A Memorial Day weekend march to fight veteran suicide

Mark and Sandy Landvick could have been forgiven for missing the inaugural “McHenry Marches for the 22” on May 28.

“My wife and I are on our anniversary trip; we came back from Michigan to make sure we could be part of this,” said Mark Landvick, who along with Sandy are coaches of the American Legion Baseball team sponsored by Post 491 in McHenry, Ill.

Post 491 sponsored “McHenry Marches for the 22” to “align our awareness efforts with The American Legion national ‘Be The One’ campaign,” said post adjutant Rob Johnson.

The event, which references the oft-cited statistic that 22 veterans die by suicide each day, saw participants marching 22 miles, 22 kilometers or 2.2 miles around McHenry County.

Approximately 50 veterans, current servicemembers, Legion Baseball players and other veterans’ supporters participated. The bulk of them started early Sunday morning from Veteran’s Memorial Park in McHenry, with others joining in at different stops around the county.

About a half dozen players from Post 491’s Legion Baseball team joined the Landvicks on the march.

“The boys, some of their family have served; my wife and I, our two boys are active Army right now, so we just laid it out to them about how important it is to celebrate the community and support the community and make sure they recognize all the sacrifices that have been made for us to be able to play the game of baseball,” Mark Landvick said.

Before the march, Post 491 Commander Joe Kalisek spoke to the crowd. “We are here today to conduct an event to not only raise awareness of veteran suicide … but through your donations, we raise money for our veterans causes, and we get to enjoy a day together helping each other accomplish a great personal challenge.”

Many of those participating noted the need to raise awareness of veteran suicide.

“We do a great job of getting our soldiers ready to fight; we do a horrible job of getting them ready to be a civilian. And when we can do something to bring awareness to that, we should,” said veteran and combat brain trainer Tim “Coach Papa” Stewart. “… Being out here to support those who are struggling is just a powerful opportunity.”

“I think a big part of suicide awareness is making it more known to how big of an issue it is,” said Melissa Downey, a chief warrant officer with the Illinois Army National Guard who also works with the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs.

Downey, like many other walkers, recognize the importance of The American Legion’s “Be The One” campaign.

“What that means to me is ‘Be The One’ that sticks up for and talks for other people that may not have the strength to say what they’re going through. ‘Be The One’ to be there for somebody. ‘Be The One’ that actually helps somebody out of their darkness,” Downey said.

“‘Be The One’ means it doesn’t matter if you’re a servicemember … you can do something about (suicide awareness),” said Illinois National Guard Sgt. First Class Leo Quicho, the pacesetter for the ruck march.

Quicho said when he was a company first sergeant with the Virginia National Guard, he lost two soldiers to suicide within a couple of weeks.

“It has a huge impact on me. So anytime I do something like this, I march for those guys and all the veterans who lost their lives to this disease,” Quicho said.

Johnson said the decision to hold the event on Memorial Day weekend just made sense.

“Memorial Day weekend is a tribute to veterans to begin with. So it aligns perfectly with Memorial Day weekend,” Johnson said.

Legionnaire and Illinois state Sen. Craig Wilcox was impressed with the turnout.

“For The American Legion, they’re always out and involved, but more so for McHenry and this area up here, a VFW, an American Legion, a PLAV (Polish Legion of American Veterans), we don’t find many towns in America that still have all of them, and the fact that they all work together … that’s what makes these three posts so special,” Wilcox said.

The marchers were led out of Veteran’s Memorial Park by a horse from Operation Wild Horse, an area nonprofit that receives financial assistance from Post 491 and other area Legion posts. “We really like what they do, so we’ve been fundraising for them the last year or so,” Johnson said.

And the marchers were escorted by police from the towns they walked through as well as the county sheriff’s department.

“The police support has been amazing,” Johnson said.

Post 491 leadership were pleased with the event’s success, including the support of local businesses who sponsored the march.

“All of this is because of great planning,” said post first vice commander Phil Sweeney.

“We plan to do this again,” Johnson said. “It will get bigger, and the impact is we spread the word. That’s the plan.”