Veterans, 'Thank you'
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One in 10 West Virginians is a military veteran, and 3-year-old Katen Kelly calls two of those veterans mommy and daddy.
The Charleston youngster -- wearing an American flag-inspired dress and a blue jean jacket -- stood Saturday on the corner of Summers Street and Kanawha Boulevard with her parents, Erika and Kyle Kelly, and 14-month-old sister, Finley.
The 70th annual Charleston Veterans Day Parade passed the Kelly family as the sounds of marching band drums drifted in the unseasonably warm air.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs selected Charleston as one of 62 stand-out sites across the nation during this year's Veterans Day observance. It was the first time the capital city was selected as one of the VA's "model communities."
The elder Kellys -- who were deployed together to Afghanistan in 2007 and 2009 with the West Virginia Air National Guard -- come from a military family, Erika Kelly said. Her grandfather was a prisoner of war and her father a U.S. Marine. Kyle Kelly's father served in the U.S. Army and his brother in the U.S. Navy.
The family attended the Charleston Veterans Day Parade for the second year in a row because they want their children to learn at an early age to support veterans, Erika Kelly said.
"It's important for us that they come and see what it's like, that so many people show up to support our veterans," she said as the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution marched by. "It's good to introduce them to the military and show them it's not always sad. This is the celebration side of it."
More than 50 organizations participated in the parade, which started at 10 a.m. at the intersection of Kanawha Boulevard and Leon Sullivan Way.
The parade honored the 185,000 veterans in West Virginia and more than 20 million veterans across the nation.
Forty-three West Virginia Patriot Guard Riders, who travel the state honoring veterans -- whether it is welcoming them home or attending their funerals -- rode their motorcycles in the parade.
Almost every motorcycle flew an American flag.
Saturday's ride captain, Ken Helmbright of East Bank, wore an American flag bandana. Helmbright, who served in the Marines from 1972-1975, said people love paying tribute to veterans.
"It's the right thing to do, to honor and respect. They deserve it," Bank said. "I'm glad to see the large parade turnout today."
Assistant Scout Master Kim Mason, of Boy Scout Troop 99 in Marmet, said the Scouts marched in the parade not only for community service but also to honor the nation's veterans.
"Our Boy Scouts are taught values and respect," Mason said. "A lot of our dads in the group are in the military and it's our way to say, 'Thank you.'"
Larry Sutters, a leader for Boy Scout Troop 31 in Charleston, is retired from the West Virginia Air National Guard's 130th Airlift Wing.
Sutters -- whose 11-year-old son, Nick, is in Troop 31 -- said veterans "do so much. [The parade is] a way of showing thank you for everything you've done."
At the end of the parade, the young Scouts stopped carrying the large American flag as the parade participants sat on the steps at Haddad Riverfront Park for the Veterans Day program.
More than 200 people of all ages -- many waving miniature American flags -- listened as guest speaker Cmdr. Adam D. Palmer, commanding officer of the ballistic missile submarine USS West Virginia, spoke.
Palmer started his speech by referencing superstorm Sandy.
"The submarine forces are not running away from the storm," he said, "they're the guys running into it."
Then he offered the crowd some humor about the positives of the U.S. Navy.
"You don't have to pay a lot of money for a haircut -- they are free of charge on the ship," Palmer said.
Being on the submarine provides a lifetime of alertness, too, he said.
Palmer said he can't walk into a Walmart anymore without hearing every single piece of information that comes over the loudspeaker -- because he has been trained to listen whenever a siren sounds.
"I don't miss any of those sales," Palmer joked.
The best part about the Navy, he said, is "understanding the contributions the Navy has made."
He told the audience about how rampant piracy used to be and how those in the military can work together, considering each other's prejudices and failures. He said the military is "the best system. We're about peace, prosperity, democracy and opportunity."
The sub skipper thanked the assembled West Virginians for inviting him and his crew to the celebration, and then added a comment most veterans probably also believe.
"We talk about Veterans Day being a day we honor veterans but, for me, it's more about the honor to serve than the need to be honored," Palmer said. "I am proud to support and defend the Constitution. I take that obligation freely."
Reach Megan Workman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5113.