AUGUSTA — All was quiet at the tent encampment of Occupy Augusta as soldiers and their supporters arrived at Capitol Park for the start of a 21-mile hike to honor veterans.

The 12th annual Veterans Day Memorial Road March on Friday began at dawn in the drizzling rain at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in the park. Dozens of marchers traveled north on State Street, across the Calumet Bridge, and north on U.S. Route 201, ending at the Winslow Memorial Park.

Kennebec County Sheriff and retired Army Master Sgt. Randall Liberty, who organizes the march each year, said it takes six to seven hours for walkers to reach their destination.

This year, he said the march is being conducted in remembrance of veterans who, upon returning from war, struggle to reintegrate themselves back into society.  

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are an estimated 131,000 homeless veterans in the United States.

Liberty said this year participants sought donations to improve the plight of homeless vets. Funds raised will be donated to the Bread of Life Ministries’ new shelter for homeless families and veterans on Hospital Street in Augusta, he said.

 “We recognize deployed (soldiers) come back different emotionally and physically, resulting in homelessness,” Liberty said Friday. “We want to support the Bread of Life homeless shelter for veterans. It’s really important that veterans don’t end up homeless, with all the sacrifices they make.”

Cindy Senkbeil, 47, of China spent 27 years in the Navy. The retired senior chief petty officer, employed at Bath Iron Works, said this was the third time she has participated in the march.

“It’s a time to support all our troops, currently serving as well as those who no longer serve, for what they gave,” Senkbeil said. “There’s always something going on in the world. That’s why we train people, to be prepared to rock and roll. You can never take any of this lightly.”

Bonnie Livingston, 61, a laboratory technician from Sidney, had planned on walking just 10 miles in honor of her son, Joshua, 24, who was injured on June 21 in Afghanistan.

The Marine chief scout sniper was hurt when a teammate stepped on a bomb. The explosion caused his teammate to lose both his legs, she said. Her son had multiple injuries, including the loss of fingers.

Joshua, a Messalonskee High School graduate who served with 3/4 Weapons Company in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, is receiving treatment at the Naval Medical Center on the grounds of Balboa Park in San Diego.

“I was going to do 10 miles. Then a couple of weeks ago, we were at the hospital and saw one of his teammates take his first steps on prosthetic legs,” Livingston said. “When I saw that, I said I’m doing the 21 (miles). That was the inspiration.”

After reaching Winslow Memorial Park, a memorial service was held for fallen soldiers, followed by a barbecue.
Over at the Veterans Affairs hospital at Togus two hours later, a handful of people including patients in wheelchairs gathered around an American flag in the commons area. The ceremony included presenting of the colors, the Pledge of Allegiance, the placing of a wreath and an honor guard salute with taps.

Brian Stiller, medical center director, said Maine veterans’ organizations have an “unbelievable” can-do attitude when it comes to supporting veterans and thanking them for their service.

“We have a good crowd here,” Stiller said. “There’s a lot from service organizations and family members who came just to get together for a few moments to reinvigorate our commitment to the work we do here, providing health care for vets. It’s about outcomes, not about words. I think that speaks to what happens, not just at Togus, but from our presence all over the state.”

Tom Reed of Windsor is a 63-year-old Korean War veteran who served 21 years in the military — three years in the Army and the rest of the time in the Air Force.

The retired master sergeant said the ceremony at Togus was an opportunity for him to honor fellow servicemen and -women publicly.

“It’s the patriotic thing to do,” Reed said.

Mechele Cooper — 621-5663
[email protected]
 


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