again covered in the nation’s colors.
Red, white and blue and American Flags are seen along the parade route on Memorial Day, but this year, the sights, sounds and crowds typically associated with the event were not present.
Again, because of the Coronavirus and the limitation of gatherings to 25 people or less, the West Virginia Memorial Day Committee was tasked with the hard decision to cancel the annual parade.
“What we want the community to fully understand is that we made the decision based upon federal and state statues in place. It was not our decision, the decision was made for us,” said Parade Chairman Scott Willis. “If we would have carried on anything that was semi-official and open to the public, the committee would have been responsible for those in attendance. That is the reason we scaled back and did what we did. The repercussions of the gathering of people could have been major.”
To ensure that Grafton’s title of longest, continuous running Memorial Day Parade in the nation still stood, the committee worked to establish a contingency plan, working closely with the state to ensure all proper procedures were followed.
The 153rd Annual Memorial Day Parade Unofficial was a very small event, but it had a rather large impact.
In keeping with the restrictions set forth, there were less than 25 participants in this year’s parade, something much different than the typical event. The focus of the 153rd parade was simply the soldiers who died in the quest for freedom.
“We as a committee are so pleased with how it turned out. Memorial Day is a day to reflect and remember exactly why we are celebrating,” expressed Willis. “When we put the entertainment in the parade, we are not forgetting the basis for the holiday, but we are celebrating the life that we have been given by the sacrifice of soldiers, but this year’s parade was a good reminder of what the day is truly about.”
Willis said that while they love the crowds and the participants, the silence in the streets as the riderless horse, the tomb of the unknown soldier and the caisson passed was solemn and perfect. Following the conclusion of the event, the committee briefly paused on the sidewalk outside of the Grafton National Cemetery, where Taps and Echo was played and a wreath was placed at the entrance.
“Lucas Shay said it perfectly when he said that maybe it took something like this to get back really understanding the meaning of the day,” Willis noted.
The sacrifice of the American soldier was also on the minds of individuals who took part in a tribute ride on Monday. Numerous bikers, car enthusiasts and ATV/UTV riders traveled along the parade route and to the Grafton National Cemetery as a way to honor the brave men and women in the armed forces.
Jamie Seargeant, who was instrumental in the ride, said that he felt it was something that needed done to help honor their memory.
“When you look at those headstones in the national cemeteries, those aren’t just names, those are people. A lot of them went off to war and returned home with deep scars that they carried around with them. They left as children and returned as adults, having seen things that impacted them for the remainder of their lives,” he said. “And, of course some of them never returned to their hometowns. I think it is important to remember that.”
Participants met in Blueville, where they were led by a police escort downtown, along the parade route to the Grafton National Cemetery, where they stopped briefly to pay their respects to those buried within its borders.
The bikers, riders and drivers then made their way to the West Virginia National Cemetery, where they once again visited the graves of soldiers, honoring their memories.
Jeff Stewart, another organizer, shared that it was his belief that the ride served as an important reminder that the two most essential places in the nation are its churches and the national cemeteries.
“These are people who have died for us, and they sometimes don’t get the respect they deserve,” he voiced. “I’m a patriot, and my God and my country are number one. We have to remember to honor those who fought for us.”
Videos of both the unofficial parade and the tribute ride can be seen on the Mountain Statesman’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/MountainStatesman.