GRAFTON — Once again, thousands of residents and guests lined the traditional Memorial Day Parade route in anticipation of this year’s event, coming off of a few years of scaled back occurrences due to COVID-19.
On a beautiful Monday, individuals waited for the parade to begin, and soon, everyone realized that something was amiss as the parade failed to launch at its designated 10:00 a.m. start time.
According to Grafton Police Chief Bobby Beltner, the department received word of a possible attack on Grafton during the annual event, set to celebrate and honor the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for the United States.
“While the parade was being lined up, the Grafton Police Department (GPD) received a complaint of a general social media threat that involved Grafton in general,” a release from the department stated. “Chief of Police Robert Beltner made the decision to delay the Memorial Day Parade while officers investigated the threat.”
Parade organizers said that after receiving word of the threat, the police department notified them, and they quickly rounded up committee members and volunteers to being addressing issues on their side of the annual event.
Meanwhile, officers with GPD, the Taylor County Sheriff’s Department, the West Virginia State Police, the Clarksburg Police Department and the Taylor County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office worked together to determine that the threat was not credible and that the person responsible was not in the Grafton area.
“Police along the parade route took additional measures while this investigation was going on, to assure the safety of those attending without visibly disrupting the morning’s event,” Belter said.
After nearly a half an hour’s delay, the parade kicked off as first responders cleared the path of on-lookers, for the yearly event that has become known as one of the area’s largest attractions.
The parade lasted for nearly two hours and featured veterans’ organizations, local businesses, athletic teams, schools, baton twirlers and church groups. The event also included some special appearances by Batman, Wonder Woman, Star Wars personnel and the West Virginia University Mountaineer.
“Although we had a bit of an issue to start, the day went off extremely well,” said Parade Chairman Scott Willis. “We were pleased with the number of entries in this year’s parade, as well as the number of folks who came out to support it.”
He went on to express his gratitude for the hard work and dedication of those who work so tirelessly to host the annual event.
“I honestly have to say that I am so humbled to work with such a great group of volunteers. At the end of the day, we came together to make a something happen that our fallen would have been proud of. We led our community in celebrating our lives made possible by their sacrifice,” Willis expressed.
“Reflecting on the day, I know our true heroes are smiling knowing that we helped honor them for the 155th continuous year, in our little piece of almost heaven,” he added.
An honoring America’s fallen heroes is just what happened on the hallowed grounds of the Grafton National Cemetery, as the annual Memorial Day Observance once again was held inside the walls of the final resting place of brave soldiers.
The ceremony was opened with an invocation by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3081 Chaplin Randy Jennings, who was then followed by the playing of the National Anthem by the Grafton High School Band, under the direction of Christopher Rucker.
During the day, VFW Post 3081 Commander Scott Bitner welcomed guests and introduced this year’s National Cemetery Essay Contest winner of the High School Division, Chloe Saltis.
He then welcomed Colonel Retired United States Army Douglas Flohr to deliver this year’s address.
“It is a distinct honor for me to speak to you today,” Flohr voiced. “Like most folks that grow up in Grafton, I began participating in this event, in one fashion or another, from first grade to my senior year in high school.”
And while he noted that it was not a unique achievement, as many others had done the same, taking part in the annual tradition, he remembered very clearly certain impressions left on him over the years.
“I remember my mom and every other mother in the neighborhood frantically searching for white clothes that would fit us. We weren’t allowed to wear colored clothes in the parade back then, everything had to be white,” he recalled. “You want to talk about a ‘neighborhood swap meet,’ I don’t think that battles are fought with that amount of coordination.”
Flohr then addressed the struggle to find flowers to carry saying, “I’m not saying that we stole them out of our neighbor’s yards, but there wasn’t a single flower in a yard in Grafton that was safe.”
But his clearest memory came from his freshman year in high school, playing in the band during the 1978 Memorial Day Observance, where he witnessed an emotional performance of “My Buddy” by a veteran.
“Forty-four years ago, I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand the emotion, but I understand it now,” Flohr voiced.
He explained that Memorial Day is a day to honor the fallen, the men and women who didn’t return home, as he spoke about his time in the Army, and his platoon sergeant, who had a knack for volunteering Flohr.
“Glenn drowned in a parachuting training accident in the Chattahoochee River on December 4, 1994. He left a wife and two beautiful daughters,” Flohr revealed. “I think him often, my friend, my buddy. All these men and women buried in our national cemeteries are mourned by friends, parents, spouses, siblings and children. Don’t be misled. They leave a void that cannot be filled. We look for them, but they are not here. They are a life, a promise unfulfilled. “
“It’s a life that was sacrificed for us, for our nation. They will not be forgotten,” he continued. “Mourn our fallen today, but not too long. Take time to celebrate their lives, that’s what’s important. That’s what my buddy would have wanted. That is his legacy.”
Following his presentation, Flohr and Saltis, joined by veterans’ organizations presented wreaths in honor of those who had made the ultimate sacrifice for the country, and afterwards the Taylor County Honor Guard presented a military salute, followed by the playing of Taps and Echo.
Jennings then closed out the annual ceremony with a benediction.