Grits, guts and Old Glory

WHEELING – Military veterans serving from World War II to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have faced adversity most Americans can only imagine.

So it is no wonder that in the face of unseasonably chilly and windy conditions, plenty of veterans turned out to march through Wheeling on Friday as part of the Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Classic Veterans Torch Relay.

The official kickoff for a weekend filled with race-related activities, the relay is designed to honor the contributions of veterans and their families, race Director R. “Scat” Scatterday said the event is “a serious tribute to those who have sacrificed.”

“In this country, we believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of anyone who messes with us,” Scatterday said while recognizing the efforts of the veterans.

The first group to carry the torch from the Osiris Shrine Temple west along National Road included Wheeling Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger, West Virginia Northern Community College President Martin Olshinsky and Triadelphia Middle School students Drew Scatterday and Zach Torbett. Several folks lined up along National Road and cheered on the four as they ran through Elm Grove.

Olshinsky said WVNCC is deeply engaged in the community, noting Northern is a very “veteran-friendly” college.

“This should be an adventure,” he added just before beginning the trek.

Schwertfeger said although he is not a veteran, he honors the contributions of the military, adding that his father is an Army veteran.

“Go Army,” the chief added.

This group advanced the torch to the Interstate 70 overpass, where they passed the flame to Ohio County sheriff’s Deputies Kris Waechter and Jason Bracher-Musty near the point where Interstate 470 meets I-70.

Upon reaching the exit of Wheeling Park, Waechter and Bracher-Musty passed the torch to Wheeling Deputy Police Chief Mike VanKirk. Rather than dropping off, however, the deputies continued running alongside VanKirk all the way to Washington Avenue.

Once reaching Washington Avenue, VanKirk and the deputies passed the torch to John Looney, team leader at the Wheeling Vet Center, and Joe Foster, a Shadyside resident known for carrying a large U.S. flag while competing in the Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Run.

When Looney and Foster reached the top of Chicken Neck Hill, Looney handed the torch to Wheeling Councilwoman Gloria Delbrugge. Foster then walked with Delbrugge and her husband, Robert Delbrugge, making their way along National Road.

Upon reaching Perkins Restaurant & Bakery, Delbrugge handed the torch to the team of Brenda Danehart, Rachael Dierkes, Colton Gessler and David Graebe. Foster continued marching with them. At Generations Restaurant & Pub, this group gave the torch to Army Sgt. Michael Novotney, who represented veterans of the Gulf War-era.

With Foster continuing to carry the flag alongside them, Novotney and fellow Gulf War-era veterans made the rigorous climb from Fulton to the peak of Wheeling Hill. Once reaching the former windmill on Stone Boulevard, Novotney handed the flame to a group of Vietnam veterans, led by Marine Corps Sgt. Steve Habursky.

Habursky then took the torch toward downtown, eventually handing off to Korean War veteran retired Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jim Koonce. At the former Lincoln School, Koonce handed the torch to World War II veteran retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. Dale Sigler.

At age 87 years old, Sigler joined the group in marching all the way to the finish line at the intersection of 14th and Main streets. Looney rejoined the platoon at the Federal Building on Chapline Street as the unit finished the relay.

After Robert “Moose” Dodrill sang the national anthem, Looney stepped in as keynote speaker for a short recognition service.

“This is a time to strew some flowers on people’s memories. Tell the stories. That is what this weekend is for,” Looney told the crowd regarding Memorial Day.

The service closed with the playing of “Taps” by members of the West Virginia Army National Guard, as well as the firing of a cannon.