CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) – On Saturday Western New Yorkers of all ages were on a mission, walking to honor local veterans. The Cheektowaga Central School District hosted its first-ever “Walk for Warriors.”
“It’s all about supporting our troops,” said Frank Marchese, the event chairman. “If it wasn’t for the sacrifices of our veterans we wouldn’t be here today.”
Cheektowaga Central hosted the walk-a-thon to raise money for the Western New York Iraq/Afghanistan Memorial and National Wounded Warrior Project.
“Just because someone comes back physically whole doesn’t mean that they don’t need help and sometimes the government is very slow in responding, so places like Wounded Warriors fill in the gap and that’s why we’re raising money for that,” said Marchese.
He said what really struck him were facts he’d learned about service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. “[Among] a very huge number of GIs coming back, suicide rates, alcoholism, depression. It’s more than any war, of any veteran group, even beyond the Vietnam veterans,” Marchese explained.
Nearly 250 people participated in Saturday’s event, including 25 teams. They raised $7,500.
As people walked the track it was lined with the names of the servicemen and women that passed away while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Jimmy Patterson proudly walked waiving the American Flag. “I figured if we’re going to be out here you might as well do it right and carry the American flag,” said Officer Patterson of the Cheektowaga Police Club.
Towards the end of the event everyone paused to honor four Vietnam and Korean War Veterans who left high school to join the military. They received honorary diplomas. Jackie Jurek’s father is one of the recipients. “I have five siblings and that was my dad’s one thing is that you graduate from high school. Now we can give him that opportunity,” said Jurek.
There was something for everyone at the inaugural event. There were activities for children. Members of the Army National Guard were present in full regalia.
The patriotic event also made an impact on the children that participated.
“I support people who were in it and their lives and how they helped us,” said Carmen Pillard. Isabella Ramos replied, ”They sacrificed their lives for us.”
As a token of appreciation for their service, every veteran in attendance at the walk received a laminated star, cut from a retired American flag, with a poem.
The Iraq/Afghanistan Memorial will bear the names of more than 70 Western New Yorkers who have given their lives in the wars in those countries. After months of planning and fundraising, the memorial will be unveiled at the Naval and Military Park on Buffalo’s waterfront on September 13.