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320-mile PA Hero Walk raises estimated $200K for wounded soldiers

| Sunday, June 23, 2013, 12:26 p.m.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Participants of the 320-mile PA Hero Walk trek up Route 56 near the Hillcrest Volkswagen car dealership as they near the walk's completion in Lower Burrell on Saturday, June 22, 2013.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Participants of the PA Hero Walk make their way under the American flag as they reach the end of the walk at the Lower Burrell VFW Post 92 on Saturday, June 22, 2013.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Elaine Bargerstock of Allegheny Township and Bob Mann of Vandergrift march down Leechburg Road in Lower Burrell as they participate in the last leg of the 320-mile PA Hero Walk in Lower Burrell on Saturday, June 22, 2013.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Participants of the 320-mile PA Hero Walk trek up Route 56 near the Hillcrest Volkswagen car dealership as they near the walk's completion in Lower Burrell on Saturday, June 22, 2013.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Army veteran Mario Bucco of New Kensington, who served in Korea, salutes participants of the PA Hero Walk as they pass the Lower Burrell American Legion Post 868 on Saturday, June 22, 2013.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Lonnie Wilkewitz of Butler checks out some of the activities during a break in the PA Hero Walk in Lower Burrell on Saturday, June 22, 2013.

The final steps of the 320-mile PA Hero Walk finished with a parade of walkers in neon green T-shirts along with a flurry of American flags and baby strollers at the VFW Post 92 in Lower Burrell.

About 150 walkers participated for the final 10-mile segment on Saturday, from the Allegheny Township War Memorial to Stewart School and Rite-Aid in Lower Burrell, to the Lower Burrell VFW.

The night before, there were about 350 walkers as the walk wound through Blairsville, to Saltsburg, to American Legion Post 114 in Vandergrift.

The two-week trek from Philadelphia to New Kensington is intended to raise awareness and money for wounded American soldiers and their families, according to Al Pulice, a Murrysville resident who organizes the event. The money pays for a number of programs to help service men and women recovering from severe injuries inflicted in the line of duty.

Pulice said this year's walk brought in about $200,000 — the most collected since the walk began five years ago.

After walking 320 miles, Pulice and the core group of walkers who made the entire trek were tired and happy to see the finish line.

“But this is a small sacrifice compared to what these soldiers give to their country,” Pulice said.

In addition to raising money, the sojourn on foot is meant to show the sacrifice and raise awareness.

“(W)e want to spread the word about the Wounded Warrior Project,” he said. “If you know someone who is sitting at home who is suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder, tell them about the program.”

As hundreds of walkers joined in at different points of the Hero Walk, there were a handful of Alle-Kiski Valley residents who completed the entire walk.

Besides a passion and a healthy respect for wounded soldiers, these walkers bandaged their feet in duct tape to ward off blisters for marathon mileage most days of their two-week odyssey.

“My favorite part was to listen to wounded warriors speak about their experiences, which gave more meaning to our walk,” said Jim Drnjevich, 63, of Murrys­ville, who served in the Marine Corps Reserve and the Army Reserve.

Joel Eyler, 60, of Allegheny Township said, “This is a good cause, and it's the least that I can do.”

Eyler said he served in the Marines and Army and retired from the Air Force.

Initially, Eyler said he participated simply to help.

But he found the walk to be therapeutic and it restored his faith in the American people.

“When we got to Philly, two inner-city kids selling lemonade asked what we were doing. When I told them, they took their money from their pockets and gave it to us.”

Shawn Haugh, 62, of West Leechburg, who said he served in the Marines Corps and the Air Force, said, “What better way to spend two weeks.”

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or mthomas@tribweb.com.

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