Every day in America, an average of 22 veterans take their lives, a number that haunts Chad Lennon, a U.S. Marine reservist who on Saturday morning joined a group in Southold to walk 22 miles to Veterans Memorial Park in Calverton to bring attention to this tragedy.
He carried 22 pounds in his backpack, an America flag draped over his shoulder, as he joined with Charles Sanders, the commander of American Legion Post 803 in Southold and 15 others for the estimated eight-hour walk.
“Last year we did this walk, and it was 66 miles from Citi Field in Queens to memorial park,” Mr. Lennon said. “It took 28 hours. We started out with thirty, thirty-five people and of the original group, four made it to the end.”
Mr. Lennon, who lives in Rocky Point, said Saturday’s “Walk4Valor” hike from Southold to the memorial park “is to help people become aware of this suicide epidemic. We want to share the burden and carry the weight these veterans carry every day.”
He said he lost a fellow Marine and friend just last month to suicide.
“I never saw that coming,” he said. “The goal today is to try our best to make a difference and bring this issue down to the community so we can all be involved with finding a solution and saving lives.”
Before the walk began, Mr. Sanders pointed out a map showing the route from the grass in front of Post 803 on Main Road. The map showed seven check points along the way where the walkers could take a short break.
He urged fellow walkers to take water out of a nearby cooler and some power bars from a box.
Jena Kroog, who served as an MP with the U.S. Army around the world, including 13 months in Afghanistan, stretched as she prepared for the walk.
“I just want to make a difference,” she said. “I am in touch with a lot of my fellow service members. I know their struggle. We need each day to reach out to people and talk about what they are going through. It’s still a stigma to talk about it — but we have to talk about it.”
Dani Perri, a Fordham University student who lives in Oakdale, said, “There is a continuing stigma about mental illness, whether it’s in the military or athletics. We have to talk about it. If this walk helps only one person — that is the least I can do.”
Preparing to head west on Main Road, Mr. Sanders thanked everyone who volunteered to make the journey.
“This is for everyone who has served our country,” he said. “Small steps will make a difference. This is a very positive day today. This matters.”