Archives For Army
By Anita Fritz, The Recorder
It was 1948, three years after the end of World War II, when Earl Shaffer, a U.S. Army veteran from Pennsylvania, hiked the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, something no one else had done to that point.
More than 14,000 people have hiked the entire trail since Shaffer, and U.S. Army National Guard veteran Joe Young of Orange says he hopes to be one of the next.
Many have attempted the 2,180-mile trek — some have finished, some have not. They’ve done it for many reasons: the challenge, the sheer exhilaration or just to be able to say they did it.
Others, like Young, decide they want to do it to find the piece of their soul they lost somewhere along the way — Young says he lost his in Iraq.
The 61-year-old veteran retired after spending 42 1/ 2 years in the National Guard. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, a type of anxiety disorder that occurs after someone has gone through an extreme emotional trauma that involves the threat of injury or death.
It’s obvious that he doesn’t like to talk about the specifics of what he saw in Iraq when he was deployed from 2003 to 2004 and again from 2005 to 2006. He served at Abu Ghraib prison and says if someone tries to push him too hard into talking about it and he starts to feel too uncomfortable, he simply leaves the room.
“I hope that sometime during my six-month hike with 13 other veterans I find that piece of my soul I’m looking for,” he said just days before he left for Georgia on March 14.
Young planned to begin on Spring Mountain in Georgia on St. Patrick’s Day and spend the next six months hiking to Mount Katahdin in Maine. He expects to cross Mount Greylock in North Adams in late July and reach Katahdin’s summit in September.
Last year, while perusing the Internet, he found the Warrior Hike’s “Walk Off the War” program for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and immediately contacted organizers.
“I’m in good shape and am an avid hiker, so I thought this would be perfect for me,” he says. “I needed something.”
The veteran, who is in the best shape of his life, according to himself and his wife, says he found it difficult re-adjusting to civilian life when he retired from the National Guard several years ago.
“You’re up early every day when you’re in the guard and you have a purpose each day,” he says. “After I retired I was still getting up early, but I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
That’s when Young says he found VetNet at Greenfield Community College, a club that helps veteran students return to their communities and school, and decided to enroll in college.
“I didn’t want to get a specific degree,” he says. “I wanted to do it for fun and learning. I took a lot of history classes, because that seemed really interesting to me.”
He says it took time to adjust to school.
“I had to sit in the back of the room, because I didn’t want anyone sitting behind me,” says Young. “You learn to do that when you’re deployed, especially to a place like Iraq.”
Young says there are plenty of groups that help returning veterans adjust, apply for benefits, and more, but veterans have to know where to go. He says a veteran should start with his or her local veterans agent and expand their search from there.
“Go online, too,” he says. “That’s where I found Warrior Hike. There are plenty of people out there who want to help.”
Like Shaffer did in 1948, Young says he plans to work out the sights, sounds and losses of Iraq on his hike. He says he won’t have a lot of contact with his family.
“I’ll have my cellphone, but I only plan to use it on weekends or in an emergency,” he says. “That’s just a choice I’m making so I can experience this to the fullest.”
Young says the 14 veterans, including himself, are expected to hike eight to 14 miles a day. They will each be carrying sleeping bags, tents, food, clothes and other necessities.
“We won’t all be sleeping in the same spot,” he says. “Some will move faster than others, but the end of the week, we are expected to be in the same spot.”
Young says the veterans will have the opportunity to stay with other veterans in their homes on weekends.
“We’ll be greeted each weekend by veterans from different VFWs, American Legions, and other veteran groups,” says Young. “I hear they are very helpful and hospitable.”
According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, which oversees the entire trail, statistics show that about one in four people who set out to hike from Georgia to Maine make it, while the rest return home for many different reasons, including injury, family matters, bad experiences or they run out of money. The hike typically takes from four to seven months to complete.
“I’m really looking forward to this being a therapeutic cleansing for me,” says Young. “I want to get my head back where it belongs.”
He says he is looking forward most to hiking with other veterans who understand what he has been through.
“We’ll be able to help each other,” he says.
“I also want to find some enjoyment,” says Young. “I have it here at home with my wife, and my kids and grandchildren, when they visit. I find it on my motorcycle. Now, I want to find it out there, on my own.”
Two years ago, two veterans started the Warrior Hike and finished the Appalachian trek. Last year, 12 others joined those two and did the same.
“We’re a determined bunch,” says Young. “When you think about what some of us have been through in war, you realize this shouldn’t be all that bad.”
Recognizing the physical, mental and spiritual benefits of long-distance hiking, Warrior Hike has partnered with the conservancy, the Continental Divide Trail Coalition and the Pacific Crest Trail Association to create the “Walk Off the War” program, which takes place all over the United States.
The program is designed to support combat veterans who are transitioning from military service by hiking through American’s national scenic trails.
Young says he was provided all of the necessary equipment and supplies by Warrior Hike. He has to supply his own food and clothes.
He says the six-month hike will allow him to decompress and come to terms with his wartime experiences, while learning to use the outdoors as an alternative form of therapy.
“It’s the camaraderie that I am looking forward to most,” says Young. “That runs so deep when you are serving in the military and then you get home and you miss it.”
Young says he has also been told by many veterans that everyone eventually has a good cry.
“I haven’t had my good cry yet,” he says. “I’m hoping it happens on the trail.”
According to Warrior Hike, the “thru-hikes” and the interaction veterans have with other veterans and members of trail towns’ veteran organizations and local communities along the way restores their faith in humanity and builds a network of lifelong friendships and relationships.
Young, who was born in Winchendon, grew up in Orange, where he lives today. He attended Orange schools and graduated with a degree in agriculture from Smith Vocational Agricultural High School in Northampton.
The retired sergeant-major plans to write about his experiences each day. He says he will not cut his hair or shave until he returns home — he started growing his beard six weeks ago.
“It’s the first time I’ve had a beard in my life,” he says. “I hope there are going to be a lot of firsts for me over the next six months.”
Young’s trail name is Quabbin Trekker, and in his first entry, dated Jan. 25, he writes, “I have decided to dedicate this hike in honor of all my brothers and sisters that have paid the ultimate price.” He ends each of the entries he has made since then, “Onward, upward, forward.”
Andy, Where Are You? I hope you are ok
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Walking home I spotted you
Sitting in the rain upon the park stairs
No older than 17
I could not bear the thought of you sitting there
Colder than cold could be
Hiding underneath the tip of your hat
Sad and embarrassed
I nervously approached you
Not fearful of potential violence
But nervous you wouldn’t take my offer of help
I got you to agree to come with me
Into the warmth of my home with my family
In my heart I knew it was what I must do
With a daughter the same age
I would hope if she needed help someone would reach out to her
Your clothes, dirty, tattered and torn
I sympathized with what you must have gone through
No questions asked
But you offer an explanation
A mother’s battle with alcohol
Not in her right mind
You escape from her anger and her pain
Sent you running out into the cold
I was your refuge
You had a plan
A plan of turning 18 and enlisting in the Army
Upon that day
You sought out a recruiter
The next thing I knew
You were giving thanks and on your way
No day passes that you haven’t been on my mind
I wonder where you are and if you’re ok
What has become of the young man Andy
That I took in on that cold and rainy day
I hope you think of me too
Maybe one day you will find me
Just to let me know that you are ok
I only wish you well
I dream of your happiness
To make up for all the pain I know you suffered
May your life now be the one you had hoped for
Andy, Where Are You? I hope you are ok
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Andy, Where Are You? I hope you are ok©
Was written by Felina Silver Robinson
on Sunday, February 29, 2014
This is a story about a young man Andy that I took into my home when I used to live on Perry Street in Brookline. His last name I don’t recall as it was unusual. He signed up for the Army on his 18th birthday and I haven’t seen or heard from him since. I think of him every day and hope that he is ok. My wish is to find him so that I can just know that he is ok. God bless you Andy.
By Jim Morrison, The Patriot Ledger
QUINCY, Mass. — When a new father from Quincy read that his college buddy’s next-door neighbor in Brookline was ill and in desperate need of a kidney, he did what few people would even consider.
He volunteered to be tested to see if he was a match, our news partners at the Patriot Ledger reported.
Ben Johnston, a 32-year-old songwriting student at Berklee College of Music, decided he would donate a major organ to a total stranger.
The man who needed the kidney was Dr. Ferenc “Frank” Jolesz, 67, who was suffering from kidney failure for the second time. His daughter Marta Jolesz donated a kidney to him about seven years earlier.
“There’s a huge shortage of available organs and people are dying every day” Marta Jolesz, 37, said. “The average person is on the waiting list for five to 10 years. Most people don’t have that kind of time. My dad didn’t have that kind of time.”
The Brookline TAB profiled Jolesz and his efforts to find a donor via a website and Facebook last August.
“If the TAB wouldn’t have run the article, I wouldn’t have found out about it,” Johnston said.
“Basically, when I first read about it, I thought, ‘Oh, he’ll have no problem finding a donor,’” Johnston said. “Then, I thought if this person was my father or my father-in-law or someone I cared about, and he didn’t find a donor, I’d probably be angry.”
The idea got lodged in his mind and didn’t go away, and Johnston said he’s not sure why.
“I even waited a few days to tell (my wife),” said Johnston. “I thought it would go away, and it didn’t.”
Johnston’s wife, Heidi, is the pastor of the Faith Lutheran Church in Quincy. She had just started a new job and given birth to the couple’s son, Oliver, two months before. She was not enthusiastic about her husband undergoing a major elective surgery, so she spent about a week contemplating the decision, spiritually.
“Every week I stand up in the pulpit and ask people to step outside their comfort zone and care for people in need,” Heidi Johnston said. “I thought, ‘This is the opportunity that we’ve been given to do that,’ and I thought I should support Ben.”
Ben Johnston did some research and learned that most donors are back on their feet in a couple of months. Also, the hospital staff emphasized that he was free to change his mind at any stage of the testing, which took about two months.
Ben Johnston is composing a song about his organ-donation experience. This is the first verse of what is tentatively titled “Goodbye, Dear Kidney.”
After a third of a century, you up
and left me
Jumped right in to some other man
All my scars are still healing, and
I’ve got the feeling
I won’t be seeing you again
You left a hole deep within in me,
and I’m just beginning
To fill up the space the best that I can
And though sometimes I miss you,
the truth is I wish you
A long happy life with him
So goodbye, goodbye dear kidney
If I start to cry, if my tears don’t dry, forgive me
It’s hard to let you go, but in my heart I know
You’re better off without me
So goodbye, goodbye dear kidney
Heidi said she was with the Jolesz family while Ben and Frank were in the operating room, which was a great comfort. Ben’s surgery went very quickly.
“The kidney started perfusing (taking in blood) instantly,” said Heidi. “We were hugging and crying at Brigham and Women’s. That was incredible. That certainly bonds you. The daughters were in Ben’s hospital (room) rubbing his head and feet.
Jolesz wasn’t able to do a face-to-face interview because of the drugs he is taking to suppress his immune system, but he wrote in an email that he’s feeling much better.
“Ben gave me the gift of life, something that I almost lost,” Jolesz wrote. “Words are not enough to express my gratitude for Ben and Heidi’s selfless act of helping me. My hope is that what they did for me will motivate others to help those in need.”
Ben served two tours of duty in Iraq when he was an officer in the Army. His job was building bridges and other kinds of road construction. He said that he felt ambivalent about his work and the war in general, but donating a kidney was something he’d do again if he could.
It’s now just over two months after the operation and Ben said that except for the occasional pain at the incision, “I’m pretty much back to normal, and to me, that’s such a small amount of time to give someone a new lease on life. I would do it again.
“It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done. Heidi made me a scrapbook for Christmas, and I get emotional looking at the pictures and reading what his daughters wrote.”
Everybody interviewed for this story said that they hope it encourages more people to donate kidneys.
“Everything aligned for Ben and he was able to give the gift of life to my father and help our family,” said Marta Jolesz. “This journey has been truly unbelievable, and we feel so fortunate to find not only a donor, but a donor like Ben and his family.”