It was cold and blustery, but sunny, Sunday morning at the American Legion Hall in Southold as supporters of U.S. veterans prepared to walk 22 miles along Route 48. Their mission was to call attention to the alarmingly high number of veterans who die by suicide every day While there is some debate as to the actual statistics, the number 22 has become a common rallying cry for such causes, based on data from a 2012 Department of Veteran’s affairs report. And there is no question as to the severity of the crisis . Organizers of the Walk4Valor said that suicides take more lives today among our military service members veterans than all the casualties suffered in every American war.
“Imagine you served and you’re back home seeing that the end of the Vietnam and Afghanistan wars were train wrecks,” said Charles Sanders of Greenport, one of the event’s organizers. “The war never goes away for these people. In walking the 22 miles, we want to communicate that their service matters, no matter what the outcome was.”
About 40 walkers gathered Sunday, participants who were willing to spend eight hours, on foot, doing something to help raise money for veterans’ programs. They started in Southold, hiked past vineyards and farms and through quaint hamlets s as they made their way to the first water, food and bathroom stop at the Greenport American Legion. Walkers continued east to the Orient firehouse with views of Long Island Sound and Great Peconic Bay on the horizons. Then their feet circled back to Southold for a total of 22 miles and a tasty barbecue at the Southold Fire Department. It’s not required that everyone cover all 22 miles. Several energetic seniors walked the track on Peconic Lane as their contribution, and another group of supporters signed up online for a virtual walk.
Representing the Rotary Club of Southold with several of her friends, Cindy Sucloso participated for the second year. “We can’t forget the 22,” she said. “Hopefully the money raised will bring resources to vets so they don’t have to suffer in silence.”
“It’s mostly on the sidewalks so everyone is safe,” said Peter Fertig, one of the organizers. “Everybody benefits — the vets, the community and those who receive the scholarships that the walk supports.” The event raises approximately $12,000 that is divided into six scholarships to help the children of veterans.
“We also donate up to $5,000 to Veterans Move Forward, which provides service dogs and canine training to veterans,” Mr. Fertig said, noting that vets struggling with PTSD who get service dogs have a 100% success rate in life.
Helping the walkers register and get their numbered bibs were Madison Tomaszewski and Emily Kaelin, both 14 and members of the Southold ROTC. “I think this walk creates awareness about our veterans. Plus it’s going to be fun because I’m doing it in my Crocs, which is the only thing I can walk or run in,” said Madison.
“This is a nice thing to do and I never knew about the 22 [suicide statistic] so I learned something new,” said Emily.
Some walkers, including Mr. Sanders, added a 22-pound vest to their layers of clothing. “It’s another way for me to show that I’m not helpless when I see a story about a vet who ended his or her life,” he said. “This is something I can do to support them.”