Local folks swell ranks of walkers
While area residents sought relief in air-conditioned homes and offices as summer dawned hot and muggy last week, about a dozen people were nearing the end of their two-week walk across Pennsylvania in support of wounded soldiers.
The "heat" was easily put into context, against the thought of a soldier bearing 60 pounds of gear in 120-degree heat in Afghanistan.
"No one complained about the heat," said Al Pulice, who for four years has headed up the Pennsylvania Hero Walk.
The fourth annual walk, which began June 10 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, ended on Saturday at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 92 in Lower Burrell.
Pulice said there was a big turnout Friday evening as between 400 and 500 people joined in for the leg from Apollo to Vandergrift.
He estimated about 300 people joined in the final two legs of the 320-mile walk yesterday morning, first from the war memorial in Allegheny Township to the Rite Aid at Route 56 and Leechburg Road in Lower Burrell, and then the final mile to the VFW post.
A sea of fluorescent orange and neon green shirts arrived at the VFW before noon behind a color guard and the Kittanning Firemen's Band.
Karen Evans of Kiski Township joined in the walk from Allegheny Township to the post. It was her first time taking part, after a friend asked her to come. She had her sleeves rolled up.
"We wanted to donate to the heroes," she said. "I've watched them walk before as it came through Apollo, but I never did it myself.
"It's been great. A couple hills were tricky," she said.
Pulice figures this year's walk will bring in more than $100,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project.
"It took four years, but now people know what we're doing," he said. "We have credibility, so they're giving more."
Chris Bain, a wounded warrior from Williamsport and his family -- wife, Misty, and daughters Madelyn, 11, and Kailey, 13 -- made up a fourth of the contingent that made the cross-state journey.
A retired Army staff sergeant, Chris Bain, 41, was wounded in ambush in Iraq in 2004.
"I bled out and died for 10 minutes and came back. I was pretty fortunate," he said.
He's taken part in the walk each year. He called it a great history lesson, saying he learned something new with every monument and plaque he's seen along the way.
"We drive so fast in our cars that we never slow down to see our history and where we came from," he said.
And each year, they've found soldiers in need of help.
"Al had a great idea. This needs to get national attention. We need to get other states involved, Chris Bain said. "We need to find all the soldiers who have issues. Let's get these guys the help they need."
Bain's family joined in for the second week of the two-week walk.
When she's on the road, "I think of all the wounded soldiers, people who can't walk, who can't be here and that motivates me to get up and down those hills," Misty Bain said.
While still looking to benefit the Wounded Warrior project next year, Pulice said he wants to start educating the public on how to talk to military people.
Just saying "Thank you for your service" isn't enough, Pulice said, comparing it how people ask others how they're doing, without really expecting a response.
People need to dig deeper -- ask what branch of the service they were in, and what their job was, to really appreciate their service and be sincere, he said.
"You've got to be willing to spend some time with the person if you really care," he said.