Dozens of veterans, American Legion family members and friends walked a 2.5-mile roundtrip from Post 2 in Manchester, N.H., to the city’s Veterans Memorial Park on Saturday morning to kick off the first American Legion Walk for Veterans.
“We are the guinea pigs and want to make sure it goes well,” said John Graham, commander of the Department of New Hampshire.
The Walk for Veterans in New Hampshire was the first of many that will occur in departments across the country during American Legion National Commander Dale Barnett's term as commander. Many of the proceeds donated during the walks will benefit the National Emergency Fund, Barnett's fundraiser, which assists Legion family members and posts who have been impacted by natural disasters.
According to Barnett, the walk was a mission accomplished. “I am delighted with how it went," he said. "It was great to get out in the community. We walk for veterans everyday in The American Legion. We are an organization that touches so many people. The purpose of this walk is to make our communities aware of what we do. I think we’ve done that today.”
Clad in distinctive orange T-shirts, the walkers got the attention of motorists who honked in support and encouraged the group which included two World War II veterans and a 12-year-old Sons of The American Legion member.
“We have to let people know how we feel about veterans,” said 90-year-old retired Air Force Master Sgt. Lionel LeBlanc, who fought in the South Pacific. A member of Post 2, LeBlanc had no difficulty making the walk in memory of those he served with and to call attention to the current generation of veterans. “They’ve been shortchanged. We allow refugees to slip into this country and receive benefits, while veterans sleep under bridges.”
While at Veterans Memorial Park, Barnett was approached by Michael Murphy, an Iraq War veteran who was visiting a tree planted in memory of Marine Lance Cpl. Adam R. Brooks. “Adam died in 2004. We were best friends,” Murphy told Barnett. “I live everyday to keep his memory alive. It’s not about what I did in the desert. It’s about what I do here.”
During the walk Barnett also met Anne Walsh, niece of the longest held prisoner of war from the Korean war. “I just wanted to thank the commander for what he is doing to raise attention about veterans,” Walsh said. Her uncle, John Downey, was shot down over China in 1952. He was held prisoner until President Richard Nixon obtained his release in 1973.
While more than a dozen departments have pledged to hold awareness Walks for Veterans, Barnett emphasized in a letter sent earlier this year to Legion departments that the walks do not have to occur during one of his visits. “If you cannot conduct a physical walk during my visit to your department, use the walk as a metaphor for another activity or event to support veterans,” he said. “Remember, we walk for veterans everyday when we advocate for a responsive health care system. We walk when we welcome home a returning hero or when we make an Operation Comfort Warriors presentation. We walk for comrades when we hold a benefits fair or assist homeless veterans obtain food and shelter.”
To learn more about whether an American Legion awareness Walk for Veterans is scheduled in your area, please contact your department headquarters.